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Process, not product" is a phrase dear to many art therapists working with children who are developmentally delayed. When process develops into a creatively satisfying product, the result can be delightful for the student artists as well as their audience.

As an art therapist/teacher, working with children with special needs can be a very challenging task. We try to address many different goals through art lessons, including increased fine motor coordination, visual perception skills and the ability to follow directions.

We also concentrate on developing social skills such as turn-taking and sharing space and materials, as well as developing self-esteem through success-oriented art activities. The goal of fostering creativity and individual expression through art activities is just as important for special needs children, as it is for typically developing children.

The large "Snakes in the Grass" weaving was conceived as part of an exhibit of our children's artwork planned for the Educational Wing of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. The theme of the exhibit, "I Can, We Can," emphasized the individual child as a successful participant in group art activities. To this end, I envisioned a large group weaving including every child enrolled in our school-age program--approximately 90 children.

The project began as an idea based in an interest and love of mine: weaving. We examined the process of weaving and broke it down into the individual steps and skills necessary for success (task analysis). We then developed a series of lessons that addressed each of those skills, and worked with our students to develop those skills. For example, the child must have an understanding of the concepts of "under" and "over" as well as fine motor skills to manipulate materials under and over warp threads.

We used a variety of materials and methods to develop weaving skills. We wove individually and as groups; we used paper strip looms, large cardboard looms and small frame looms. We wove with leather, yarn, feathers, pipe cleaners, sticks, paper and anything we could find.

After many preliminary skill-building activities, we were ready to begin the major project. Creation of the snakes was step one. Even though we work with children who are developmentally delayed, we know that they often possess the same interests and creative spirits that typically developing children have. Too often children with special needs aren't challenged to express their individual creativity.

As children everywhere do, our students beamed with pride and a sense of accomplishment as they worked on this project. Each child started with the same materials and assignment, but they created their individual snakes with creativity and individual pride.

Supplies for the project included a 10" x 36" strip of muslin for each child, diluted fabric paints in a variety of colors, fiberfill, puffy paints, assorted buttons, felt, leather scraps and tacky glue. After much talk about the colors, skin patterns and designs of snakes, the children began painting their snakeskins, breaking into groups of three and sharing brushes and paints.

Before the second class the following week, the muslin strips were stitched on two sides and turned to form a tube shape. Adult staff completed this step. At the next class, each child was given polyester fiberfill and a long cardboard tube. They stuffed their snakes by inserting small amounts of fiberfill and pushing it down with the cardboard tube.

Each weekly lesson presented the children with a new task. During the third week, tacky glue was used to place a leather or felt strip tongue into the open end of the snake tube; ends were turned under, glued, and the closing was secured with a clothespin. The children then added facial details using buttons and other scraps. The fourth week was a lot of fun as the children used puffy paint in squeeze tubes to add decorative stripes, dots, etc. to their snakes. By the fifth week, we were ready to start weaving.

Before the children arrived for the fifth week, the loom was created on the large homesote board that covers one wall of the art room. Rug yam was strung from pushpin points at the top and bottom edges of the homesote. About 2 inches of rug yam was then woven to form a secure base for the snakes. When the children arrived, we spent time reviewing weaving techniques. One by one, each child then wove their snake into the "grass."

As the week progressed and the weaving grew, everyone was amazed and pleased with the results. The children had become so attached to their snakes that when the art exhibit at the Albright-Knox Gallery was over, we had to dismantle the weaving and return the snakes to their owners!

The project was such a success that we repeated it the following year and created a weaving using rain-forest colors. We explained to the children that the snakes would become a permanent part of the piece. That weaving now hangs in the hallway at our school for everyone to enjoy.

Janet L. Ide is a registered art therapist at Summit Academy in Tonawanda, N.Y. This project was the result of the cooperative efforts of art therapists Janet L. Ide and Sharon Vaughan.


* One 10" x 36" strip of muslin per child Diluted fabric paints in a variety of colors

* Fiberfill

* Puffy paints

* Assorted buttons

* Felt and leather scraps

* Tacky glue

* Long cardboard tube

* Clothespins
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Author:Ide, Janet L.
Publication:Arts & Activities
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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