“Maybe art is the colour ... or the expression the child had in creating the piece — not necessarily what’s left behind when it’s finished.”


Exploring nature

Art is an opportunity for children with multiple disabilities to interact with their environment in a playful way they often miss out on.

For example, “How much exposure has a child in a wheelchair had to making tracks on a sandy beach or a snowy field?” says Gingi Venczel, expressive arts teacher at Sunny View School.

Create opportunities for children to experiment with sand, water and snow by putting these elements into a tub they can access with their hands or feet.



‘Art taught properly has no models of right and wrong.’




Outside the lines
‘When we take the pressure off a child having to create something representational, we can focus on the process of creation itself, and art becomes about possibilities’

As the parent of a child with significant fine-motor problems, I know the hollow feeling of fishing a school art project from my son’s backpack that is clearly not his.

My son struggles to use scissors and glue sticks, is unable to paint neatly within the lines and finds it challenging to create a recognizable image. Yet here is a picture of a flower made with perfectly cut and painted petals that have been meticulously glued onto a piece of construction paper.

Involving children with limited hand use in art they can create themselves is challenging, and that’s why it’s common for educators and parents to use a hand-over-hand approach – placing a firm hand over a child’s to guide a paint stroke or colour within the lines.

Yet this well-meaning intervention stifles the child’s creative expression, says Gingi Venczel, expressive arts teacher at SunnyView School who runs an art club for children with multiple disabilities.

“A hand-over-hand approach reinforces a learned helplessness or passivity, a feeling that nothing I can possibly do on my own can be of value,” Gingi says. At the root of the problem is the value our culture places on art that is representative of people or things, and “the idea that all art has to hang on the fridge.

“When we take the pressure off a child having to create something representational, we can focus on the process of creation itself, and art becomes about possibilities and what the child can do, instead of what they can’t do,” Gingi says.

“Our definition of art can be as broad or as limited as we make it. Sometimes art is just a feeling and sometimes it’s not meant to be anything in particular. Or maybe it’s a memory or a reflection, but as stated within the ability of the student.

Maybe art is the colour, or the mix of colours, or the mix of mediums, or the expression the child had in creating the piece, or the dialogue that took place between the parent and the child – not necessarily what’s left behind when it’s finished.”

Sometimes, as parents, we may shy away from letting our children create their own art because they haven’t reached developmental milestones that allow them to be neat and tidy. “There are some hard questions to ask,” Gingi says. “As a parent, am I prepared for my child to get messy? If things do get messy, am I prepared to remain positive and encouraging at all times?”

Parents may need to let go of expectations that their child will use conventional tools. “Maybe they need to paint with sponges, by rolling sticks, or by using their hands, feet or an elbow.”

Art materials need not be expensive, and can be found in everyday recyclable objects, Gingi says. Toilet-paper rolls, cardboard and tissue boxes, scraps of fabric and natural materials such as stones, grass and sticks are a great start.

Choice-making is critical to the independent artist. If your child doesn’t speak, create a communication board with photographs of a selection of activities, materials and colours. “The art process doesn’t need to start at the table, it can begin outside with the selection of materials.”

For example, if making a collage, give your child “full control over what sticks, stones or leaves they would like to put in their picture.” Parents can cover a piece of cardboard with glue and then encourage the child to blow the pieces onto the paper, or roll them on. “The highest objective is creating, not whether the child can use a glue stick like the other children.”

Gingi encourages parents to look at how they define art and the messages they send their kids about competency. “Art taught properly is non-judgmental, spontaneous and has no models of right and wrong. It’s an opportunity to build self-esteem, reduce stress and communicate without words.”


Flying Colours by Tim Lefens “The idea is not to struggle to do things the way that able-bodied people do. The idea is to make art.”

The Dot and Ish, both by Peter H. Reynolds (kindergarten to Grade 3).

All available at amazon.ca

Contact Bloorview’s Centre for the Arts at 416 425 6220, ext. 3317.

For instructions on creating string art and using a wheelchair as a paintbrush, e-mail Gingi Vinczel gingerly_2001@yahoo.ca.

Bloorview Kids Rehab | Bloorview’s Resource Centre