Art Projects for Inclusion Students

Art Projects for Inclusion Students

I’ve received a few letters asking me about projects best suited for inclusion kids. While I’m not anywhere near qualified to answer this question on a professional level, either as an art educator or inclusion specialist, I will take a stab at trying to address what I find is helpful in my art room.

First of all, I’ve taught many ability ranges in my classrooms. The school where I currently teach, has an inclusion program for K and 1st grade, but the school where I used to teach, offered the other grade levels 2-6th. So I have experience with all grade levels in elementary.

It’s probably best to describe what I identify as inclusion children. These children have a learning or physical challenge such as Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome or other such conditions. The degrees of abilities varies so only the children who can adapt into a mainstream classroom join the homeroom classes for art. Some classes may have 2-4 inclusion children join the art class and they always have aids. They either sit at their own table, or amongst the other children. Wherever they chose.

So how do you teach an art lesson to a 6th grade class with 2-3 inclusion children with varying abilities?

For me, I teach the exact same lesson to everybody, but the expectations are different. My art lessons progress in difficulty so by the time a child reaches 5th or 6th grade, I expect them to know basic art techniques. After all, I’ve helped them develop these skills over the years. But when a child is nowhere near the level of being able to even hold a pencil, this expectation is unreasonable. For these kids, just being in the artroom with their peers is enough.

I remember one boy with down syndrome who listened intently to my instructions and then when the class embarked on the project, this little boy picked up a pair of scissors and cut, cut, cut. He loved cutting. I suggested that he apply some glue to a piece of paper and let the pieces fall randomly. This was his art. His work. Didn’t matter if it wasn’t the “paper-cut flowers in a symmetrical vase” that everyone else was doing.

But art teachers know this so this isn’t exactly helpful.

So what projects work?

I find that any project that includes a template really helps get the project started. Often times, a child can trace around an object/shape and then color or finish the project as required.

Anyone of my Eric Carle Inspired Projects are a huge success. Children can splatter paint either with their hands or a brush. It gets messy, but that’s why art teachers are hired in the first place. We are expected to get messy with our students. If you deny your students this opportunity, then you might not being doing all you can to promote art in the classroom. (I’m saying this with a smile and a wink!)

One of my most successful lessons for younger grade inclusion students is the Lois Ehlert Birds in a Cherry Tree Project. The painted paper is so fun to make and the templates make it relatively easy to create a picture of a bird. I had many compliments from inclusion teachers who claimed that this type of project works best for their kids.

Watercolor projects are hard to do unless you use liquid watercolor. A good oil pastel resist is always a sure fire success. The child, depending on his ability can make a drawing or chose something abstract. It’s the process.

For children with little fine motor skills, the aid can help guide or you can use large brushes or even sponges. Speaking of sponges, projects that include stamping can be fun and expressive. My Stamped Flowers lesson is perfect.

The least effective projects are the ones that use pencils, colored pencils or markers. The results are never great. Tempera paint or cut-paper projects are usually the best as they are the most forgiving.

I’m anxious to hear how other art teachers handle inclusion kids. I feel as though I left out a great deal to this post, including how much help an aid should provide and behavior management. Perhaps I’ll save these topics for another post.

Meanwhile, if you teach inclusion kids, please weigh in and share your tips or suggest art projects for us to try.

What do you think?

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  • Jen Cooper

    I had a student in my 4th grade last year who was blind. Instead of drawing projects everything had to be adapted to three dimensional work. When showing him prints of master artist’s work I would use Wikisticks (waxed string) to outline the major features of the picture so he could feel the shapes the artist used. This would help him when scuplting his own reproduction either out of model magic or plaster wrap (we’d use a newspaper “skeleton” and then he’d cover it with the plaster strips). Teaching color to him was pointless, so we focused on shapes, forms, creating movement, and creating textures (glueing feathers to a bird statue or glueing buttons to a dog to make the spots).
    The best recomendation I can give to make use of the special education staff in your school – the tutors, sped. teachers, physcologists, etc. and find out what they know about the child’s disabilities and what they do to adapt things. Often these things will translate into your own room. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

  • Nathan

    I have a huge box full of stencils and pre-cut shapes for students with special needs to use to create drawings. I feel that this helps a lot with confidence and gives these students a chance to succeed that would not be possible with out the help of these tools.

  • Jessica Balsley

    Thank you for addressing a topic that is so near and dear to my heart. I think you are an expert on this, because you have tried things that work and don’t work. In the end that is how we all learn. I appreciate you putting it out there for us to learn more as well. I totally agree that templates help. I know some people disagree with using templates, but our job is to set up for success.
    I wanted to share 5 Smart Supports for Special Artist that I wrote about recently on The Art of Education. I am happy to share and collaborate with one another. Enjoy!

    • Patty

      Thanks, Jessica!

  • Barb

    I teach art classes for adults with disabilities. I just want you to know, I check your blog weekly and have gotten many, many ideas from you. All art projects can be adapted in some way. Thank you for helping me find projects that work well for those with special needs.

    • Claire

      Hi Barb,

      Where do you teach art classes to adults with disabilities? Is it through a group home? This is something I’d like to get into more. Currently I teach art to a special education high school class and to at-risk elementary age kids, so this site has been really helpful with these endeavors (thank you patty!) but I’d be curious to know more about your experience and what lessons have been the most successful.

      • Patty

        Hi Barb,
        I teach art at a public elementary school in California. I don’t teach adults. Some of my art classes include inclusion kids which I describe above.
        Sorry for the confusion!

  • Dana Skinner

    I am an Art Teacher in Tuscaloosa, AL. Two schools in my system (Alberta Elementary and University Place Elementary) were severally damaged during the tornado that occured last week. I teach at University Place Ele. Dick Blick has a wonderful thing on their website called Art Room Aid. Individuals can go online and purchase art supplies from the list provided. Our list name is: Tornado Relief location: Tuscaloosa, AL This is the link to take you to Dick Blick. http://www.dickblick.com/lists/find-artroomaidlist/
    Art programs often get overlooked in schools. Please help us to rebuild what we have lost.

    Thank you for all your support!
    Dana Skinner

    • Patty

      I put your request on my Facebook page. Hope it helps.

  • zedbee

    …this space evokes happiness & beauty.
    in return, much love & peace, dear teacher!

  • Leah

    I love your blog and look forward to reading your ideas. They help me so much in my classrooms. I teach k-12 in an alternative school. Because of the system we use to separate our kids into classes, there are often multiple grades and abilities in each room. Some kids stay in the same room for a couple years. Because of this, I can’t re-use a lesson for several years. I have to come up with so many original ideas for my students, I am usually spent by December!
    This topic really piqued my interest because I have two classrooms with kids that would be “inclusion” in a typical setting, but they are together in our community. They do not work at grade level, but are socially aware enough to know if they are doing a lesson that is “too babyish” for them.
    Anyway, I agree that templates, stencils, and careful step-by-step are key to creating successful lessons for these kids. I, like you, have a general goal in mind, and am not bothered by the child who spills his paint on the page, then sticks all the scraps in the wet paint rather than follow the directions. However, in the end the simple steps to a complicated looking product build confidence and trust in my students.
    Thank you for sharing your ideas with the world. I wouldn’t be sane without people like you. (Oh, and don’t worry – I pay it forward. I post my original ideas on a blog, as well.)

  • kara

    I work in a school that is only made up of students with severe cognitive and behavior disabilities. Art is one way that my nonverbal students can have fun and express themselves…. it’s a huge reinforcement for them not to mention the sensory benefits they get. I love your site, it’s given me some great ideas. Thanks!

  • Katie M

    Thank you so much for bringing this topic to your page. I am a mom who loves and encourages my daughters to express themselves through art. One of my girls has developmental delays and it is tough to find projects that will be successful for her, without getting frustrated. So thank you for the ideas and suggestions and thank you for all the comments above as it takes a village!

  • Marianne Miller

    Thank you for this website filled with fantastic ideas. I’m a trained Secondary Art teacher but for the last year I have been teaching Art (sort of Art therapy) to 3 Autistic adolescent students individually at a special needs school as part of my teaching there.
    Finding ideas and keeping it simple I found keeps them engaged. The boys love cars and trucks so I made a lot of stampers out of plastic icecream lids cut out with glued handles on them. They drew lines for roads, using sponge rollers to paint, stamping on cars with the plastic shapes onto sponge pads, finding anything stampable – trees, gluing on real sand and collage to create a road/park and cars scene.
    We then worked on African patterns painting dots, lines etc from images shown to them.
    Much painting has been done on A3 photocopies of cars, trucks etc – then using kitchen utensils to stamp with and spray guns of edicol dye e.g. ‘spray painting a car’.
    The boys went fishing at the wharf with photos taken – an ocean theme was used for weeks – finding colouring pages to paint boats, underwater divers, fish and aquatic life, etc connecting all of the work done to make a large collage painting of above and below the water and using the photgraphs of them fishing at the wharf as part of the whole scene. They really engaged with this seeing themselves as ‘part of a scene’ and we could ‘wean off’ doing the cars and trucks again!
    Next term I am thinking of doing;
    pets – such as dogs, cats – whatever their pet is for a few lessons,
    ‘circus’ theme – clowns, animals, circus acts, tent etc.
    Cultural theme such a chinese dragons – tissue collaging a dragon of Patty’s looks good, perhaps stamping also in gold acrylic patterns/chinese symbols, also using red and gold papers, putting all paper collaged onto a colour page of a dragon so they have directions where to glue to.
    The 30 minutes with each student is more like ‘Art therapy’ aimimg to calm them, engage and make the time enjoyable (usually with an achievable art work to take and show) as a reward and ‘something to look forward to’ within the school learning week.
    Hope my input helps,
    Cheers for your assistance with the site Patty,

  • marie

    I work with young and older adults with autism, downs and physically and mentally disabled people. the most recent project was abstract art.
    In our art room we have a saying nothing is wrong we just have fun and can always make our mistakes into something else. Happy accidents. It seemed to take the pressure off to preform. I no longer hear I can’t paint or draw. Breaking it down into small steps after showing an example and demonstration is the way it works for us. we laugh a lot too and have a radio on low in the background as it goes silent when they are concentrating. The supervisor often pops his head in as he cannot believe how quiet it is with 9 people in the room.
    We did the abstract using a ruler for people who cant control a brush, we helped to paint a few of their chosen colous on the edge of the ruler and played on the paper like car window wipers where the colours mix wonderfully and create a background unobtainable by brush!.
    Then we did straight lines in different colours, criss crossing them at random angles either simply placing on the paper or pulling it towards their body.
    After it is dry we use cardboard frames to mount the most interesting parts of the painting.
    One student in a wheelchair with severe mobility and dexterity created a set of three framed pictures from one large painting cut to the frame size. It was beautiful with colour blends, patterns I would have put them in my living room. He was thrilled at his effort.
    This was also done with a man of 50 with low end autism who doesn’t like any dirt on his hands and his mother was shocked he had never done art or a painting in his life. He proudly gave it as a present to his sister. I have gained trust and worked hard for three years with these wonderful beautiful souls and have been amazed how far they have come learning a variety of arts and crafts, drawing ,painting ,clay,sewing and decoupage. I made them a canvas which hangs in our room which says BELIEVE IN YOURSELF AND ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.
    They amaze me and fill my life with joy BUT a lot of credit goes to the may teachers in the world who bring kids on at the beginning at schools YOU ARE AN AMAZING BUNCH OF PEOPLE Thankyou xxx.

    • Patty Palmer

      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! Love it.

  • Annie Roberts

    Hello Patty! I just wanted to let you know that I love your sight! I am a Life Skills teacher for 9-12 graders. I work with all levels of abilities and I have used your lessons from Kinder to 6th grade. I take your lessons and break the steps into even smaller steps. My students have produced some amazing art. We just recently finished a Koi Fish project using chalk pastels and oil pastels. They turned out wonderfully! Thanks for all the ideas!

    • Patty Palmer

      Wow, Annie. You are so welcome! Thanks.

  • Jenny Jackson

    Great Question! I am always looking for resources to help me reach and teach all of my students! My advice would be to try to get to know your students, ask for help and ideas from staff that work with these students~ and don’t be afraid to experiment. I have students with tactile issues… that can be solved by letting them use a clothespin to hold items that are sticky. I purchased an adaptive scissor mouse for safety, and I’ve used many items as alternate paintbrushes when grip strength or dexterity was difficult. I have students with limited motility that can create beautiful art using software… I think the key is to give them a chance to participate!

  • Sherry Elliott

    I have the best Kindergarten inclusion class! Each week 3 or 4 students come in with 2 assistants and sometimes their EC teacher. They have varying abilities and interests but I have found that they all seem to love to paint. I have acquired some very large watercolor paper (36X48) and put it on the table. All students at the table have access to a good portion of the paper and are able to choose whatever colors they want. Although a group of boys pretty much made “mud” by overly mixing, but they had a blast!
    My main concern was that a student would put the materials in their mouths, but I made sure to monitor closely and to have a talk with the class as a whole, then individuals.

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