Bringing Out the Inner Artist
Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L
In this day and age, technology offers us so many fun and exciting ways to occupy our child's time, from playing games on a Nintendo DS or Leapster to downloading the coolest new app for your iPad, having the ability to watch a show practically at any time, any place, kids can be entertained with ease. These gadgets have made waiting at a restaurant, a doctor's office or for the next meal at home a bit easier, often replacing traditional activities of reading or coloring. And although many of these devices offer ways to enjoy these activities, this month we are going to explore the many benefits of coloring and drawing; even for our wiggle worms.
When we think of bringing out the crayons and markers, we initially think of fine motor skills. In addition, we tend to see these activities ideal for our toddlers, pre-writers, and many times do not encourage them after this stage. However, coloring and drawing offer us the ability to address other areas than just fine motor skills, and can actually be very fun and rewarding.
For many of our sensory children, sitting to attend to tasks is difficult, especially coloring. You may be able to get them to do a fleeing stroke here or there, or find that they are just bored. However, after the appropriate sensory diet activities to get their systems regulated, coloring is an ideal way to address attention, focus, and independent work. And for the child who struggles with multiple step activities, such as crafts that involve coloring, cutting, and gluing; coloring alone is a simple one-step activity to get you started. Providing the wiggle worms with the appropriate adaptations to keep them focused will help. From using weighted items, to completing the activity in a smaller space, such as a child's tent may improve your child's involvement. Think outside the realms of the table and work on core stability by taping the page to the wall and have the child stand to color, move it down to the floor, having them color in prone (what a great way to strengthen that prone extension), or increase shoulder stability by having the child lay on his or her back and tape the page to a surface above their head, such as a small table or bench that they can reach.
Visual motor skills can be strengthened with the use of crayons and markers. From emphasizing coloring within a designated area to encouraging accurate tracing of shapes and designs, these activities keep the hands and eyes moving together. And they can be easily graded to increase or decrease the challenge for your child. Beginning with simple designs is best, those that have minimal inside lines working your way up to more complex pictures. You can give visual boundaries by highlighting the outside lines, or choosing different colors to outline and having your child color the corresponding color within the area. For the child that becomes overwhelmed with all the visual input, cover up part of the picture with a piece of paper, offering only small sections to color at a time.
Coloring and drawing are said to be activities that promote calming and are recommended to help deal with stress in adults. Which in turn make them great for our sensory children. So many of these children keep their bodies and minds in a high alert state throughout the day as they are working through anxieties of school, friends, and activities. With the addition of calming background music, and any proprioceptive input, coloring offers an ideal sensory experience. Also, this may be a great way to start or end a session based on your child's needs. For the older child who demonstrates difficulty opening up in conversation, pull up a seat and color right beside him, talking about the day. For parents, this may be a great way to get your teenage child to actually sit down and talk to you! This allows him to stay focused on the task, not worrying about conversation.
Unlike sports, games or schooling, drawing and coloring have very little boundaries for success. You have the ability to make it as structured or unstructured as you like, allowing children some control over decision-making. In addition, for children who need less structure, giving them an 'open canvas' and some music to move, you never know what new masterpiece will be donning your refrigerator
So, for the rest of your summer when you are spending time unplugged, pull out a coloring book or plain sheets of paper, some crayons and markers, and bring out your child's inner artist while encouraging fine motor, visual motor, and attention skills. It is a great way to keep a child's eyes, hands, and mind working together, with a beautiful, tangible finished product.