Using Art to Enhance Major Areas of Development
The focus of art activities used in early childhood special education programs should be on the process rather than product. Art activities naturally enhance all major areas of development (Rubin, 1984).
Art activities provide children with a nonverbal way to demonstrate their understanding of certain concepts (Lowenfeld & Brittain, 1969). For example, if the class theme for the week is "big and little," a child might be asked to create big and little objects. A teacher might ask a child to point to a big object and little object in the child's drawing. Children who are nonverbal can often point to something "big" and "little" yet cannot clearly verbally communicate their understanding of these concepts (Beittel, 1974).
Speech and Language Development
Working with children on expressive (ability to communicate) and receptive (ability to understand) language goals can be easily integrated into the art activity of the day. For example, a child's expressive language could be developed by asking the child to talk about what other materials are needed to complete an art project and receptive language could be enhanced by asking the child to put a piece of paper on the table in front of each chair. A child's enthusiasm and interest in art projects, including drawings, paintings, and creating three-dimensional objects, can be used to enhance and elicit language.
A speech and language pathologist may use art activities to encourage children to speak. A therapist could encourage a young child to talk about a drawing by asking questions designed to elicit more than a "yes" or "no" response. For example. a therapist might say, "What color did you paint with today?" Asking children to verbally request different materials or help needed to complete an art activity encourages their use of receptive and expressive language skills (Alkema, 1971).
A speech and language pathologist can design and supervise art activities or assist another teacher or therapist during art activities. The pathologist might tell a child to request the color of paint the child wishes to use. Children who hesitate to communicate verbally are often willing to talk about their art creations. Older preschool children sometimes like to tell stories about their projects and pictures (Anderson, 1978). When this occurs. a child often likes it when a teacher writes down the story and attaches it to the child's picture. To encourage children to talk about their pictures, teachers should say to them, "Tell me about your picture." Teachers should avoid asking children, "What is this')" This type of question might discourage children because it suggests that the teacher cannot tell what the child made.
Motor Development and Self· Help Skills
Art activities can enhancing motor development and self-help skills. Occupational and physical therapists often use art as therapy activities for individual and group therapy (Alkema, 1971). Art activities are used to enhance motor control during activities such as painting with brushes and manipulating clay. Physical therapists use activities such as kneeling or standing while painting to enhance gross motor development. Occupational therapists frequently use art activities when working with children who are tactically defensive, a term that refers to not liking the feel of certain things or getting dirty.
Some children hesitate to participate in art activities. One reason is that such children are unfamiliar with certain types of materials being used during the activity. Children are often cautious when interacting in unfamiliar situations and this includes unfamiliar activities. Many children need a gradual introduction to new types of materials (Alkema, 1971). Ways to help encourage hesitant children to participate are listed in Table 13.1.
Children's self-help skills can be enhanced during art activities by involving them in setting up art activities, putting on smocks, and cleaning up after completing the activities. Children should gradually be encouraged to be more independent in all aspects of art activities.
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