I was first introduced to the idea of Sensory Art for kids when I lived in Portland, OR. The class was offered at an art studio called Art A La Carte that I frequented with my kids. Though my kids were too old for the class I fell in love with the concept. When I moved back to Knoxville in 2015 and opened my studio, I felt like such a class would be great fit here in Knoxville. I first began offering sensory based art classes at my studio, The Basement Community Art Studio back in 2015. Messy Baby Art Classes were geared to infants (Sitting-24 Months). Since 2015 the class continued to grow and grow in popularity. I have had the privilege of working with so many infants and toddlers through this program. When I accepted the Job at the MUSE Knoxville in 2018, I added a similar class there, Mess Maker Mondays. Though this class is slightly different, it has continued to offer a sensory based art experience here in Knoxville.
Sensory based art is something that I am deeply passionate about. I believe that fostering this type of experience from a very young age acts as a building block to support creativity and creative play as a life long habit. So that begs the question…
What is Sensory Art?
Child development experts agree that young children learn best when their play appeals to their senses. When children engage their senses during play, they build powerful cognitive connections. They begin to learn about the world around themselves. Young children and infants uses all of their senses to take in stimuli from the world. When they are provided with an environment rich in sensory experiences they are able to make more of these types of connections. Being able to explore this way stimulates movement from the child and strengthens their motor skills and coordination as well.
As the child plays you can add language to their experience. Give the proper names of the tools they are using. As they reach for a tool, name it. “Sponge.” or “Feather.” You can also name the colors they are using. Simply say “Blue.” when they use blue paint… Keeping the language short and clear allows them to begin to make associations between the language and the object. It is much more clear than saying something like, “Yes, you found the blue paint. Can you use the feather to paint blue on the paper.” Simple language is best.
Setting up a Sensory Based Art Experience at Home
During our sensory art classes we like to offer a variety of tools and materials for the child to explore. Basic everyday household objects make great painting tools! Possible ideas include:
- Wooden spools
- Toilet Paper tubes
- Bits of Yarn
- Pine cones
- Food (potato, celery, apple) all make fun prints
Look around your home and find items with an interesting texture that are safe for the child to explore. Try to offer them a variety of different shapes and textures to explore during their art play. Be sure to use child safe, non toxic art materials. I love Blick Student grade tempera paints, they are non-toxic, gluten and peanut free, and washable. Using a variety of tools offers the child multiple sensory stimuli, plus it provides opportunity for further language acquisition when you name the tools as we discussed above.
There are wonderful art products out there for young children that you can purchase through stores or online if you wish, but you don’t have to spend a ton of money. You can find some amazing DIY art supply recipes for tiny artists online. From craft dough to edible paints and more, the internet is filled with great ideas you can make at home with common ingredients found in most kitchens! Have fun exploring and setting up your child’s sensory art projects (This can be a great creative outlet for you too)!
Where to create?
Provide your child with a variety of ways to explore the art materials as well. Once the child can stand consider painting at an easel. If you don”t have an easel you can tape paper to a wall at their height. You may want to use a drop cloth or larger paper behind the paper they are painting to contain the mess and make clean up a bit easier.
If your child is not yet standing simply spread out paper on the floor for them to paint on. Remember older children also enjoy working on the floor from time to time as well! Working on the floor can give them the opportunity to work much larger, using large motor movements which can be a nice change for older children.
If you are concerned about the inevitable mess consider working outside on a nice day or use an old sheet/drop cloth on the floor under their work. When the art time is over simply fold away the drop cloth and store it for next time! Another fun place to create art is in the bath tub. When art time is over just clean the baby and the mess up at the same time.
Tables are always a great place to explore art materials, but try to provide variety for your child with their art play. If you usually paint at the table, consider trying a new spot. Often as children get older, most of their art is done at a table. This limits the size of their art as well as the motor movements they use to create their art. An occasional change in location is always exciting and keeps their art experience fresh and new!
Keep in mind that art is messy, and the mess is part of the fun! Learn to embrace the mess as your child creates. With a little planning the mess can be easily contained and relatively easy to clean up as well!
Prepare for a mess
Sensory exploration in art is often very messy, so be prepared. At the studio we recommend letting our youngest artists paint in their diapers or an old onsie. Older toddlers and children we recommend wearing old clothes paired with an art smock or apron. Most children’s art supplies are considered “washable” however, I have noticed that they do not always wash completely out. So, it is best to dress in clothing you are not too worried about. Adults facilitating messy art should also dress in clothing that can get painted…because it very likely will, lol.
Drop cloths such as a painters tarp or old sheet can help protect the ground or table around your art area, making clean up a bit easier.
Most importantly have fun and embrace the mess!