It has been really difficult for me to plan things out for special needs students that really feel like they make a connection and are really fun. Last year I started pulling them as a whole class during one of my planning times so that we could have some art time just the 6 or 7 of us that might feel different than their art inclusion class.
When I started doing it, I did a lot of pre-cut shapes that they cut put down and arrange to make a specific image, but that didn’t really feel like their own voice was coming through. I do think that these early exercises built up some trust between us, and that was beneficial, but I really wanted to see them doing and making some things that felt more like self expression, and less cookie cutter. Freire says that ” We make the road by walking.”, and that is exactly what I felt like I was doing… I was trying things that I knew might fail so that eventually I could find some things that really worked for this special class, and create a path for us that felt real, and based on experience, and joy in art making.
After a year of trial and error I have found some things that are pretty awesome for a small special needs group and I want to share one with you today, and I hope you try it.
I found some powdered tempera in the back of my art closet and thought about throwing it out, but several art teachers I know told me to look harder at this old powder (its good to have art teacher friends). I found a post on exploding paint bags on a blog called growing a jeweled rose.
First you get permission from the parents for the kids to get especially dirty 🙂 then, you take 2 tablespoons of powdered tempera, and 1/3 cup of vinegar and put them together in a plastic baggie (I had six kids, so six plastic bags of vinegar). The baggie begins to expand, and grow larger and eventually pops, creating an explosion of color.
We found that we really needed to add some straight up baking soda to this mixture in order for it to really get swollen, and that stomping the bag was a big part of the joy for the class. They each chose a color, one at a time added the powder to the vinegar, closed it up, watched it swell and then stomped it. I have never seen so many smiles in that class…ever.
After everyone had popped their bag, they swirled the big splatters with their hands and made a beautiful colorful collaborative painting. Ms. Thompson, the special ed teacher said at the end: “you know what this looks like? It looks like the spectrum.”, and it really did. It was a fantastic day (we blew bubbles at the end to really take our day to the next level and also to make sure everyone who felt finished had something to do), and I hope you try this with your own special needs kids.