Getting creative about creativity

While a respiratory therapist attends to ventilator tubes and medical equipment, artists and volunteers set up a makeshift workshop with a handful of teens in wheelchairs.

A table is quickly covered with sanding blocks, drills, hammers and nails. A pile of slender bamboo sticks and pine one-by-twos sits at the ready.

Within minutes the room is a bustle of activity: children pull small Japanese pipe saws across wood held in clamps or hammer nails secured with needle-nosed pliers.

“We put out a variety of materials and tools and see what children gravitate to,” says Shannon Crossman, the artist at Bloorview Kids Rehab leading the session.

“We’re putting out these possibilities and then consciously sitting back and waiting for the child to let us know what they need.”

At Canada’s largest children’s rehab hospital, the creative arts are as critical to a child’s development as clinical and medical interventions, Shannon says. “Art is about a child’s need to express inner feelings, to create and to find wholeness. It can be a tactile, sensory experience that involves exploring the materials, or an intellectual or emotional expression.”

Consider introducing your child to clay, paint, textiles or wood. “Kids love doing anything from the adult world,” Shannon notes, so if you’re a handyperson or sewing-machine whiz, there are ways to modify both. see below

Let go of any negative bias you have towards getting your hands dirty. For example, demonstrate how you can squish clay, make an indent with a finger or elbow, or roll it into a ball or out into a coil.

See what your child gravitates to by giving him or her choices. “Remember that ‘no’ is a choice as well ,” Shannon says. Refrain from setting a goal [“make me a snow man”] or defining the end point of the exercise [“let’s make a present for Grandma”].

“Allow them to experience the material, even if it means they just want to smush it or scratch it repetitively ,” Shannon says. For some children, dipping a brush into the paint cans over and over again and then dragging it along the paper with no obvious intent may be most enjoyable. “They may not create something that resembles a traditional art piece, but they will have an artifact of their activity.”

It’s important to comment on the marks a child makes – but not in terms of “good or bad,” Shannon says. “Respond to the energy of the gesture or stroke. Tell your child how the art makes you feel or what it seems to communicate. For example : ‘ to me, the expression on your clay face looks very angry,’ or ‘when I look at the way you painted with the turquoise, it makes me feel …’

Home art projects
Adult supervision required

Put out a variety of colourful paper scraps (Japanese ones are especially beautiful and can be found in most stationary stores) with construction paper, glue and scissors.

Some children will enjoy making a collage of the scraps on the construction paper, while others prefer to randomly glue pieces of paper together.

Remember, your artist may find it easier to tear paper to size.

If you have a sewing machine, put the foot pedal on the table. Engage your child in choosing fabrics to work with. You can feed the fabric under the sewing foot/needle while you instruct your child on when to press down on the pedal with a hand or elbow, and when to lift up.

“Kids love the power and the noise,” says Bloorview artist Shannon Crossman. “It has connotations of driving and the adult world.”

Make a trip to your local Home Depot and purchase a Jorgenson orange clamp (3706), some lengths of one-by-two inch pieces of soft pine, a hammer and nails, safety glasses and some needle-nosed pliers. Order a Topman Pull-Stroke pull-saw (8006-240) from Lee Valley Tools, (these work on the pull stroke, which is easier for children with limited hand use). Attach the wood to a table with the clamp.

If your child knows what they want to make, jump right in. If still deciding, encourage your child to practise cutting with the saw or hammering with a nail you hold in place with pliers.

Abandon convention and let children express themselves on their own terms


















































It’s a way to
express feelings, create, find wholeness.




Bloorview Kids Rehab | Bloorview’s Resource Centre