Gifted kids, while they share real estate on the far right side of the IQ bell curve, don’t tend to share much else. “If you’ve met one gifted kid, you’ve met one gifted kid,” right? Some love math and science, some love music and theater. Some rarely sleep and some sleep for days. Some are the pickiest of eaters and some will gobble up anything they can chew through. All of these are options at my house.
As different as these kids can be from one another, they almost always share one thing in common – they are complex.
My middle kiddo, for example, is almost a lesson in contradiction. He’s profoundly gifted but isn’t really into math or science. He’s wildly creative, but his sensory processing issues prevent him from enjoying crafts. He loves to learn in unique ways, but the anxiety and perfectionism he struggles with mean art projects or handicrafts are usually stressful, not satisfying. His favorite homeschool field trips have always been to art museums, but, to my great despair, the kid just doesn’t love including art in his lessons at home.
Note: I received a membership and was compensated for my time; my opinions are my own — I only share what works for quirky kiddos.
I’ve been a photographer for more than a decade. My husband has an Instagram account just for his lunch napkin doodles. Several of us are into graphic design, my oldest has recently taken up spray paint art, our whole family helps with interior decorating, and we are all aware of our own aesthetic. We’re an artsy family. You can imagine my despair when my attempts to incorporate art into our homeschool have been met with reluctance, indifference, even frustration.
The sensory struggles my son experiences are of the avoidance variety. Providing him with a plethora of materials and standing back while he creates to his heart’s content isn’t an option because he can’t stand the way the paints feel against his skin, can’t bear the sound of a map pencil being sharpened. We tried chalk pastels for all of 30 seconds before the texture of the chalk made him feel like he was going to vomit. We did have one successful project using colored glue that he could squeeze out without touching, but short of fighting off all of the slime-making families on the art supply aisles, we just can’t get our hands on that much glue.
I was really discouraged. My boy appreciates art, and being the visual, artistic person that I am I wanted to take advantage of the freedom we have in homeschooling and truly dive into art. We had the time and flexibility to do so much more than cotton balls on construction paper once a week, but his sensory and anxiety struggles meant we couldn’t even churn out a coloring page most months. Everything had to be perfect, pleasing, and couldn’t have any kind of feel at all. Quite a tall order when it comes to a topic that’s supposed to be outside the lines, all about experiencing every sense, totally liberating and 100% subjective.
When I read about Art History Kids and how they approach art using multiple subjects, I could not sign us up fast enough. We’d tried a few art curriculums and dozens of YouTube videos, all with the same result – an anxious meltdown from forcing a rigid, sensory-avoiding kiddo to do what caused him stress. This monthly program, however, looked different, and right up my history-loving boy’s alley. If nothing else I could attempt to sneak the art in disguised as a history lesson and enjoy the pretty pictures for myself.
Right away I was excited by the format. Each month introduces a different topic, be it an artist, a subject, or a genre. We weren’t trapped in the classics or confused by the modernists, there was a very broad and well-rounded queue of art to appreciate. The lessons are full of options, too – different ways to appreciate, discuss, and discover the art, and there are always conversations in the members-only Facebook group where you can get even more inspiration. We didn’t have to sink up to our elbows in modeling clay or wash everything with hard-to-manipulate watercolors. In fact, there were so many different avenues to approach that month’s lesson and so many facts and conversations to incorporate that we’ve ended up using our art lessons as spines for unit studies! Every lesson was prepared for me – all I had to do was dive in.
Art History Kids doesn’t just show you a picture or give a brief biography of an artist, and there’s more than just history. We were able to incorporate art, history (obviously), grammar, nature, science, poetry, and even more history lessons into what we learned. Gifted kids love to hop down rabbit trails and chase whatever newest obsession catches their fancy, so the way the lessons were organized were an actual dream come true. Rabbit trails galore, with no messy paints or cringe-worthy eraser crumbs. The lessons offered various ways to appreciate or consider the art every single week. Not just one little blurb every Monday, but multiple angles, discussions, pointers, and activities per week. There are crafty elements that can be implemented, but the lessons provide enough information and tips that we could easily leave out the activities that didn’t work for his sensory issues without missing out on anything. Art went from something we passively observed to a topic we actively included in our studies.
One month in particular was devoted to trees. Trees in art, various ways artists have seen trees, trees in nature, and so on. Part of the lesson – which includes questions to help guide thoughtful conversations – encouraged us to observe the trees around us, and even start a nature journal, an activity my son was more than happy to participate in. Finally, an art program my kiddo with sensory issues could not only handle, but enjoy!
We discovered how to use his heightened sensory awareness as a strength when approaching art, not a restraint from participation. Rather than simply staring at a painting of a tree or pushing him to attempt a creation that would have him shrinking back from sensory integration issues, he was now intrigued with the formation of bark, the way the changing seasons changed the landscape of our yard, the sounds of rustling leaves, and even the birds nesting above us. He is now not only allowing art lessons, he’s participating in them. This artsy momma’s heart has swelled to see him scribbling away, thoughtfully observing, recognizing art for all that it is and can be. It’s no longer a subject he approaches with dread because of irritating mediums or standards he’s afraid to fall short of. Art History Kids found a way to make art accessible to sensory kids in a way that doesn’t require them to make anything, doesn’t equate art with messes, and encourages exploration.
With Art History Kids you don’t have to be an artist, you only have to be curious.
If you find yourself with a similarly sensory-avoiding kid with an art-shaped hole in your homeschool, then definitely check out Art History Kids. There are individual lessons, monthly plans, and always more being added to The Studio. You can even register to win one of three absolutely free memberships here:
Latest posts by Jennifer Vail
- The Anxious Parent of the Anxious Child | Using Social Stories - January 14, 2019
- Embracing Art and Its History for Kids With Sensory Issues - January 10, 2019
- Homeschooling Because of Mental Illness - January 7, 2019