Creative Art Activities for Children with Special Needs

Child's hand playing with play dough

Child care providers often have children with special needs included in their programs. Art activities can be a valuable learning experience for many children with special needs, but the art activities given in a child care setting may need to be modified or adapted so that all children may participate in them.

Child care providers should also be aware that they may need to guide children with special needs when helping them with their art activities. Here are some ideas for modifying or adapting materials and activities to children with special needs.

  • Encourage children with special needs to participate in art activities. Use appropriate ways to let children know what art materials are available. For example, you may need to use sign language and demonstrate the materials for children with limited hearing, or you may encourage children with limited vision to touch materials while you explain what they are.
  • Make sure materials are accessible to all children, including children with special needs. Pay attention to where materials are stored and whether children with motor challenges can get to them.
  • Adapt art materials to the child’s ability. For example, instead of using scissors that a child may not be able to grasp very well, give children with fine motor challenges pre-cut pieces of paper. Consider giving children adaptive scissors that open easily, or allow the child to tear his or her own pieces of paper.
  • Applaud the artistic efforts of all children. Saying “You worked on that painting for 20 minutes!” or “I bet you feel proud of what you created!” will help build self-confidence and creativity.
  • Be creative. Activities that are pre-made or that have specific directions do not help children be creative and may be too challenging for those with certain special needs. Provide children with open-ended art materials that can be used in many ways and encourage all children to use their abilities to create their own art.

Should I Physically Help a Child with Motor Challenges Create Art?

Children with severe motor challenges may need physical help to create artwork. When helping a child in the art center be sure to let her take the lead. Give only the help necessary. Encourage children to try to do it themselves first. Ask a child what she wants to do, what materials she wants to use and what kind of help she needs. Check in as you help to make sure that you are helping her create what she wants.

Modifying and adapting your art center is an important way to include children with special needs in child care programs. Creating art is a worthwhile experience for all children and should be available to children with special needs as well as typically developing children. With simple modifications, you can ensure that all children can use their senses and creativity in the art center.

For More Information

To learn more about working with children with special needs, check out the eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care section on Child Care for Children with Special Needs. Read more about making your art program successful in the Art in Child Care section. If you are looking for specific art activity ideas to use in your child care program, take a look at the Hands-on Activities Database.