Using Art To Teach Life Skills

at therapy for special needs kidsFor some kids with special needs dealing with new situations or ways of doing things can cause fear and anxiety.  Or they may get “stuck” doing something the same way but become frustrated because they can’t move themselves forward.  Sometimes new things don’t work and they have to figure out how to make them work. This can be overwhelming.  Anxiety and resistance to “new” things can become an obstacle to learning and developing.

The Benefits to Creating Art
Art can be a different place for kids to be successful and learn skills that can transfer to other areas of their life.  The creative process contains many layers and mysteries.  Contained in this process are some great concrete life skills that your child can develop and benefit from.  This includes learning how to navigate through a new experience or situation.  You can use art to reduce anxiety for special needs children.

All new things are an experiment.  One definition of the word experiment is:

“To try something new, especially in order to gain experience.” (The Free Dictionary)

Another definition is:

“A course of action tentatively adopted without being sure of the outcome.” (Oxford Dictionaries)

These definitions also describe what we do when we are using our imagination.  Imagination is the ultimate place of freedom to experiment.  Creating art and using imagination is also the place where your kids can learn the skills and tolerance for dealing with the “new experiments” in their life.  Not to mention it is fun!  It also helps build skills to independently navigate through new life experiences more independently. Read on…

Tips for Art Projects
Here are seven tips for helping your child learn to experiment and use their imagination:

  1. Find an art project that can give you and your artist some simple structured steps.
  2. Have your artist complete one or two steps of an art project.  Then your artist will use their imagination to complete the project.
  3. Ask the artist for an idea on something they think could be added to the project.  This could be as simple as a different color or a new art material.  Let them try.  If they don’t like it ask them for ideas on what could be done to fix it the way they want it to look.
  4. If needed, offer a few suggestions and let them choose one.  For some kids this may initially be uncomfortable and cause anxiety.  Let them know that there is no “right” or “wrong” there are just different ways things will look.
  5. Tell them it’s just about trying things and having fun.  Continue to do art projects this way and let them build a tolerance for trying something and seeing what happens.
  6. It is sometimes helpful to negotiate with your child to have a reward at the end of the project.  This may help them get through the “uncomfortable” feelings  when they would rather quit.
  7. Collaborate with your artist if they are still struggling.  You do some parts of the art work and they do some parts of the art work.  As they complete more art projects they will know what to expect and you can gradually do less of the work with them. Read on…

Developing Critical Thinking Skills
Here are two critical thinking skills that children develop through using their imagination during art projects.

  • Problem solving:  Children are thinking about what they can do and trying it.  Then they are trying something else if that does not work.
  • Decision making:  Children are looking at the situation and making choices  about which things they will try or do not want to try.  They are deciding what actions to take to make something happen.

Summary
These are all necessary skills for adapting to new situations and ideas.  Children are learning to trust their instincts and how to navigate and adapt their way through new and uncharted territory.  This confidence can start to transfer into more independence in other situations of life.

References
The Free Dictionary by Farex. Definition of “experiment”.

Oxford Dictionaries. Definition of “experiment”.

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Danelle Griner About Danelle Griner

Danelle Griner is the founder of ArtShop. She specializes in therapeutic art instruction for individuals with disabilities. Go to ArtShop to find easy to teach adapted art projects for children with special needs.