Developing Art Projects for Special Needs Students

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Art can be a wonderful way to get students of all ability levels interested in learning. In this lesson we'll go over some ideas for developing art projects for young children with special needs.

Art and the Student with Special Needs

If you work with young students with special needs, then you know that no two of them are alike. In fact, the concept of 'special needs' can be very hard to define, since at the end of the day, every one of us has some special needs. Similarly, the concept of 'art' is hard to define; after all, in some ways, just about everything could be defined as an art. This open-endedness is one of the reasons that making art is a wonderful experience for students with special needs. Art does not need to look any certain way, and often, the real value in creating art is in the process itself rather than the finished product.

Know Your Students

Just as with any other curriculum or project design, a good starting point is knowing the students in front of you. This can be particularly important with students with special needs. Start by making a list of your students' strengths, or the things they learn well. Then, make a list of their struggles or your goals for them. You might take these ideas from their individualized education plans (IEPs).

Once you have these lists in front of you, you can start thinking about art projects that will allow your students to work from their strengths and start addressing their challenges. For instance, if a student is really good with her hands but struggles at social skills, you might want to begin with an art project that allows her to work on sculpture independently. Little by little, you can encourage her to talk with other students about her sculpture or even create a sculpture in partnership with another student. You might also have a student whose expressive language is very limited but who seems to have a strong visual memory. This student might love looking at a work by a particular artist and attempting to copy it, thereby expressing some of his or her own thoughts via the art.

Choose Materials Wisely

Part of designing an art project for students with special needs is choosing the materials you will use carefully. When you are selecting materials, think about the following questions:

  • Are these materials accessible? Will every student in my group be able to use them, or will some students require extra support?
  • What supports can I offer to students who will struggle to access these materials?
  • Are the materials safe for all the students in my group?

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