February 27th, 2014
Picture (Im)perfect: How I used art to help my son communicate
It was the handyman who came to fix a closet who first gave me pause. His eyes bulged, frantically scanning the organ pipes of painted paper towel rolls on the windowsills, the wallpaper of easel paintings, the sticker wall, the runway of paper “carpet” with scattered markers, the sprawling paint-and-glue-crusted art tables teeming with craft materials. Once his eyes retreated into their sockets, the best he could come up with was a barely audible, “wow.” It occurred to me that friends and family hadn’t noticed, or had been awfully polite, because it took this complete stranger that day to make me see just how fully art—my son Jackson’s art—had consumed our home.
To be fair, I’d been aware of this massive overtaking. I did, after all, stay up for several nights before Christmas one year to chalkboard paint an entire livingroom wall. I had taken my son to the art supply stores and let him gleefully fill up the carts. Oh yes, I had happily encouraged it all, was responsible for the craft festival décor of my once minimalist home. Aside from me being a creatively-inclined Pisces mom, how did it happen?
The answer: Art was one of the ways our son Jackson, a Cancer born in July 2009, communicated with us for the first three years of his life because of his speech delay. When he was making art, he was at ease, happy, nothing was expected of him. Creating art is quiet, individual work. He would lose himself in it, especially painting, and his finished product would generate our praise. It was something he could feel good about when he wasn’t maybe feeling good about not being able to say much. And everything went on display. He carried around tape like the father carried around Windex in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. There was no spot on our walls uncovered.
I come from a family of artists, and while I appreciate art and can execute a simple Pinterest project, I would not consider myself an artist, and neither would my husband (Jackson’s Taurus dad). But we recognized the importance of art in his life and, as any parents with young children know, whatever is working, well, you do more of it! I brought up from the basement a folding table from Home Depot and parked that puppy right in our livingroom. I didn’t want him to feel like art was something to be created with any boundaries, an activity to be taken out and put away, something with a beginning and an end. I wanted him to be able to indulge whenever the mood struck, and for many months he would wake up and paint before he asked for orange juice. I also ditched the idea of using smocks—again, no barriers. Given space and freedom, he was able to express himself and interact with us without words.
What happened in our home isn’t probably a surprise to anyone who’s used art therapy. You can find tons of information on the subject doing a simple Google search. For us, the transformation of our home and our son grew organically; we didn’t use any single resource for guidance. Our son goes to a special needs preschool and receives speech therapy, so we knew he was getting the professional help he needed, we simply sought to create a special place in our home for him to express himself.
If you’ve not designated space in your home for your children’s art, try it. Even if your journey with your children is different from ours—a simple Google search will also reveal just as many resources on using art for cognitive development. You don’t have the space? Yes you do! Our home isn’t big (remember, that art table is in my livingroom!) And it doesn’t have to look like an interior designer decorated it (stop obsessing over those pictures on Pinterest!) Unless you have a lot of space and you want to do that—it’s a dream of mine, but it is not essential to creating an art space.
Lastly, have some faith that your children will be neat enough while exploring their materials. Those washable paints and glues and markers really do wipe up. Roll away the Persian rug, give up control and see what happens!
Ideas for art activities or art spaces by your child’s sign:
Has lots of energy, don’t expect your child to sit in a chair to paint—Aries needs an easel to stand at, or try papering a wall so he or she can stretch arms wide to draw. For a crack at more focused work, try a calligraphy set.
Appreciates beauty and the outdoors, try bringing earth elements to Taurus’s art table: leaves, pinecones, small sticks, pebbles. Take the art outside with sidewalk chalk too.
Gemini rules the hands, consider mixed media projects with your child, like gluing bottle caps of various sizes to a canvas. Also have ready things to manipulate, like pipe cleaners. Don’t forget the washable crayons for bathtime!
Fill up a paint pallet—use the really big ones with lots of wells for different colors—and watch your child work through his emotions with each stroke of the brush.
All about DIY, try a volcano kit, a Raindbow Loom, or enlist the help of your little Leo in repainting the bathroom or laying down new tile!
Sorting beads, creating color-pattern bracelets, molding materials, puzzles will all appeal to the analytical mind of your Virgo child. When they’re ready, a ball of yarn and needles or a model airplane would be most welcome!
It’s all about pretty things for a little Libra, try a stained-glass project, glitter glue, or something as simple as a sketchpad and colored pencils for free-form beauty creation. Libra loves sugar and sweets, try painted dough ornaments at holiday time.
Creative and self-expressive, Scorpio is comfortable repurposing items for art, save those empty toilet paper tubes! Also inclined to DIY, a sewing machine or a beginner science kit might get your Scorpio going.
A short attention span for Sag means you better rotate materials often or your child will get bored. Your Sag probably loves books, self-published picture books would make a great activity (just staple together)!
These kids love to tinker and experiment, finger paint will appeal. They might also like to incorporate some Legos into their mixed media art work. A chemistry set is a must.
Stock up on Duck tape in dozens of colors and see what funky things Aquarius comes up with (bracelets, wallets, wallpaper).
Water, water—obvious choice is watercolors but Pisces also likes photography. Maybe a camera of his or her own, and scrapbook materials to create memories (hey, get them to do the baby book you’ve been putting off!)