Art can be a great way for kids with special isms to get sensory experiences they crave and enjoy. It can also be a good place for children with sensory integration challenges to be introduced to new materials and develop a stronger tolerance for various materials.
Ideas For Kids Who Love Sensory Experiences
Some of the kids I have worked with love tape. I tear off pieces and put a piece on one of their hands. With the other hand they lift it off of their skin and place it on paper. They enjoy taking it off of their hands. We continue to do this until we have an interesting design.
They also will crinkle it up and then place it on the paper filling it with interesting textures.
Create collages using a variety of non- traditional art materials. Look around you and see what you can find. Take cardboard from a box and peel the top layer off to reveal the corrugated surface. This will feel interesting when handled and touched.
Use tissue paper. Kids can crumple it up and then unwrinkled it. Glue it flat on the collage and feel the subtle wrinkles. (Paint and water over the top create interesting subtle effects) Some kids also like the sound of wrinkling the paper.
Add different kinds of cloth. Look for materials that feels silky, rough (burlap), etc. These can be cut into different sized pieces and can be added to a collage.
Felt is a nice, easy to handle medium that is fun to work with and has an interesting feel to it. Cut out different sized shapes and colors and layer on top of each other to create interesting designs.
Add all of these materials together to create an interesting texture collage and then paint over it.
String is fun to work with. Kids can drop it on a piece of paper and create interesting designs. Use thick or thin string or choose different sizes of rope. Hemp is also an interesting material. These will all have a different feel to them. Drop all of these different kinds of string on the paper.
A helpful tip I have learned – drop all of the string on the paper then take glue and trace over it all. Elmer’s glue will dry clear and it helps eliminate glue mess and frustrations for everyone. Let glue dry and paint over the string to create interesting art.
Ideas For Sensory Defensive Kids
Even if your child is sensory defensive, they can still participate in the art making experience. Many of the kids I have worked with have a serious aversion and dislike to getting art materials on their hands but we still find ways to create art.
For some kids, glue is a big obstacle to creating art. What can I say? Less is more. Glue offers challenges on many levels. This is a material that can easily get out of control. Flowing glue out of a bottle is fun and enticing. I have seen many a kid enticed by its powers. While it’s fun coming out of the bottle it’s not so fun when it gets on your fingers.
A strategy I use to keep things under control is counting out dots of glue. Small pieces of paper get one dot. Bigger pieces get two dots, even bigger pieces get three dots, etc. I have the child count the dots with me as they are squeezing out the glue. ( This also helps with fine motor skills, hand and eye coordination, and working on attention span.)
I find it helps to practice with kids on how to use the glue bottle. Learning how to squeeze the bottle and control glue does get better when you introduce a process to it. This may take a bit of practicing but adding a little bit of structure to the process can help.
For kids with fine motor issues who don’t have muscle strength I put glue in larger bottles with more flexible plastic that makes squeezing easier. You can find these in beauty supply stores. Hairdressers use them for coloring hair. Being able to control the amount of glue (no extra glue spreading out all over) that comes out can eliminate a lot of issues.
Sometimes even just having a wet paper towel that a child can wipe their fingers on next to them immediately when they get glue on it is enough to help kids overcome and tolerate some messiness with glue.
Glue sticks are also an option but I find there are limitations on art materials it works with.
Using the process of printmaking is a great option for some kids because they are less likely to get their hands dirty. Kitchen sponges can be used. Simply cut into smaller pieces to be easier to hold. Create square printed images on paper when dipped in paint.
Some kitchen scrubbers have knobs that can be gripped. Dip the sponge or scrubber in paint and print on a piece of paper.
A small painting roller with a handle can be gripped and pushed back and forth with very little effort to create paths of paint.
Look around and see what you can come up with that can be dipped in paint to make an interesting print shape. Combine all of these to create an interesting design.
Building Up Tolerance
Some kids just absolutely hate handling some art materials and may never develop a tolerance to them. That is okay. Art should be fun and there are many materials to experiment with. You know your child best. I usually start with a small project. I explain that we will only work on the project for 5 minutes. We may work on a project with materials they enjoy and then introduce the new material that may challenge them. At another time introduce an art project with new material and explain that this time we will work on the project for 10 minutes. Continue to expand the amount of time that the art material is worked with. See if your child develops a tolerance for the material.