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Free-Form Art and Construction Art

Interventionists should recognize the need to provide young children with physical disabilities opportunities to experience both free-form art and art structured for success. Free-form art has no parameters and allows the child the opportunity to explore different tools and mediums. Examples are independent watercolors or fingerpainting. Creativity structured for success, sometimes termed "construction art," provides the child with enough structure to permit successful completion of the activity. Examples are choosing paper face parts and affixing them to a pumpkin cut-out or using stamps to illustrate a story. Obviously, the best scenario is to provide children with opportunities that integrate both free-form art and creativity structured for success. These two approaches may even be incorporated into a single activity.

Jesse is severely physically disabled and has severe communication impairments. With adaptations, he can hold a marker, crayon, or paint brush and make marks on a paper - however, his marks appear random and nonpurposeful. These "random" marks are appropriate when he participates in activities where the end product is expected to be abstract. Jesse then uses a supplemental communication display to label, describe, and talk about his drawing, so that peers, teachers, and others understand his intent.

black and white picture showing "random" brush marks
Jesse uses free-form art to
illustrate his gardening experience with Mom.

David is included in the first grade class, where the children are often encouraged to illustrate stories or favorite parts of stories they have read in class. David showed frustration because his early art attempts did not look representational, like those of his peers, so modifications were made to the activity. First, David uses an adapted crayon holder with a paint brush in it to create the background scene for his artwork. He is able to successfully use stamps with his Adapted Stamp Base (Creative Communicating), so the teacher prepares several story-related stamps for Jesse. Included in the stamps are generic people, story items, and stamps for story props. David uses the stamps to illustrate his favorite part of the story and then uses his story-specific communication display to talk about his picture. Thus, he is able to participate in this activity with his classmates independently and successfully.

black and white picture showing brush marks and stamps of duck

David uses stamps to illustrate his favorite part of the story"Brown Bear, Brown Bear" by Bill Martin Jr.

©1997, Caroline Musselwhite & Pati King-DeBaun, Emergent Literacy Success: Merging Technology and Whole Language


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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998.

©Education Development Center, Inc.