Art Room, Color Construct Create, Elementary Art, OT, OT Corner, Preschool Art, Therapeutic Art, therapeutic side

The Take Home: Tactile Sensory Processing

One unique aspect of our studio is that we incorporate opportunities for tactile sensory play into our weekly themes.   Many of our artists have notable hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to tactile input in their daily lives.  Therefore, we include projects and the activities on our “sensory table” that can promote a greater tolerance for textures that might make us uncomfortable or provide textures that kids may seek out and neeeeeeeeeed to touch.  Seriously, have you ever played with kinetic sand or oobleck?


We think it is important that our artists are exposed to messy, sticky, wet, rough, slimy or powdery media.  These textures are all present in our daily lives, and if we have the opportunity to play with them in this controlled environment (art room), then we can work on our impulsivity to touch, avoidance of touch, and overall tactile sensory integration.

Winter snow bin
Insta-Snow – a fantastically fun medium!!!
Color Construct Create, OT Corner

The Take Home: Shoulder Stability

What is shoulder stability??? It seems to be on just about every take home sheet!

When we are working on our painting projects, either at the table or on an easel (or wall), we work on shoulder stability.  Having a stable shoulder girdle promotes efficient use of the rest of the arm, wrist and hand, which is essential for drawing, writing and cutting tasks.  Many of our children have difficulty with shoulder stability so this is a skill we work on frequently.  A stable shoulder allows us to trace a line fluidly with a sharpie or paintbrush.  It allows the free movement of the arm to move in a controlled manner to draw precisely.  The video below demonstrates how free arm movement is helpful for tracing activities.  Our little artist can guide the paintbrush along her black line smoothly without smearing the already painted lines with her forearm.  Many of our children are unable to move the entire arm freely.  Therefore, like this video, the child may place their elbow on the table for improved control of the wrist and hand.    If your child has difficulty with shoulder stability, try having him/her draw or paint on a vertical surface (like an easel or wall) to encourage strong shoulder muscles!!!

There are a lot of fun ways to improve shoulder stability.  Play tug-o-war, wheel barrow walking, crab soccer, and anything else that looks like crawling!

Art Room, Color Construct Create, Elementary Art, OT, OT Corner, Preschool Art, Therapeutic Art, therapeutic side

The Take Home: Finger Strength

Our hands are amazing.  They are, quite possibly, the most useful parts of our bodies. Hands are a key component to art-making (and pretty much every other facet of our existence).  Our ability to make art starts at the earliest stages of our development.  As babies, motor movements are often reflexive.  Once babies begin to interact with their environment,  their movement patterns become volitional and begin to override their reflexes.  These multi-sensory play experiences form the foundation for higher level skill development.  For babies and toddlers, hand and finger strength is built through play.  They see a toy, they grab it with their tiny little hands.  They want to manipulate it to get it into their mouth, they have to work really hard at it.  With practice, those movements become more fluid and they move toward mastery.  As children become more independent, learning to feed and dress themselves and mimicking our activities, the fine motor demands grow exponentially.

The process of completing a simple drawing task, painting a picture, or molding a dish out of clay is a multi-sensory experience that demands much from our artists small hands. Each week, we create opportunities to promote the development of finger strength.  This week was no exception!  As they became scientists working in our “lab” they used their pincers to drop colored vinegar onto a tray of baking soda, they used pencil and sharpie to draw their beakers and test tubes, and they squeezed out drops of food coloring to dye their sugar solutions.  All the while, they didn’t realize that they were building strength, dexterity and finger endurance!

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Color Construct Create, OT Corner, Preschool Art, Therapeutic Art

The Take Home: Endurance

One of the biggest struggles we have in providing art classes to younger children is their endurance, their ability to fully participate for the duration of the class.

Endurance: the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity 2017. (11 January 2017).

kids-doing-artWe teach regular art classes in a preschool after school enrichment program as well as our weekend and after school classes.  For children ages 3-5, we know that they will not be able to sit nicely in a chair for 45 minutes while we ramble on about a particular artist, show examples of famous artwork, and then proceed to teach them various techniques, and still expect a carefully designed product at the end of class.  No, we expect that their endurance for these difficult tasks will be no more than 5-10 minutes at a time. Besides, for many young children, coloring and attention to task are two very difficult activities in and of themselves, let alone completing a recognizable art project.

To accommodate and make it fun for everyone, work in natural breaks, provide related sensory activities, and rotate between sitting activities and those where they can get up and choose supplies, or stand at the table or vertical surface.  Instead of one beautiful masterpiece, we choose 2-3 smaller projects that are modified to be less involved and provide novelty and interest for them to be engaged the whole time, building their endurance for longer activities which then carries over into the home and school settings.

Color Construct Create, OT, OT Corner, therapeutic side

Occupational Therapy and Art?

As I’ve said before, I am not an artist.  This may sound a bit odd coming from an art teacher, but I can think of no better fit for me right now.  By profession, I am a pediatric occupational therapist, but in my mind, I am the next Martha Stewart.  This combination has worked well when I want to have clients work out of their comfort zone during therapy.  We make play dough, we try new foods, and we craft away, all the while building fine motor, visual motor, and sensory motor skills.  When I was ready to transition out of the private clinic and school system, teaching art classes seemed like the perfect solution.  Lucky for me, my partner in crime is able to fill in my gaps of expertise in the art realm.  

img_4032If you sit down to think about it, there are so many therapeutic benefits to art.  In fact, there is an entire field dedicated to art therapy.  What we do, however, is not art therapy.  It is therapeutic art.  Occupational therapy was founded on the idea that there is a natural, therapeutic benefit to performing our activities of daily living, whatever those may be.  For example, to put on a pair of shoes, or make a cup of tea, you would need to engage many sensory systems, use several muscle and movement systems, and have the endurance to work until completion.  The same is true for art.  In order to complete a paint-by-number, you would need your visual system, fine motor control, and sufficient endurance for both to complete the entire page.
Coming up with the projects each week is one of the best aspects of running an art program.  Being creative, problem solving, and practicing the projects to “perfection”.  But even more fun that that is watching the faces of our artists as they show off their finished project, so proud, and so accomplished!


Color Construct Create, How We Roll, OT, OT Corner, Therapeutic Art

The Take Home

Each week, when our artists leave class, they get a fun and informative take home sheet.  This is our chance to share the “why” behind the projects we choose and how parents can support this at home.  One of the benefits to our classes is the suggestions we provide to assist parents so our artists can carry over the skills learned in art class to home and school.  Here is an example from one of our classes a couple years ago:


Sometimes the take home sheets offer ways to extend a project, recreate a project, or do it in a different way.  Other times it will provide community activities related to our subject matter, complimentary activities to build skills, or commercially available products that you can purchase to promote the skills worked on during class.