ST. CLOUD, Fla. — Being stuck at home so much this past year was tough on 8-year-old Emile Hall. It could get exhausting as a digital learner during the coronavirus pandemic — not seeing friends and battling with a sometimes unpredictable Internet connection. 

What You Need To Know

  • Statewide art contest asks kids "What does 'home' mean to you?"

  • Contestants ages 5-18 were invited to submit artwork responding to the question

  • Art has become a major source of comfort and relief for kids struggling during the pandemic

  • Winners will have their artwork displayed at Florida’s housing finance agency in Tallahassee 

Yet, on the other hand, Hall says she appreciates the chance this time gave her to truly appreciate her family, and with that, their family home.

“We were able to do more stuff together as a family, and we were able to spend a lot of time together,” Hall said.

As a digital student at Narcoossee Elementary School during the pandemic, Hall says she felt a bit isolated from her friends. But extra time at home with her parents, younger brother and beloved animals turned into artistic inspiration for Hall. 

Earlier in May, she entered a statewide art competition for kids, organized by Florida’s housing finance agency, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. Contestants ages 5-18 were invited to submit artwork responding to the question: What does ‘home’ mean to you?

“What I was trying to show was our family, and showing all the activities that we did in the house,” Hall says of her drawing. 

Her rendition of their home is detailed with wall decorations, bookshelf knick-knacks, and even the family’s goat pen outback, where brothers Thunder and Lightning stay. Those goats, the family’s four cats, and pet Goldendoodle have brought Hall enormous joy during this difficult year.

Art turned out to be another major source of comfort and relief for Hall this year.

“I love art so much because … it’s just where my calm place is,” Hall said.

Whenever she gets frustrated or angry about something, Hall says she finds peace in creating. It’s an effective coping mechanism for many children, according to Hall’s art teacher, Jerylin Florimonte.

“This year has been tough on our students. Their emotions are very important this year,” Florimonte said. “They get into their painting and they lose themselves. They just thoroughly enjoy [it]. It’s quiet, it’s calm, they’re focused.”

Florimonte said she works to incorporate social and emotional learning into student projects. 

“I think it's important to give them lots of opportunities to express themselves,” Florimonte said.

Hall appears to have taken that opportunity and run with it. She’s already dreaming of becoming an art teacher herself someday.

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation will announce contest winners Monday. The top forty winners will have their artwork prominently displayed at the agency’s Tallahassee headquarters throughout National Homeownership Month.

Molly Duerig is a Report for America corps member who is covering affordable housing for Spectrum News 13. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.