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SEND Painting Activities: How to Meet Additional Needs

All children should be able to access the same learning opportunities. However, for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) some activities may not be as interesting or appealing. Practitioners should adapt their teaching approaches and modify activities to cater for the additional needs of children, rather than expecting all to learn from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Depending on the additional needs of some children, different alterations can be made.

Let’s explore how painting activities can be modified to entice a wider range of children with varying abilities, likes and dislikes. Children with SEND can have a diverse scope of conditions and needs to consider. In the interest of this article, we will be looking at a general overview of learning difficulties involving sensory, emotional, language and physical disorders.

Photographer: Phil Hearing | Source: Unsplash

Sensory

Some children do not welcome activities that over-stimulate their senses. In this example, painting can be an unpleasant experience for children who do not enjoy getting messy or having new and strange textures to touch. Paint can be slimy, cold and messy, but it is commonplace in settings and children should not have to miss out on interacting with it because of a condition they have no control over.

Practitioners are advised to think outside the box with how children can take part in painting without having to touch the paint. While paintbrushes do offer a way to use paint without touching it, it often ends up on their hands eventually, anyway.

Using zip-lock bags with paper and paint in allows children to move the paint around the paper using the protection of the plastic bag; therefore not getting messy. The same premise can be used by putting paper on a table, placing paint on, then covering it with clingfilm, allowing children to spread the paint around, with the paint safely between the paper and the clingfilm.

Photographer: Zachary Keimig | Source: Unsplash

Gloves can be purchased to protect little fingers from paint; even children’s gardening gloves would work well. Sandwich bags can be placed over hands in a safe and appropriate way for the same reason.

For those a bit more confident to explore, different tools that act similar to paintbrushes can be used to explore paint without having to touch it. Long sticks, feathers, straws, pipe cleaners or large cars and trains to push through paint are all innovative ways to encourage children to get involved, without getting dirty.

Alternatively, some children may enjoy sensory activities more than others and will explore paint in any which way they can. They might spread it on their arms and legs, in their hair or try to eat it. Taking this into account, practitioners should consider using not only non-toxic, but non-staining and even edible paints. Vigilant adult supervision is always advised during messy activities.

Photo by Zahra Amiri on Unsplash

Emotional

Children with emotional needs can feel overwhelmed in the slightest instance. While painting they may feel frustrated that someone else has used all of the colour they wanted, that the paints have been mixed, or perhaps because they need a new piece of paper. It is essential that practitioners listen to the children’s concerns in good time, reducing the chance of emotions running high.

Some children feel upset when they do not want to do a certain activity. While all children should be supported to try new things, they should never be forced. Using encouraging language, asking relevant questions and offering solutions are all important when working with emotional children. There may be a genuine issue that is preventing the child from taking part, such as not wanting to wear an apron. Staff can then either find an array of aprons for a child to choose from, find an old t-shirt for them to wear, or just explain that they don’t have to wear one but their clothes may get messy (which might make them equally upset). Providing these choices allows children to communicate their emotions and learn to manage them in suitable ways, through conversation.

Photographer: Jelleke Vanooteghem | Source: Unsplash

Language

Depending on the type of language impairment a child has, they may have limited speech, be non-verbal, have little understanding or all of the above. For children with limited or no speech their language can be supported through painting activities, with practitioners offering meaningful narrations of their play. Describing the paint and the motions children make can help to build up children’s vocabulary. For example, describing colours, using descriptive language like ‘thick, runny, gloopy, liquid, cold, mixing” and explaining movements like “up and down, side to side, diagonal, circles” all help children learn new words.

For children with reduced levels of understanding practitioners should demonstrate what the children can do. Setting examples and visually guiding children through their interactions helps to lower frustrations in children who may not yet know what is expected of them. Adults are always advised to physically take part in any activities that the children do, rather than verbally telling them what they are ‘supposed’ to be doing. Children actively look to adults to see what they are doing and will naturally mimic their behaviour, so practitioners should be consistently playing alongside children, being exceptional role models.

Adult-led activities are an important part of learning, but more free-flowing interactions need to be balanced alongside these. Children with lower language and understanding should be encouraged to carry out their own interpretations of activities if they do not quite understand the aim. Practitioners can guide them to interact more appropriately, but should remain lenient, patient and empathetic if some children choose to do finger painting, rather than using a paintbrush, for example.

Photographer: Gaurav Verma | Source: Unsplash

Physical

Physical disabilities can make life exceedingly hard for young children. Practitioners should consider their needs and think of how to change an activity to make it more accessible. Bringing painting down to floor level might be best for some, whereas others may benefit from ‘easy to hold’ tools, such as wider paintbrushes.

Some children may have more muscle development in their feet than their hands, so practitioners can support painting with feet and toes. Children in wheelchairs might need modified tables to help them get involved and those who are severely disabled and have little to no movement or physical control might enjoy watching an adult squeeze paint around a zip-lock bag if they are unable to do it themselves.

There are many forms of additional needs present in settings, but it is important that all the children are exposed to the same experiences as each other. Practitioners should be motivated to get creative, communicate with families, share ideas with colleagues and seek advice from experts where necessary.