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Sensory Exploration and Self-Regulation: The Power of Art in Early Childhood

July 4, 2024
3 minute read

National Children's Art Week is a wonderful opportunity to delve into the multifaceted benefits of art for young children. Beyond building creativity, art can be a powerful tool for sensory exploration and scaffolding self-regulation skills. By integrating art and play into early childhood settings, we can promote movement, mindfulness, and emotional well-being. This blog explores these concepts, referencing key research and providing practical ideas for incorporating art into your early years practice. 

The Role of Sensory Exploration in Art 

Sensory exploration through art allows children to engage with the world in a tactile, visual, and auditory manner. This multisensory engagement is crucial for young children's development as it helps them understand and process their environment. Activities such as finger painting, clay modelling, and collage-making offer rich sensory experiences that can enhance cognitive and emotional development. 

Practical Ideas

  • Finger Painting: 

Provide children with a variety of coloured paints and large sheets of paper. Encourage them to use their fingers and hands to create patterns and shapes, experiencing the texture and temperature of the paint. 

  • Clay and Playdough: 

Offer clay or playdough for moulding and sculpting. This activity helps children develop fine motor skills and explore the properties of different materials. 

  • Sensory Collages: 

Collect a range of textured materials (e.g., fabric scraps, sandpaper, feathers) and let children create collages. This activity not only stimulates the sense of touch but also encourages creativity and imagination. 

Art as a Tool for Teaching Self-Regulation 

Self-regulation is the ability to manage one's emotions, behaviour’s, and body movements in response to external demands. According to research from the Anna Freud Centre and the Education Endowment Foundation, self-regulation skills can be effectively promoted through play and structured activities. Art provides an excellent medium for teaching these skills. 

Practical Ideas: 

  • Mindful Drawing: 

Introduce children to mindful drawing, where they focus on the process of creating rather than the outcome. This can involve drawing patterns or colouring within lines, helping children practice concentration and patience. 

  • Emotion Art: 

Use art to help children express and understand their emotions. Provide prompts like "draw how you feel today" and discuss their artwork with them, encouraging emotional awareness and regulation. 

  • Guided Art Activities: 

Plan art activities with clear steps and instructions. These activities help children practice following directions, delay gratification, and manage their impulses. 

Promoting Movement and Mindfulness through Art and Play 

Art and play naturally incorporate movement and can be designed to promote mindfulness, helping children develop a greater awareness of their bodies and minds. According to research published in the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), engaging in mindful activities can significantly enhance children's self-regulation and emotional well-being. 

Practical Ideas: 

  • Yoga and Drawing: 

Combine simple yoga poses with drawing activities. For example, children can draw a picture of a tree and then perform a tree pose. This integrates physical movement with creative expression and mindfulness. 

  • Music and Movement Art: 

Play different types of music and let children move to the rhythm while drawing or painting. This activity encourages them to express themselves through both movement and art, promoting physical coordination and mindfulness. 

  • Nature Art Walks: 

Take children on nature walks to collect natural materials like leaves, sticks, and stones. Back in the setting, they can use these materials to create art. This activity combines outdoor movement with mindful observation and creative expression. 

Follow this link to read more from The Early Years Company.

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