How Art has helped in teaching children with special needs
art in education
Art in Education
Back in the sixties, when I went to art school we were told that out of seventy students that were in our class, only two or three would actually become successful in the field of art taught at that school. This was a brutal wake up call for many of us in that room. As it turned out I only lasted one semester and left there to later enter junior college. Those words continued to ring in my brain about only a few becoming a success in art. I was an artist from the time that I could hold a crayon and draw at the age of four. I often filled old laundry bags and sacks with my artistic scribbles as a child. My parents only encouraged onward about my art. After struggling in junior college, I decided to major in the field I knew most about. Of course, it was art. I graduated from junior college and entered a four year school, where I actually excelled in my chosen field. I had to decide whether to become an illustrator or an art teacher. I chose to become a teacher and completed my educational courses. I graduated with an art education degree and began to teach in 1970.
My assignment was in a junior high school and I was immediately faced with a multitude of problems. A big class size five times each day and very limited supplies most of which I had to purchase on my meager salary, made this a huge challenge. I struggled through the year using an old phonograph player and dusty records, and the spirit of hope in my heart. I met and worked with several kids in my classes that had severe learning problems caused by debilitating conditions. I became close to these kids and decided to change my major to Education of the Handicapped. I learned that I could teach on a provisional certificate and attend college classes in the evenings, until I earned my masters degree in that field.
My kids were mostly self-contained and that meant they spent most of the day with me. I took some of my art work to school one day and much interest was sparked in my kids' attention. They wanted to paint and draw too, and I soon learned that I would need to bring art materials to class with me each day. We studied math skills, english, science, reading skills and social studies. I decided to include first aid and survival skills. The art time activities would serve as a reward for honest effort in doing all other class work first. This worked like a charm, and soon I had my kids making better grades in academic subjects and loving art in any shape or fashion that we tried.
Over the years, I moved to new schools and worked with severely emotionally disturbed children. I worked with kids who had learning disabilities and behavior problems. I used my art at every opportunity and saw amazing improvements in a lot of kids. Some of my emotionally disturbed kids actually improved a lot and I had many positive compliments from other teachers who taught them. Principals and parents, as well, saw big improvements in the children in my special needs classes and wherever I went, I utilized my art ability. Over the years I have looked back on that day in art school to the time, when I felt so overwhelmed, and I think to myself that I must have been one of those successful two or three the head of the school was referring to at that time.
I still paint and specialize in wildlife art. I also draw cartoons and write on occasion. I miss working with those kids and the great feeling of self worth it gave to me. I had to stop teaching in 2004 because of a brain tumor and other medical problems. I will always remember how I was able to influence many kids and give them a reason to stay in school. For me, my art has been a successful story.