Did you know that October is National Sensory Awareness Month!? It is estimated that about 5-15% of children today (even those that may not be categorized in special education) have significant enough challenges with sensory processing that it can affect their daily life. This can include high sensory preferences such as being overly sensitive to touch. This student might show up in your art class as the child who can’t stand the feel of glue stuck on their fingers, has a meltdown when asked to do touch activities like finger painting, handling modeling clay or carving a pumpkin (those pumpkin insides are just too squishy for them!), and just generally wants to keep his/her hands clean and away from anything that has any smacks of light touch input. This is because light touch activities like these may set off the “flight or fight” response. Think about how YOU react when you walk head first into a large spider web (Yikes!) or hit that mosquito that has landed ever so lightly on your arm and you whack at it like a warrior! This is the protective response at work. It helps keeps us safe, but some general children have difficulty turning this switch off. When doing tactile art work activities as described above, it may help to warm up first with this activities:
- Hold hands at midline in a “prayer” position and push both hands together with force. Hold for a count of 3. Release and repeat 2-3 more times.
- Stand up and lean forward on the table into extended arms and hands. Have the child try to lean so far forward on hands that they get up on their tiptoes in standing, then rock back leaning away from the desk and rocking on to the heels of the foot. Repeat rocking forward then back 2-3 more times keeping the elbows straight and hands pushing firmly on the table.
- For older students, leaning against a wall and doing a few of the “runners stretches” (hands on wall, arms extended and alternating one foot then the other to stretch legs/hamstrings) is also a good option.
These exercises help promote deep touch pressure input (not light touch!) so activate receptors in the muscles and joints that in turn may help prepare the hands and fingers, and reduce the stress response in the body. Why not try these quick activities before your next art assignment. Allow a few weeks of implementing these easy classroom strategies and see if you notice less meltdowns, disruptions and off task behaviors. Do you have a favorite tip to help sensory sensitive art students? Let us know!