Once a week, I work at the Social Mind Center where I teach several classes of Messy Art. The challenge is to find art projects for children with very different skill sets. The following activities were a great success with children at our center. I hope you enjoy and send me feedback and pictures!!!!
1- Snack Painting
Who doesn’t love snacks?! For very young children that put everything in their mouths, I like to use edible paints but trust me, the appeal was just as great for older children. Just make sure to check with parents regarding food allergies and restrictions. Depending on the ingredients you choose, this activity can have lots of SUGAR!!!!
You Will Need:
- White card stock paper
- Condensed milk (For children that are Gluten Free use heavy cream)
- Several colors of Food Coloring
- Marshmallows (For children that are Gluten Free leave this ingredient out)
This is as simple as it gets. Mix a few drops of food coloring with condensed milk. Set out bowls of popcorn and marshmallows as well as white card stock paper and let the fun begin!
Children dip snacks into the “paint” and stamp it on their paper…watch the snacks disappear in no time!
I love crafts that involve food. Many children (and especially those with ASD and SPD) are picky eaters. Using food and art is a great way to expose them to food that they would otherwise never even touch! This is a first step in the right direction.
2- Oil Pastels with a Twist
A new twist on a regular coloring activity!
You Will Need:
- White Cardstock paper
- Oil Pastels
- 1/3 cup of baby oil (or any cooking oil will do)
- 5-6 Cotton balls
Place a tray or cover the working surface with plastic such as a garbage bag! Ask children to use oil pastels to draw a colorful picture. For this class I had them draw Kandinsky Circles.
For some, this was difficult so they drew colorful flowers. The important thing is to have a variety of colors.
Once the drawing is complete, children dip a cotton ball into a little bit of oil and spread it in ONE direction across the drawing.
This will spread the colors and create a cool effect! Let it dry completely.
This activity is simple yet for children with tactile sensitivities, it can be quite challenging. It gets dirty, oily and slippery!
3- Sticker Art
Here’s a really great way to create a beautiful project with minimal skills needed. I like to use this activity for holiday gifts.
You Will Need:
- Small Canvas
- Variety of Foam Stickers
- Acrylic/Tempra Paint
- Sponge brushes and regular paint brushes
- Blow Dryer/Fan (if you want the painting to be ready that same day)
Ask children to peel and stick stickers on their canvas. You can have them create a theme ex: Ocean Animals or provide them with letters to create a message to mom for Mother’s Day or create their name for a cool painting they can hang in their rooms!
Use a sponge brush and different colored paints to paint over the entire surface of the canvas (Paint over the stickers too, you may need a little paintbrush to get into the crevices of the stickers). Blow dry the painting on cold setting just enough so the stickers can be peeled off without leaving streaks. Tada! Beautiful Art!
Peeling stickers is a great way to work on neat pincer grasp i.e. thumb and index finger working to peel the stickers. This is an important precursor to an efficient pencil grasp and to improve dexterity.
4- Rainbow Oobleck Art!
Ready to get dirty?!! This is a fun twist on oobleck. This really gets messy so get ready for it!
You will Need:
- White Cardstock paper
- 2 cups of corn starch
- 1 cup of water
- 1-2 drops of food coloring
- Large bin
I created several bowls of different colored oobleck. The ingredients are quite simple but you will find it difficult to mix. Just be patient. You may start out with a wooden spoon but eventually you will need to mix it with your hands.
Note: I prepared this activity 30 minutes before my kiddos showed up, the oobleck hardens and looks like wet cement! All you have to do is mix it up once again and it liquefies!!!!
In a large bin I had each child pour in one of the colored ooblecks. We gently swirled it with a spoon to create a cool pattern and each child had a chance to dip in a sheet of paper to reveal a beautiful rainbow creation! I did not send this project home! Instead, we took pictures of these beautiful masterpieces.
It was then time to have some fun with this fascinating medium! The kids looooved it!
Oobleck is quite a challenging medium to play with. For those of you who never felt it before, it’s a liquid that solidifies and then returns to a liquid consistency when mixed. It almost feels like wet chalk! For children with tactile sensitivities, this is quite the challenge. There are so many different sensations when using this medium. It feels wet but also can feel hard and chalky and if it dries on the hands it then feels powdery! Pretty cool!
I just finished putting together the Teacher’s Workshop that I will be giving this week. Click here for the the Power Point Slides! Enjoy!
Working in the schools for many years, I see that teachers have less and less time to work one-on-one with a child that has fine motor difficulties. I therefore try to provide teachers with tools that they can easily incorporate into their classroom stations so that children are working on fine motor skills any chance they get. These simple changes are a wonderful pro-active way to make your stations go from great to AWESOME!
Advice from an OT:
The resistance from the clothespins strengthens pincer grasp. Just make sure that children are using a squeezing the pins with their thumb and index finger (they can also add middle finger if the strength is not there) all other fingers must be tucked in the palm of the hand.
Ex: Pick up pompoms to count or sort, write upper case letters on clothespins and have children match them to a card with its lowercase match.
2. Add Adaptive chopsticks or tweezers:
The important thing is the placement of the fingers on these tools. We are looking to mimic a pencil grasp. Make sure that children use their thumb and index finger only. All other fingers are tucked inside the palm of the hand. The webspace (space between the thumb and index finger is open and forms an O, not flat. Use for all stations that require picking up items.
3. Play doh or putty:
The resistance of the dough helps strengthen little fingers. There are so many ways to use dough. Ex: hide items in the dough and have children dig with little fingers, make little balls using the thumb, index and middle finger only to make little balls (these can be used to count), roll the dough to create letters and numbers, use dough to teach cutting, make stamps and imprints.
4. Tiny items:
Use neat pincer grasp (i.e. thumb and index finger only, all other fingers tucked in the palm of the hand) to pick up tiny items like beads, beans, cheerios and mini shaped erasers (my favorite).
5. Use coins or buttons:
An important skill to improve dexterity involves Nesting and retrieving small items. Nesting: Use the thumb and index finger to pick up coins and hold them in the palm of the same hand. Retrieving: hold coins in the palm of the hand and “wiggle” fingers to retrieve one coin at a time from the palm of the hand to the tip of the thumb and index finger. Use coins count, sort or stack.
6. Push pins:
Place worksheets on a cork board and use pushpins. Children use a neat pincer grasp to hold the pin. I like using the extra-large push pins for little kids but you can use a variety of sizes. Ex: Draw a shape on construction paper, have kids push on the outline of the shape to “cut” out the figure, kids make letters using several pushpins, use for counting, use to poke the answer from worksheets.
7. Use rice or bean bins:
An important skill to develop is tactile discrimination. This means that children use their fingers only to feel for items without visually monitoring what their fingers are doing. (This is useful when fastening buttons on oneself. We are more efficient closing buttons without visually monitoring our fingers). Hide items in bean bins for sorting, counting, categorizing, alphabet games like hiding all sorts of small figurines and asking children to find the ones that begin with the letter A only.
Peeling stickers is a great way to use little fingers and improve pincer grasp. Use stickers with numbers, letters, colors, categories etc…
One of the best tools to use to strengthen the wrist and position fingers correctly in preparation for handwriting. Put all worksheets on easels.
10. Use containers with fasteners, twist tops and lids:
Place items such as cards, blocks etc.. in Ziploc bags or pencil cases that have zippers, buttons or snaps. It strengthens fingers to open and close them to retrieve items from inside them.
11. Use Manipulatives:
When picking manipulatives for counting or letters etc… try to pick some that that have resistance such as lego, links etc… (instead of blocks). Learning Resources has some great options.
12. Use grippers, fat and short writing tools:
When picking tools for writing, choose short and fat markers/crayons. You can also attach grippers to all pencils.
13. Use a stylus:
When children are using iPads, use a stylus with a gripper on it to mimic pencil grasp. Children are very motivated to use iPads and therefore using a stylus (with a gripper) gives them the chance to practice proper pencil grasp which they can then carry over during handwriting.
14. Use dry erase boards:
Dry erase boards and markers are great for teaching skills. I find that children are so excited to use these tools, more fun and appealing than a pencil and paper. When teaching something new, consider using easels!
I love balloons and kids do too! Not only are they colorful and festive but they can be used for movement activities as well as art and science! Here are some of my favorite activities.
Painting with Balloons.
You Will Need:
- Tempra Paint
- White drawing paper
This is a very simple activity that can be done with children of all skill levels. There is no emphasis on the outcome but rather on the process.
First have children blow balloons. Keep them small. Then they can dip the balloons in the paint and stamp them unto the paper to create beautiful art creations.
Balloon Letter Tap:
You Will Need:
- Sharpie Marker
Many children that I work with are challenged by eye-hand coordination. Throwing and catching balls can be a challenging skill. I love using balloons to help them catch and throw. Since the movement of the balloon is slower, they can take more time to motor plan their actions.
Begin by blowing up a balloon and use the sharpie marker to write letters on the balloon. Throw the balloon in the air and name a letter or name a letter and name a word that starts with that letter. Ask the child to do the same as they tap the balloon back to you. This can be very challenging for children that have difficulty combining movement (tapping balloon) with a cognitive skills (name letter or word).
You will Need:
- 5-6 Balloons
This is a wonderful group activity. Kids hold on to the parachute and work as a group. You place a balloon in the middle and as children raise the parachute, they have to make sure the balloon does not fall out. Once they master the one balloon, you can add more and more balloons. I like to tell the kids that we keep the volcano dormant and then at the end we let the volcano erupt by lifting off all the balloons in the air!!!
Don’t Let the Balloons Drop with a Twist
You Will Need:
Another great group activity is the infamous Balloon Drop! I like to play it with a twist. We start with one balloon and gradually I add one balloon at a time. I like adding up to one more balloon than the number of children playing. (if 5 children play, I will slowly add up to 6 balloons) Warning: This becomes a very loud, energetic game!!!
Sensory Bean Bags
You Will Need:
- Dry Rice
- Dry Beans
- Dry Chickpeas
- White Glue
Fill balloons with the above ingredients and tie a knot. You can then use them as hand fidgets or bean bags for a toss game. The different ingredients result in bean bags of different weight. They can then be used to work on graded hand control. ie. children have to decide how much force needs to be used to throw the different weights into a set target.
Spring is here and although it’s been cold around the country, we have been blessed in Florida! Spring energy is in the air. It’s time for color and flowers and outdoor activities! Here are 2 fun crafts that we did in MissMancy’s Messy Art Class for Spring!
You Will Need:
- Cutout of a bird
- Colorful feathers
- finger paints
- white glue
- Wiggle eyes
I like giving the children sponge brushes as an option to begin their project especially for those that have tactile defensiveness. My experience has been that once they see other children using their fingers to paint, they usually try it themselves!
I purchased these foam cutouts in the shape of birds at Target (but you can draw your own on card stock). The kids used bright neon finger paints and added colorful feathers! It’s fun watching the kids play with feathers. This is a wonderful tactile experience with both the paints and the feathers.
Cupcake Liner Flowers:
You Will Need:
- Different colored Cupcake liners
- Construction Paper
Another fun Spring Craft. This one focuses more on fine motor skills such as cutting and drawing. This activity also requires children to follow a certain sequence. It’s an easy activity for children with lower fine motor skill level. You can increase the level of complexity by asking them to draw a scene around the flowers or to draw and cut out their own flowers to add to the craft.
I found these really cool felt flowers at Target that some children stuck on their creations.
Here are some fun St-Patty’s Day activities I found while searching on line.
Golden Coins Shaving Cream Search
Kids absolutely love getting messy with shaving cream. Just add green finger paint, glitter and shiny coins to create a St- Patty’s theme. The children use tactile discrimination to find hidden coins. This is a a great skills to teach so that children learn to use the tactile information they get from touching without using their eyes to monitor what their hands are doing. This comes in handy when opening/closing fasteners on their clothing.
This is a great sensory craft for all skill levels. I found this activity on www.sassydealz.com but adapted it for lower level skills. I cut out black pots from construction paper and stuck it at the bottom of the paper. Then using a pencil I drew 6 curved lines to create a rainbow. I numbered each line and marked it with the matching color pattern of a rainbow.
I also put paints in small bowls and used a dry erase marker to mark the bowls with the corresponding numbers for the order of the colors. Children dip their fingertips in the paint and make dots to create a rainbow! We also used silver foil to make shiny coins.
Leprechaun Activity Hunt!
I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t love the excitement of a treasure hunt. I got this idea from www.spoonful.com. I created clovers with activities on each of them ex: 10 sit ups with a partner, 10 jumping jacks, hold hands with friends in a circle and stand on 1 foot 10 sec. Each child had a chance to pick a room on our map and go find a clover. Each child reads out loud the activity that is on their clover and we complete it as a group. I like sending out one child at a time and doing the activities as each child brings back a clover. It helps with maintaining attention and excitement in the group!
Math the OT way:
Use lots of visuals!!!
Use manipulatives ex: pegs, cubes, number line. For younger children, I suggest you using loose cubes rather than the cubes that click together to connect. I have seen many struggle with the fine motor component of clicking cubes together and separating them due to lack of strength and coordination. This slows down the learning process. They become focused on the motor portion of this task and lose the attention to the math problem they are trying to solve. The loose cubes allow for more flow so that the attention is on the math equation rather than the motor skill.
Use real life examples to solve problems that children can relate to first while they learn the concept, then graduate to other “abstract” examples. For instance you can begin with problems such as, you have 3 toy cars and mom buys you 3 more cars for your bday. How many cars do you have in all? Then you can provide more abstract examples such as There are 4 birds in the tree and 2 more birds come to sit in the tree, how many birds in all?
I love using white boards to complete calculations before putting it on paper. Children tend to have less hesitation to make mistakes on a white board that they can erase. Also, for children that have difficulty with writing skills, the whiteboard has less friction and allows them to flow more easily with their writing thus the attention is on solving the math equation and not focusing on the formation of numbers or holding the pencil to paper.
Teach measurements with actual items ex: paper clip vs width of a desk. Teach volume with measuring cups and liquids, solids etc. Teach money concept with actual coins and bills. The more children can experience real life examples, the more sensory the experience and therefore the greater potential for learning.
Don’t get stuck on teaching with worksheets. There are many wonderful games that can be used to teach math concepts. I like to use Pop the Pig for number recognition, counting and also writing down the numbers. I also have children pick 2 burgers and add up the numbers. Motivation facilitates learning. After playing a game like this, I like to give them one or 2 worksheet problems and relate the concept t the game we just played so that they themselves can see the direct relationship between the worksheet math and game math. ex: After pop the pig game where they pick up numbered burgers and feed the pig, I make them do a math equation and use the burgers example to help them solve.
1- Veggie Art
This is a wonderful activity for all skill levels. I have done this with very young children as well as with my older groups and they all love it.
You Will Need:
- Raw vegetables such as carrots, celery, potatoes and peppers, corn.
- Colorful paints
- Drawing Paper
For the younger children, I precut the vegetables however with the older groups, I like to have them cut the vegetables so they practice daily life skills. Dry them off with paper towels. Let children dip the vegetables in paint and stamp them unto paper. Simple, yet beautiful.
This is a great way to introduce foods to picky eaters because the first step is for them to look at the vegetable as a non-threatening item and to then interact/ play with it!
2- Salt Painting
Salt Painting is a great activity for children that challenges many fine motor skills. Some children wanted to create there own design with glue while others followed a pattern already drawn.
You Will Need:
- White Glue
- Thick drawing paper
- Paints or food coloring diluted in water.
Have children use a pencil to draw on drawing paper. You can also provide them with a drawing if it’s too difficult for them to draw.
Children then have to squeeze the glue following the drawing/pattern. This takes strength, motor planning and finger control.
They then shake salt on the wet glue and paint using watered down paint/food coloring with a paintbrush. The challenge here is the graded hand control. The just right amount of pressure needs to be used during this type of painting otherwise it can ruin it.
These look great however they are a mess to keep. Once thy dry, the salt cracks off. We took pictures of our final products and framed them instead.
I remember as a little girl living in France, we celebrated 3 Kings Day with a very special tradition. Although I didn’t grow up Catholic, it was a tradition that my parents did with us every year because to me and my siblings it was so magical.
We call it La Galette des Rois—The Kings Cake. In France, they made this delicious round puff pastry in which they hid a tiny porcelain figurine. We all sat around the table for a slice and whoever landed on the figurine became the king. They got to wear a paper crown and were granted one wish!
This has become an activity that I like to do as a cooking group with my little ones.Cooking activities address so many skills on a sensory level as well as sequencing, following directions and life skills such as measuring, pouring, mixing etc.. Instead of the fancy puff pastry, we make a giant chocolate chip cookie and I hide a little porcelain figurine. I was also inspired by 3 Kings Day to do create “OT” activities.
La Galette des Rois:
Mix all ingredients for your favorite chocolate chip recipe or use the one below but hide a PORCELAINE figurine before baking. However finds the figurine wins a crown and is granted one wish!
- 1 c butter, softened
- 3/4 c white sugar
- 3/4 c brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 eggs
- 2 & 1/4 cups flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 cups chocolate chips
In large bowl, beat butter, sugars and vanilla until soft and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add flour, salt, baking soda, and beat until well blended. Stir in Chocolate Chips. Spread it out on greased pizza pan. (leave a good inch or so around the edge of the pan as it will spread when it’s baking) Bake 375 for 20-25 mins.
Find the King in a Rice Bin:
Here is a wonderful sensory way for children to play. You can use rice, sand, or dry beans and hide all sorts of items in it including a little king. Whoever finds the king becomes king for the day and is granted one wish.
Find the king in the Putty:
This is also a great sensory activity but with the added component of finger strengthening. Children use tactile discrimination to find the little king hidden in the putty using their fingers.
When working on handwriting, instead of working from worksheets, I like children to use their creative side and imagination. For my 3 Kings inspiration I started off a sentence and asked children to finish the idea by writing their own words. “If I was King for a day, I would……………..”
Zig zag cutting takes a lot of bilateral coordination and therefore it’s great cutting practice for young children. What better way to do that than have children cut a piece of construction paper in a zig zag to create a crown!
Start by drawing a zig zag in thick marker across the length of a construction paper.
Ask children to cut on the lines
Stick both ends of the cutouts together to create one long piece.
Have children decorate by coloring, stickers, glitter, jewels etc…
size it to the child’s head and staple together or tape.
The King’s Scepter
This is a fun group activity. Create a kings scepter my decorating a dowel with ribbons and jewels. Each child gets a turn to “draw” a letter in the air and the rest of the group needs to guess the letter! This is a great way for children to practice correct letter formation.
The parents I work with always ask me for a list of suggested toys for Hanukah or Christmas so this year I put together a little list for different age groups:
3 to 5 Years Old:
1- Dino Popper is a great way to strengthen little hands. I like the Dino more than the other animals because it fits better in small children’s’ hands.
2- Snap and Learn Lady Bugs: This toy works on so many wonderful skills. Not only can you build number concepts and color concepts but the resistance allows to strengthen little hands and also works on constructional skills like a puzzle.
3- Alex Toys ABC Beading: This is a versatile toy that not only helps children work on bilateral coordination skills through beading but it can be used to create words and learn letters.
4-Mr Potato Head: The classic Mr Potato Head is a great toy for little ones. They work on body part identification as well as strengthen little hands.
5- Smart Snack Cupcakes: Kids love this toy! They match the top and bottom of the cupcakes depending on the shape. I like to have older children try to put these together by placing the cupcake behind their backs so as to occlude vision.
5 to 7 Years Old:
1- Magneatos: Get ready for your child to be busy for hours! These balls and sticks are large magnets that can be used to create really cool structures.
2- Magnetiles: This is also a great toy! These magnetic shapes are flat and are used to create wonderful structures.
3- Design and Drill: This is another fabulous toy! Children can copy designs by screwing colored screws with an electric drill! Kids really love this! They can also create their own design. This is great for hand strength and to shape the arches of the hand.
4- Suigz: Love this toy for strengthening little fingers. By squeezing the squigz, children build structures that attach to one another with suction. Don’t forget to have children break apart the structures; another opportunity to strengthen hands/fingers.
5- Edu-shape Magic Symmetry: Here is a fun way for children to create mirror images. This is a wonderful visual perceptual activity that requires problem solving and visual motor skills.
7 Years and Up:
1- Spot it: Excellent visual perceptual game. Children race to find 2 matching shapes, letters or numbers on the card.
2- PathWords Jr: LOOOOOOVVVVVEEE this game. Such a smart toy! Children have to find the required words using different length/colored sticks. They must therefore use visual perceptual skills along with spelling skills. This is one of my favorite games for older children.
3- Chocolate Fix: Here is another very cool game that works on visual perceptual skills as well as motor planning and problem solving. By process of elimination they try to figure out where the different chocolates go on the tray.
4-Poppin’ Puzzlers: I grew up on this game and loved the thrill of finding the shapes before the tray popped! Now ypou can play against an opponent!
5-Curious George Discovery Beach Day: Kids really really like this game. I like that it works on visual perceptual skills and visual memory. Children try to remember where they found the item from the card they picked.
You can purchase any of these items on Miss Mancy’s AMAZON store. CLICK HERE for link