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Art in Special Education: Eleven Tips for Success

written by: Anne Vize•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 11/16/2012

Art is a fabulous subject to share with special needs learners. It is a vehicle for developing literacy, numeracy, communication, creativity, higher order thinking and social abilities in a positive and enjoyable setting. Give art a go with your special needs learners, who may have a hidden talent.

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    There are many satisfying and enjoyable tasks you can share in the art program with special needs learners. Some require a significant amount of preparation, but others can be done simply, cheaply and easily. As with many teaching situations, there are some tips to make your life easier.

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    11 Tips for Success in Teaching Art

    1. Be Prepared: Preparation is the key to a good art activity. Have your materials ready before class, and check the little things like having new stocks of paint ready to go when the old bottle runs out, and having containers that can be opened easily.

    2. Set a Goal: For each class and student, you should have at least one overall goal to guide your planning and teaching approach. This is a general statement about what you are trying to achieve in the longer term. Eg. ‘Tom will become more confident in experimenting with tactile tasks.

    3. Set Objectives: Break your goal up into smaller objectives which are specific and measurable. Eg. ‘After the first three weeks of classes, Tom will be able to place his hands on clay and explain what it feels like.

    4. Know your Students: Have a good understanding of your students, their skills and their learning needs. Art is not an environment where you want to suddenly find out that someone is tactile defensive or has an anger management issue.

    5. Go Outdoors: Spend time outdoors as well as within the art room or classroom itself. Explore the feel and appearance of natural items, and incorporate them into the art experience. Being outdoors allows lots of language to happen spontaneously – how big, small, fast things are, or what smells go with trees or grass.

    7. Use Recycled Materials: Work with families and the community to build your stocks of boxes, tubes, cylinders, tubs, as well as natural items such as leaves and nuts from trees. This helps students learn the value of using and reusing, and how it helps protect the environment.

    8. Avoid Injury: A chair on caster wheels with an easy height adjustment is a great tool for getting yourself around the room easily and being at the right height for each student. Avoid leaning over a student from behind. Go around in front instead, and sit in a comfortable position to avoid back problems down the track.

    9. Know your Materials: Understand the contents of every paint bottle, varnish, lump of clay and pot of glaze you allow into your room. There is no excuse for ‘accidentally’ harming a student because you did not know what was in a product you used.

    10. Experiment: Encourage students to experiment with color, texture and visual images. Don’t always have an end product in mind. Sometimes it is neat to set an objective, then see how students set about experimenting and exploring on their way to achieving it.

    11. Learn from Others: Join a network, professional association, or go to conferences. Making links with other art teachers and class teachers who love art is a great way to share your ideas about what has worked – and what has not!