Written By: Erin McNeill
Kids with sensory issues are sometimes resistant to art projects because they don’t enjoy being messy or they don’t enjoy touching the mediums that are squishy, wet, or are made up of smaller parts, such as sand or rice. If you want to engage your child in art projects, it’s best to start with non-messy experiences for your child and build up to bigger projects. Go slowly and encourage your child to try new things, even if it’s just for a very short time. Here are some projects and activities to get you started.
1.Plastic baggy painting – This is a great project to start with for kids with sensory issues as it doesn’t require the child to actually touch the paint and get messy, but it still gives them the opportunity to move and squish the paint around in the bag. This gives a more mild sensory experience. Simply squirt a small amount of paint into a zip top plastic bag (the freezer type are stronger), use multiple colors for mixing, close the top and tape to the table or the window and have your child “paint” inside the baggy. Observe what happens to the paint and discuss the mixing of colors and what colors make up other colors.
2.Water play – Set out a large tub, fill up some smaller containers with water and a few drops of food coloring, pick out some utensils to play with and go to town! Your child can experiment by mixing the containers of colored water and transferring liquids from container to container. Water is generally a non-threatening item to most children and can create a calming experience for a child. Be prepared with plenty of towels and a dry change of clothes!
3.Model Magic Clay – Model Magic Clay can be found at any craft store or big box store. It will provide a non-messy clay experience for children. It is light-weight and easy to manipulate for children of all ages and it dries in about 24 hours for those little ones that can’t wait to play with their creations. Once dry you can paint your creation if you’d like!
4.Sensory tubs – As your child becomes more and more adapted to touching the world around them, a sensory tub can be a great place to really dig in, so to speak. Fill a medium tub with rice, dry pasta, sand or whatever else you can find. Food grains are generally a good option, and you can save them for another time. You will want to label them for crafts. Bury small objects for your child to find. It may take them a bit to be willing to dig for the items, but the surprise of what they’ll find usually wins out! Give your child tools to use in the tub to move around the objects and the grains. It’s best to start with one tactile substance in the tub at a time. As your child is more willing to touch different things, you can start mixing what you put in the tub.
5.Color Wonder – Color Wonder provides art experiences for children without the mess. The markers or finger paints will only show up on the special Color Wonder paper, which means that they are clear and won’t show up on your child’s skin as they are creating their masterpiece.
6.Painting with tools – Finger painting may be a long stretch for children with sensory issues, but creating an experience where your child won’t have to touch the paint is a step between no painting and finger painting. Have your child paint with unusual objects, such as a fly swatter, spoons, rolling a car or marbles in a tray of paper with paint squirted on top or using string. Let your imagination go wild; just make sure whatever you paint with is washable.
7.Shaving cream play – Playing and painting with shaving cream is a messy project that your child may be resistant to, but knowing that clean-up will be easy may help them start this project. Once your child has started playing in the shaving cream, you might want to see if they’d like to create marble paper with the foam. If your child is sensitive to smells, use unscented shaving cream so the smell isn’t overwhelming to them.
8.Puffy paint in squeeze bottles – You can make this puffy paint at home and put it in squeeze bottles. Have your child squirt out designs and write with the paint. Allow the paint to dry and then you can have your child trace the paint with their fingers, creating an entirely different experience for your child.
9.Styrofoam sculptures – Save Styrofoam from packaging and use it to create art projects! Have your child create sculptures with the Styrofoam; you can use toothpicks, skewers or craft glue to keep items together while building.
10.Gak – Once your child has gotten used to handling objects and substances that are messy, squishy or even kind of gross, it’s time to make gak! Gak is a science experiment with a very fun result. Making the gak is incredibly overwhelming for a lot of children, but that portion of the experiment only lasts for a short while and soon you have transformed some ordinary ingredients into a wonderful play substance that will provide hours and hours of entertainment!
Keep encouraging your child to try new things. You can start with just having them touch it, then put it away for another day if it’s too much for them. It will take time to introduce your child to different substances and textures, and may take repeated exposure to get them to enjoy the experience. Praise them for their efforts and make the experience fun for them!