Creative beginnings for tiny tots

Posts tagged ‘child art therapy’

“A leaf man’s got to go where the wind blows…”

Truer words were never spoken here on the east coast today, as we brace for the worst of Hurricane Sandy, yet to come.  The rain has been coming down steadily, the wind is picking up, and all the schools and government offices are closed.  So much for our autumn project planned for the first half of this week, collages made from real leaves, inspired by Lois Ehlert’s Leaf Man.

Since I may not have the opportunity to blog about this project after all (the leaf piles and the leaf men hidden therein may all have blown away by the time all is said and done), I’m going to link you to an interview I did with one of my favorite bloggers, Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent, so you can get to know a bit more about my background, the origins and philosophy of the ART IN HAND program, and art therapy in general.  Here’s hoping we all get to keep our power on!  (realistically speaking, that’s fairly unlikely in these parts in the next day or so…)

Happy reading!

Julie Liddle:  An Art Therapist’s Perspective



The most powerful tactic…to awaken the curiosity of a child…is simply to head for the hands.
– Frank Wilson (1998)

Everybody needs a hand once in a while…

We were on sick day number 4 over here today, and by this afternoon were hit hard with the boredom and crankiness that always seems to accompany that point in the recuperation when the sick kid has enough energy to be antsy, but still feels lousy enough to be irritable.  Once again, the plaster casting material came to our rescue, when I was certain there would be no redeeming this gloomy afternoon.

I was immediately reminded of a phrase from a workshop I recently attended with Kirk Martin of Celebrate Calm:  “Motion changes emotion.”

In other words, when your child is melting down, get him to a change of scenery, get him involved in doing something, don’t just stand there trying to talk him out of it.

Thankfully, in our case, the plaster material and my son’s earlier projects were still set up on the table on our enclosed porch (a nice sunny spot to work) for him to notice, which eliminated the need for me to suggest he work with the materials (I’m sure he would have said “NO!” to anything I suggested at that point).  He has gone out there twice in the last few days to expand on his previous experiences with hand casting, and has had some fun getting more inventive and expressive!

Based on these recent positive experiences working with this medium, he was able to make the choice on his own to go for it this afternoon.

Within seconds, he shifted from, “I hate you! I hate everything!” to “Mom, stay here and do this with me.”  And his energy immediately shifted from tense and agitated to calm and engaging.  In my previous posts (like this one, and this one, and this one, and this one) I have spoken about the therapeutic impact of the sense of touch that is elicited through various art media.  For my son and me, the process of casting each other’s hands in clay and in plaster, has become a valuable tool.  My nine year old has discovered that he can use this process to bring about a sense of calm for himself, and it is also something that he can control and use to create a concrete and predictable outcome, which gives him a feeling of mastery and success.  It is also a wonderful way for the two of us to connect.

And today, he took the process a step further with a new idea he came up with for decorating the extra thick cast that we had built around his hand.  He used pipettes to squirt liquid watercolors on the cast, creating a colorful splattered effect.  What a turnaround from gloom and doom to bright and fun and whimsical.

You don’t have to have complicated art materials at your disposal to apply these principals in your own home.  Think about what hooks your child.  It could be anything from building with legos, to playing with playdough, to tossing bean bags, to whipping up a recipe in the kitchen…anything that gets them moving and doing and using their senses while connecting with you in a relaxed and fun way.  Over time these experiences help them learn that they can make choices to help calm themselves and learn self-control.

“Beautiful hands!”

Remember our friend who was hesitant to get the messy paint on her hands due to sensory issues, but had a breakthrough when we did our monoprinting activity two weeks ago?

Well, look at her now…

She spent most of the class time delighting in this new sensation, all the while repeating the words, “Beautiful hands” as both affirmation and reassurance that all was well.

All that positive self-talk must have done the trick because before long she had moved on to the tactics of my most hard-core finger painters…the squeezing of the paint-soaked spongy balls (golf-ball shaped cat toys, actually, which I highly recommend as painting tools).  To this, she adopted the mantra, “Squeeze!  Squeeze!”

Gratifying all around!

Wordless Wednesday

Inspired by the paintings in this lovely wordless picture book:

the artwork that ensued needs no words…

A Good Day for Monoprinting

Today was one of those days…I had an activity planned for my morning group, and realized at the last minute that I was not prepared with the right materials.  With some quick thinking and a quick inventory of the books and materials I had on hand, I decided today would be a monoprinting day.

As described at “MONOPRINTING is known as the most painterly method among the printmaking techniques.  A monoprint is a non editionable kind of print and is essentially a printed painting.  The characteristic of this method is that no two prints are alike. However, images can be similar, but editioning is not possible. The true appeal of the monotype lies in the unique translucency that creates a quality of light very different from a painting on paper or a print, and the beauty of this media is also in its spontaneity and its combination of printmaking, painting and drawing mediums.”

Sounds pretty highfalutin for a bunch of two year olds, doesn’t it?

In reality, it is a delightful medium for young artists rich with possibilities for exploration, learning, and growth.

We used 8″ x 10″ acrylic panels (I have family connections in the plexiglas biz), but an easy, inexpensive alternative is to use those acrylic box frames that you can pick up at your local craft store, like they did over at the Artful Parent.

Toddlers love getting to know new materials, so I always give them time to get acquainted before introducing the next tool or medium.  They slide their hands across the smooth hard surface; they hold them up to their faces and explore their transparency: and they press their little noses against them, feeling the resistance of the cool, solid material.  Certainly, this will provide a different experience than painting on paper.

They are eager to practice rolling their rollers across the surface of the plastic, so after a few minutes of practice, I then introduce the paint.  In this case we used the primary colors, having been inspired by Margaret Wise Brown’s classic The Color Kittens which features the antics of two ambitious cats who set upon the task of mixing “all the colors in the world.”  Through the process of sharing red, yellow, and blue, the kids get to see first-hand how all the colors are made.

After applying the paint, the children, who haven’t spontaneously done so already, are shown by example how the paint can then be moved and pushed and changed on the surface of the plastic by using any number of tools, including their own hands.  The possibilities are endless, but some we have tried include:  paintbrushes, cotton swabs, plastic utensils, popsicle sticks, textured foam rollers, pot scrubbers, bubble wrap, yarn…I’d love to hear more suggestions from you!

Typically, the little ones are so immersed in the process of manipulating the paint in these various ways, that the act of documenting their work along the way by laying down paper over the surface to make a print is secondary for them (but highly rewarding for the proud parents).  However, many are delighted when they see the colors and patterns of paint transferred onto paper, and so, repeat the process again and again.

A beautiful thing happened in today’s class, that cannot go without mention.  One two and a half year old, who struggles with sensory processing issues and started this class six weeks ago feeling very overwhelmed by the sensory stimulation, had a remarkable experience with this activity.   She has historically been very avoidant of touching the paint, and would quickly become upset if she got paint on her hands, and would immediately cry and want to wash it off of her hands.  Today, she was seated at a table with two other little girls who simply reveled in the direct contact with the slick, slimy, creamy paint.  She watched them quietly and intently, all the while refusing to touch her own roller to the paint on her panel.  I assured her caregiver that this was enough.  What a wonderful opportunity for her to see others getting messy, in a safe, supportive setting where she felt no pressure to do so herself, but could see that they were doing it, and they were OK.  As the majority of the children were winding down after a stimulating session of painting/printing, I noticed a sweet, repetitive humming melody, and turned around to find our little friend sweeping her hand back and forth through the paint on her panel as she sung this soothing tune to herself.  She lingered after the others had cleared the table and cleaned up.  In her own time, she had arrived.

Today was a GOOD day for monoprinting!

Process Focused Art – NOT Just for Toddlers

Yesterday was one of those Saturdays.  My nine year old was bored, so his inclination was to flip-flop from computer to tv and back again.  Enter parental intervention:  imposed outside time (which was only moderately successful due to bad allergies) and a no more screen time for the rest of the afternoon! policy, which as you can imagine, was met with a less than enthusiastic response.  It wasn’t pretty, and I came darn close to caving in the face of the relentless “but there’s nothing to do” protests. Then, out of the blue, a beautiful thing happened.  He asked “Do we have any clay?”  which was just about the best question a kid could ask this particular mama at this particular moment.  And yes, yes I did happen to have a 25 lb. bag of it laying around, just waiting to be summoned…

What transpired during the next hour or so was a lovely combination of contented “play” with the clay–rolling, cutting, shaping, forming, moistening, squishing, smoothing, slicing, dicing, destroying, rebuilding, etc., etc.  There was independent exploration, as well as genuine mother-son bonding, as he asked me to form the clay around his hand and forearm, and we experienced the physical connection involved in this process, a soothing sensory experience for both of us.

So, to the point of this post:

Often times, children’s interest in art materials is sensory, kinesthetic, and expressive, which is counter to the adult notion of art as primarily an asthetic pursuit.  And this inclination persists beyond early childhood (where we typically hear talk about the imperative for process over product focused art).  Especially in our achievement-driven culture, children need opportunities to just “be” with materials and not feel the need to perform to a certain standard or outcome.  Time and again, I have seen this play out in my classes for toddlers, when an older sibling tags along for a visit to the class.  Often they are the most enthusiastic participants in our process-oriented art projects, revelling in the opportunity to finger paint, or slosh liquid watercolors, or delve up to their elbows in the sensory media tray.  This “hunger” for these types of activities tells us that they probably are not getting enough of this sort of thing in their daily lives.  And some children need this sort of thing more than others.

So next time your school aged child is eager to “mess around” with materials, don’t be too quick to ask “What are you going to make?”  And don’t get caught up in whether what they are doing looks particularly attractive.  They may just need a chance to roll up their sleeves and play without any particular end result in mind.  You may find, as I did yesterday, that time to explore and get messy can completely turn around your child’s mood and the tone for the rest of the day!

P.S.  You might consider giving it a try yourself too!