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Using Child Directed Art In Speech Therapy

Lots of us SLPs do some form of arts and crafts during therapy.  If you look on Teachers Pay Teachers or on the different social media sites, there are lots of different great craftivities out there.  These typically have very specific goals they target and have a designed final product.  These are great and I use them often during therapy but I also love using child directed art.  

How does it work?  I will choose different materials to put out on the table and the children then choose what they want and how they put the materials together to make a final product.  Some final products may be simple and only contain different kinds of glue. Others are a more elaborate collage of different materials.  I will make a project beside them so we can talk about what we are doing. The sky the limit as far a materials go. 

  • tissue paper in whole sheets or cut up into different shapes
  • doilies 
  • stickers (these often reflect the theme of the week)
  • glue
  • glitter glue
  • ribbon cut into different lengths
  • feathers
  • pompoms
  • crayons
  • markers
  • bingo dabbers
  • paints
  • different types and colours of paper
  • sparkles
  • clay
The reason I love child directed art is that it can target so many different goals in a natural environment and as my OT and art teacher friends would say, it's developmentally appropriate for preschoolers.  While creating, I can target:
  • requesting and commenting
  • increasing MLU
  • verbs  (e.g. glue, cut, paste, stick, dab, squeeze, spread)
  • adjectives (e.g. sticky, wet, shiny, pretty, bright, dull, and soft)
  • arctic goals.  I'll have materials out that will use targeted sounds (e.g. s-blends: stickers, sparkles, sparkly, sticky, stripes, and spots)
  • school concepts such as  colours, shapes, and numbers
  • prepositions  (e.g. on, in, next to, under, and around)
  • describing what they have made
  • social skills such as sharing and negotiating with peers. It's great when children do a craft together
Bonus is that it's great for communication temptations, both natural (e.g. opening glue) and created (e.g. putting materials in clear containers) and it's highly engaging. Often children will stay longer at it than other types of craft projects.

Child directed art can be, and usually is, very messy.  I usually have an old plastic tablecloth I spread over the table for ease of cleanup.  Also, I do it during the time of day when I can spend the extra time to clean up. Do you do kid directed art in therapy?

Wait! Don't put away those visuals just yet!

Throughout the last year I have written blogs post about the importance of visuals and the different kinds of visuals you can use. Now you have started to put some visuals in place and I will assume they have made a difference.  What do you do now?  Do you keep them?  Do you stop using them because transitions or following the routine/directions does not seem to be as big a problem?

The answer is "No!" It is natural to want to start to fading away supports when children start to function more successfully in a situation.  The goal is to have the least amount of support available for a child to be the most successful. And well, let's be honest, making visual supports (and sometimes using them) can be time consuming and can seem like a never ending process. You may feel or even hear others say, "He's doing so much better now.  He doesn't need those anymore."  I think we sometimes forget that the child is more successful because the visuals are in place. To take those away from the child now is not fair to him or her. 

The problem is we often try to take them away or change them before the child is ready for them to be removed or changed. I will fully admit, I have been guilty of this.  Children will still need them way longer than we expect them to need them.  Try thinking it like this, visual supports are like your day timer, you could probably function okay without it but think about how much easier you day is with your day timer.  Okay so now what?  When do you start to reduce the visual supports?

There is no easy answer and some children will always depend heavily on them and that's okay because it is something they need to be more successful.  I usually wait a long time after the visuals are working (sometimes I will wait a year) and then I will start to slowly reducing them.  During that time, I alway make sure I have their original visual available if the new visuals/no visuals are not working. It is sometimes feels more like an art than a science and it should be done with care.