Lesson Length : 15 minutes
Whether it is drawing chalk murals, reading poetry, singing, painting, making music, sculpting, or creating nature designs, art is a cornerstone of our preschool program. We do art every day and often multiple times a day.
Art is one of the most common activities that educators can use to engage students. With some planning and flexibility, all types of art activities can be made accessible and inclusive of children of all ages and abilities.
2. With inclusion in mind, think through the location, materials and set-up.
There are endless possibilities for where to set up an art experience. Try setting up on easels, fences, boxes, tables, and the floor. Clio choosing, or a teacher suggesting to Clio to paint directly on Jack’s tray allows Jack to not only participate in the painting experience, but creates an opportunity for the two children to bond
Salma adjusts her body sideways to access the drawing from her right side and self accommodates for her muscle weakness on her left side.
3. Accessibility: Table Heights and Placement
Wheelchair accessible tables allow River to join the art table with ease alongside her peers. Utilizing tables that are closer to the ground make it easier for wheelchair users to participate and interact with their peers.
Liam is sitting a bit low at this table to do this activity well. If he was supported with a booster seat or a more supportive chair he would be able to blow bubbles more easily.
4. Don’t Do the Project For Them
5. Assess skill levels and how much assistance each of your students/participants may need
6. Tailor the activity to the students
7. Help the more independent students get started. Next help your students who need some level of support get started.
8. Move through your group and give a few minutes of one-on-one time to the students who need it.
9. Praise artwork uniquely.
10. Be persistent and keep experimenting!
In process-based art,
Art experiences can be both process and product-based based on the teacher’s facilitation of the experience. Let’s look at the following projects:
Gretel (top) plays with paint, glitter, and pom poms on the floor on a big piece of butcher paper. This mulit-media processed based art experience of Gretel’s turns into our Chinese New Year Dragon (bottom). With the dragon, the class can then go on a New Year parade and learn about Dragon Dancing.
Structure an art experience by providing some structure and ideas but with options for each student to incorporate their own ideas.
Evan (right) is engaged in the process of making some kind of chicken inspired art. His art will look different from every other child’s art and that is the beauty of making art, each person has their own style, pace and connection to the materials. We celebrate this variety at the PlayGarden.
Evan will also go at the pace that works for him. Slowly and methodically, exploring the glue, paint, scissors, and paper. At the end, you have a whole range of chicken like art products for the children to take home. Or, a whole lot of beautifully diverse Puffins and Polar Bears.
Gwendolyn, Eleanor and Jack paint together on Jack’s tray. Together they paint colorful puffins.
Look at these different polar bear masks:
The one on the left, was made by the teacher (mimicking a craft she likely saw on Pinterest). The one on the far right, was made by a child trying hard to mimic the teacher’s “final product.
Now, let’s look at the mask in the middle.
If this was a product-based art experience, the child didn’t make the “intended product.” There are no eyes to see through on the mask, no black nose, no ears- and sadly, many adults would say it looks messy. However, if we consider this to be process-based art experience, the child has more than succeeded. The child played with the materials for longer than most other kids at the table, worked with purpose and urgency to create his own unique piece of art.
Process-Based Art and Inclusion of Children with Disabilities
One of the reasons why process-based art is so critical in an inclusive setting is because it directly relates to how we see and interact with our students. Let’s learn from the following reflection:
“As the teacher in this art experience, I got pulled down the pinterest rabbit hole, and got excited about making these masks. We were learning about animals in the wintertime and I thought that the masks would spark the kid’s imaginative play and they would be a fun addition to our polar bear parade we were going on later in the day. I knew that it was more product-based than we normally do but still felt like it was worth it.
The morning started and I watched nearly all of my students struggle to engage with the activity. They liked glueing about 3 cotton balls to the plates but got frustrated when their fingers got sticky. The noses kept falling off since the glue wasn’t drying quickly enough. Pretty quickly most of the students were disinterested. Meanwhile their masks looked “incomplete”. It felt like I had chosen something that was a waste of materials.
We took a break from the project. A couple hours later, I got the class excited about the Polar Bear parade and a few kids started working on their masks again. I watched the kids trying to mimic the mask I had made. Why was that ever the goal?
Then one child in my class who normally has a hard time sitting down and doing art with the class, sat down to make his mask. Right away, he started pulling materials quickly from all across the table. He was pulling at a whole roll of toilet paper and smashed it onto his mask working with fever. Since I had gone into the activity with a “product- based” mentality, my first feeling was one of frustration. This child was not doing what they were “supposed” to be doing and was making it harder for the other kids to participate.
I was so focused on what the mask should look like and worried how one child’s seemingly erratic behavior was going to impact or even distract the rest of the group that I lost sight of what was actually happening. Park was focused, engaged and having fun with his art project. He was exploring textures of materials and had a vision for his art.
As Park worked, it became clear that Park was engaging with the activity in a much deeper and more profound way than the other students who were simply trying to copy the example I had made. When I finally asked Park to tell me about his art, all he said was, “It is a polar bear in a really really big snow storm.”
In those 30 minutes or so of observing Park do this art experience, I had failed him. My stomach sank. I knew that my assumptions about his behavior were not only totally off but highly detrimental to the inclusive school environment we work so hard to create at the PlayGarden. I had mentally labeled a child’s behavior as “disruptive” and made assumptions about his motives that were not true. Worst of all, embedded in my assumptions were hidden low expectations. It is incredibly painful to admit that I fell into a trap. I saw a set of behaviors and made a quick judgment.”
Necessity of Being a Reflective Educator
If we don’t admit and confront our faults, our blind-spots, our hidden biases and assumptions we hold as teachers, we cannot grow, and we certainly cannot create an inclusive environment for our students and families.
To learn more about how to counter biases, assumptions and judgement toward children with disabilities check out our lesson “What is the biggest barrier to inclusion children and parents face?” in our online learning hub.
So why not embrace art activities with a process-based approach?
All of the kids will learn about polar bears through the conversations you have during the craft and yet, their art will be distinctly their own. In the process, there is inherent diversity- of approaches, in the feelings an experience can create for a child and in the final products. Having examples of diversity in art projects is a perfect way to segway to talking about the term diversity as it relates to individuals and throughout every part of our world.
Seasonal Nature Art:
At the PlayGarden the garden is our classroom. Every day there are new colors, textures, and scents to explore. Spring seeds turning to buds and summer flowers. Come Fall, the flowers begin to fade away and leaves fall to the ground only to freeze into the ground come winter. The daily changes in the natural environment from the changes in weather and the seasonal changes in the plants, animals and colors lead themselves perfectly to creating nature art.
In the Fall we make leaf paths, in the winter we paint with evergreen boughs and look for frozen soil, icicles and treasures and in the spring, we make friends with all the spring plants and animals.
Introduce different artists and styles
Another way we like to introduce art every day to our preschoolers is by introducing the students to different artists and different art styles.
Some artists and art techniques we like to teach preschoolers about include:
Our favorite art activities include:
Our motto and goal at the PlayGarden is that every day, everyone- students and teachers alike go home: tired, dirty and happy. Incorporating art every day helps achieve this goal.
To learn more about these activities visit our PlayGarden Pinterest page.
Pause and Reflect Questions