Before my young friend arrived, I had prepared our art cart hoping there would be something that would catch her eye. Sure enough, the paint set was the the visual invitation that sparked her interest. While holding a paint set in one hand and a paint brush in the other, she turned and looked up at me. “Would you like to paint?” I asked. “Okay,” she said and she set them on the small work table.
She started to pull the child-sized chair out from beneath it to sit down. I knew this was the moment to step in to begin guiding. It was my job to slow her down and lead her through the process. Certainly, it would have been easier to collect the materials for her, open the paints and let her begin. But, as with all activities, there is so much to gain from start to finish. It’s the process not the end product that matters most.
I sat at her level and asked that she please “find my eyes.” Once she made eye contact with me, I knew she was listening and reassured her that she would soon be able to paint. “First, we have to set up the work together. Hmmm…Let’s see, (slowing down and pausing to give her time to process and follow my lead). I think we need a mat to protect the table from paint spills. Do you remember where the mats are kept?” With several color choices to choose from, she selected yellow and set it on the table. Next, using the same approach, she chose a soft cloth for spills, a piece of paper and a small ramekin bowl. She carried each to the table, one at a time.
She began to set the bowl on the table and started to lose her balance. I watched and trusted that she would recenter herself. Both her small and large motor coordination was working hard to stabilize. And they did. Incorporating movement helps to refine her large motor skills. Once centered, she gently placed the bowl on the mat showing great focus. I was delighted to have captured that moment!
As a reminder, I said, “we will need water for the painting activity. Would you like to pour the water into the squeeze bottle?” I demonstrated with slow and exaggerated movements. To open the bottle’s cap, I unscrewed its top and placed the bottle under our “work water” dispenser (there are two water dispensers: filtered for drinking and unfiltered for activities.) I then opened and closed the dispenser’s tap as she watched before inviting her to try.
“Would you like to add work water to the squeeze bottle?” Normally, I would offer the child a small ceramic or glass pitcher to hold the water and pour from. Instead, I opted to offer her a squeeze bottle for this activity. Because of the pandemic and our recent move, she hasn’t had a lot of pouring opportunities here. With the many steps already involved, I felt the squeeze bottle was more familiar and therefore offered a greater chance for a successful water transfer outcome. With a little verbal and hands-on support from me, she filled the bottle with water, closed the dispenser tap and and tightened the bottle top. Once tight, she carried the bottle to the table upright and with two hands.
Coordinating her movements and positioning the small wooden chair was the next step. She had to make spatial judgements both with her body and the connection between the table and chair. She settled in and I asked, “Would you like me to push you closer to the table?” She smiled and said, “Okay.” While she added water to her ceramic bowl, I offered the simple language, “squeeze.” In between, she took a turn and said, “squeeze,” too.
Next, she dipped the brush in the water and then a paint color before making long horizontal strokes across the page. She continued for a short time and then paused to touch the paint with her fingers. After collecting the necessary sensorial information she needed, she returned to her brush strokes. She painted for all of about three minutes.
Was it worth all that work for three minutes of painting? Absolutely!! Painting was the invitation; however, the greater learning was in everything that led up to the painting. Simply by preparing an art cart with items that interested her, she left innately satisfied from her “work” and colorful art to remind her of all she had accomplished that morning: her growing independence, coordination, language, dexterity, balance, confidence, judgement, reasoning and so much more!