featured image

The Artistic Approach: Enhancing Learning in SPED Classrooms

profile image


January 03, 2024


Are you tired of the same old teaching methods in your special education classroom? Looking for a way to engage your students in a way that goes beyond traditional textbooks and lectures? 

Look no further than the colorful and creative world of art! 

Not only does art provide a fun and engaging outlet for self-expression, but it also has a proven track record of enhancing learning for students with special needs. 

In fact, a study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts found that students who participated in arts-based programs saw significant improvements in their social and emotional development, as well as their ability to think critically and problem-solve. 

So, put down those dry-erase markers and pick up some paint brushes – it’s time to get creative and enhance learning in your classroom!

Why Art Education is Important in SPED Classrooms

incorporating art in the SPED classroom

Art is a universal language that transcends barriers and is accessible to all. It’s a powerful tool that can help students of all backgrounds in various ways. 

One of the most significant benefits of art education is improved fine motor skills. Students who have difficulty with tasks that require fine motor skills, such as writing or buttoning their clothes, may benefit from activities that involve manipulating and creating art materials. This can help them develop their hand-eye coordination and strengthen the muscles in their hands. 

Furthermore, engaging in art activities can help students improve their focus and attention to detail.

Art education can also increase creativity in students. Promoting creativity through art allows our students to explore and develop their imaginations. This can be especially valuable for school-aged students, as they’re often encouraged to rely on structured learning and have limited opportunities for play. Studies have shown that incorporating art into the curriculum can enhance students’ ability to think outside of the box, to problem-solve, and even to innovate.

Aside from its cognitive benefits, art education can also have a significant positive impact on our students’ self-esteem. Participating in art activities can provide students with a sense of pride and accomplishment as they create something unique and beautiful. This can be especially meaningful for students with special needs who may struggle with feelings of inferiority due to their disabilities. 

By creating an inclusive and supportive environment that integrates art, we can encourage our students to believe in themselves and their abilities.

Practical Ways to Incorporate Art into the Curriculum

incorporating art in the SPED classroom

We all know the importance of providing our students with engaging and fun learning experiences. Incorporating art into the curriculum is a fantastic way to achieve this, while also promoting creativity, critical thinking, and emotional expression. 

Here are a few ways you can add art into your curriculum – regardless of the subject or age level – right away.

1. Try Sensory Bins

Sensory bins are an excellent tool for incorporating art into the curriculum while engaging students’ senses.

For instance, you could fill a bin with colored rice, small plastic animals, and other figures, and have students create a landscape. Or you could fill a bin with sand, seashells, and small shovels, and have students create a beach scene. 

The idea here is that sensory bins are open-ended, allowing for creativity and play, while also promoting fine motor skills and sensory development.

2. Draw and Color

Drawing and coloring are simple – yet effective – ways to integrate art into the curriculum. Use coloring sheets themed around academic subjects, such as science, mathematics, or social studies. 

You could also have students create their drawings to reinforce classroom lessons. For instance, after teaching about different types of animals, have students draw a picture of their favorite animal, or have them create a comic strip to explain a math concept.

3. Make Collages 

Collage-making is another way to get creative with art in the classroom. Encourage student creativity by asking them to create collages using a variety of materials, such as leaves, twigs, magazine cutouts, papers, and fabrics. 

Collages can be themed around an academic subject, such as a historical figure or scientific concept. Not only that, but collages can help develop fine motor skills, such as cutting and pasting.

4. Use a Variety of Mediums

To keep your students engaged and interested, try to present a variety of art mediums. 

For instance, you could have students paint with watercolors, acrylic, or finger paints. You might also get them to sculpt with clay or build 3D structures using cardboard or popsicle sticks. Each of these different mediums presents its challenges and benefits, offering learning opportunities for your students.

5. Incorporate into Academic Subjects

One of the most effective ways to integrate art into the curriculum is by incorporating art into other academic subjects. 

For instance, in history lessons, you could use art to explore the culture of a particular time and place, or you can compare and contrast different art movements. In science lessons, you could ask students to draw or create models of scientific concepts. Art can help to illustrate and reinforce academic lessons, making them more accessible and engaging.

6. Consider the Student’s IEP

Consider how incorporating art into the curriculum can be used to meet specific goals or objectives. 

For instance, if a student has a goal to improve hand-eye coordination, you might incorporate crafts that require fine motor skills. Or, if a student needs help with emotional regulation, you might create an art project around expression and emotional understanding.

7. Ask Parents for Input

Parents know their children best – that goes without saying.

But what you may not know is that it can be helpful to gather their input when planning art projects or assignments. Ask them about their child’s interests or what they would like to see their child explore through art. This can also help build a sense of community and participation in your classroom.

8. Make the Classroom More Accessible

Accessibility is key in any classroom, especially for students with disabilities. When incorporating art, consider using materials that are easy to access and manipulate, such as adaptive scissors or sensory-friendly playdough. Do your best to create a space that is conducive to learning, with ample lighting and enough room for students to move around.

9. Use Art as Part of Assessments 

Art can be a great measure of a student’s progress, especially when traditional assessments may not accurately reflect their knowledge or skills. Consider incorporating art projects as part of your assessments, allowing students to demonstrate their understanding through a creative outlet.

10. Add Art as a Warm-Up or Pre-Test

Incorporating art at the beginning of a lesson can be a great way to get your students engaged and focused. A quick warm-up activity (such as drawing a picture related to the topic at hand) can set the tone for the rest of the lesson. And using art as a pre-test can help gauge your students’ prior knowledge on a topic.

11. Use it to Bridge Cultures

Art is a universal language, and using it to explore other cultures can be a great way to expand your students’ worldview. Consider incorporating art projects inspired by different cultures or using it to explore the history and traditions of various countries.

12. Think Outside the Box

Remember that art can take many different forms. It can be as traditional as painting or drawing, or as unconventional as creating sculptures out of recycled materials. 

Let your students guide the direction of their creative projects and encourage them to explore new mediums. Simply give them the resources they need to explore – then let their creativity take them the rest of the way. 

How to Adapt Art Activities for Students with Unique Learning Needs

incorporating art in the SPED classroom

As we all now know, incorporating art activities can be a fantastic way to engage and motivate our students in a fun and creative way. But what happens when we have students with unique learning needs who may struggle with traditional art activities? 

First and foremost, it’s important to remember that every student is unique and may require different adaptations. One size does not fit all! When you’re planning art activities, consider the individual needs of each student. For example, if you have a student with fine motor difficulties, consider using adaptive materials such as thicker paintbrushes or finger paint. You may also want to provide extra support by using hand-over-hand assistance or visual prompts.

Another adaptation to consider is providing choice. Some students may feel overwhelmed or disinterested in certain art activities. By providing a choice, you allow them to have some control over their learning and increase their motivation. Offer a variety of materials and techniques and allow students to choose what they want to work with. This not only encourages creativity and autonomy, but also makes sure that they are engaged in the activity.

Visuals are a fantastic tool for adapting art activities for students with unique learning needs. Use visual supports such as picture schedules, task analysis, or visual prompts to break down the steps of the activity. This can help reduce anxiety and confusion for students who may struggle with processing verbal instructions. You can also use visual aids to teach new vocabulary related to art or to demonstrate techniques.

Remember, too, that modifying art activities can also mean modifying the environment. Consider adjusting the lighting, noise level, or seating arrangement in the classroom to meet the specific needs of your students. Some students may require a quieter environment or a designated space where they can work independently. Others may need a different type of seating such as a cushion or a wobble chair to help them focus.

Finally, don’t forget to tap into your students’ interests and strengths when adapting art activities. Inquiry-based learning and incorporating their interests will help motivate your students. For instance, if you have a student who is interested in science, you could incorporate a science-related art project that will engage their interest and creativity.

Final Thoughts

Overall, integrating art into special education classrooms is an innovative way to enhance learning and support student growth. 

By providing a creative outlet for students, promoting inclusivity and communication skills, and enhancing cognitive abilities, art can truly transform the classroom experience. 

So go ahead, let your inner artist shine – and see the many benefits that enhancing learning with art can have on your students!

review image


a passionate special education teacher with [number] years of experience, uses her classroom knowledge to craft engaging stories that celebrate the unique strengths of all learners.