Picture Engaged Language-Learners Use art activities like painting, making jewelry and creating puppets to address an array of speech and language skills. Have You Tried This?
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Have You Tried This?  |   November 01, 2017
Picture Engaged Language-Learners
Author Notes
  • Joy Good, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Disorders at Arkansas State University. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning, and Education; and 16, School-Based Issues. jgood@astate.edu
    Joy Good, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Disorders at Arkansas State University. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning, and Education; and 16, School-Based Issues. jgood@astate.edu×
Article Information
Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Have You Tried This?
Have You Tried This?   |   November 01, 2017
Picture Engaged Language-Learners
The ASHA Leader, November 2017, Vol. 22, 40-41. doi:10.1044/leader.HYTT.22112017.40
The ASHA Leader, November 2017, Vol. 22, 40-41. doi:10.1044/leader.HYTT.22112017.40
“Sarah, please paint the puppy’s nose before you paint its eyes.” Four-year-old Sarah ponders the question and decides the nose should be pink. She carefully applies pink paint before switching to blue for the puppy’s eyes.
Sarah is not simply painting a picture as a reward for good behavior. I am using her love of painting to target her comprehension of temporal concepts.
Traditionally, many speech-language pathologists have used art activities to reinforce good behavior. However, art is more than simply crayons, markers and fun. Educators have long recognized that art allows young children to develop motor skills and improve attention (see sources). And psychologists note that art activities benefit older children too, strengthening cognitive skills, boosting self-esteem and reducing stress (see sources).
Given its rather lengthy list of benefits, it is unsurprising that, as indicated in research, SLPs can also use it to support the development of age-appropriate language skills for children such as Sarah (see sources).
Art targets
Sarah was referred to me for treatment for a mild mixed receptive and expressive language disorder. While I wanted to make sure she sufficiently practiced her target skills, I knew she would quickly tire of endless worksheets and drill activities; consequently, I searched for meaningful exercises that would help her to improve her language skills and to generalize these skills at home and preschool.
When I noticed that Sarah enjoyed coloring activities as a reward for doing her work, I brainstormed ways to integrate art into her speech treatment. I soon realized I could use art as a therapeutic tool to address any language skill. Here are a few examples of the language skills I targeted with Sarah through art activities.
  • Following directions. Sarah struggled with following complex auditory directions. She could usually complete the first step but needed extensive cueing/prompts to complete subsequent ones. Her parents and preschool teacher agreed she needed intensive work on this skill, and art provided a functional context for practice. During a Mother’s Day activity, I asked her to “paint the first heart light pink before painting the second one bright red.” Similar requests targeted her ability to follow two-step commands containing temporal and descriptive concepts.

  • Answering “wh-” questions. Sarah struggled to answer questions involving why, when and who. Because art provides a natural context for conversation, it was easy to integrate these questions into activities. For example, we made a beaded bracelet during one session. I included questions such as, “Who will you give the bracelet to?” This boosted the connection between the target skill and its communicative value.

  • Improving receptive and expressive vocabulary skills. Weak vocabulary skills also plagued Sarah. While her receptive vocabulary skills were slighter stronger, she exhibited the expressive vocabulary skills of a 3-year-old, so we focused on vocabulary-building. Reinforcing art activities included such seasonal favorites as decorating snowflakes and making holiday ornaments. We addressed descriptive concepts such as big/little and wet/dry. Because of her love for animals, Sarah responded particularly well to making a paper-bag cat puppet: She demonstrated knowledge of descriptive concepts receptively, and later expressively.

Sarah’s parents and I noticed that she blossomed as I continued using art in her speech treatment sessions. I no longer worried that there wouldn’t be enough art opportunities to ensure she mastered the skills. I saw that each art activity targeted each skill with sufficient intensity.
I also found that a single art activity could build multiple target skills, making treatment more time-efficient. And I didn’t have to invest in expensive treatment supplies. I used what I already had on hand.
Art planning
If you’re interested in injecting art into your treatment sessions, don’t worry about needing artistic talent. The idea is to have fun while participating in an activity that supports creativity and communication. What’s most important is to plan ahead.
Here are some pointers as you try using art with your own clients.
  • Identify the client’s art interests. Choose an art activity they enjoy to motivate them. You can ask the client or parent about preferences, or you can simply experiment until you find what appeals to them. Some children may prefer to paint, while others prefer to build things with clay or Play-Doh.

  • Identify the target skills. Art can address essentially any language skill. Remember, also, that you can address multiple skills with a single activity. Decorating Easter eggs can involve following directions and answering “wh-” questions, while also targeting descriptive concepts.

  • Set an objective. Structure the activity so that your client can practice the target skill(s) multiple times to ensure skill mastery. If your client is working on answering “wh-” questions, script out the activity to harness every opportunity to practice this skill.

To help clients effectively progress in treatment, we need to create activities that facilitate meaningful communication. Art provides us with such a context. Explore the possibilities of using art with your clients and rediscover the beauty of communication.
Sources
Bruscato, A., Moro, A., Ostroski, R., & Tommasi, S. (2011). The interdisciplinary speech therapy and art therapy and enhancing quality of life: A case study. The Journal of Alzheimers Association, 7, 760.
Bruscato, A., Moro, A., Ostroski, R., & Tommasi, S. (2011). The interdisciplinary speech therapy and art therapy and enhancing quality of life: A case study. The Journal of Alzheimers Association, 7, 760.×
de la Roche, E. (1996). Snowflakes: Developing meaningful art experiences for young children. Young Children, 51(2), 82–83.
de la Roche, E. (1996). Snowflakes: Developing meaningful art experiences for young children. Young Children, 51(2), 82–83.×
Klein, B. (1991). The hidden dimensions of art. In Quisenberry, J .D., Eddowes, E. A., & Robinson, S. L. (Eds.). Readings from childhood education (pp. 84–89). Wheaton, MD: Association of Childhood Education International.
Klein, B. (1991). The hidden dimensions of art. In Quisenberry, J .D., Eddowes, E. A., & Robinson, S. L. (Eds.). Readings from childhood education (pp. 84–89). Wheaton, MD: Association of Childhood Education International.×
1 Comment
November 8, 2017
Elizabeth MacKenzie
Watch for fine motor & motor planning issues
Art activities can be enjoyable ways to engage children but fine motor and motor planning problems can negate their effectiveness. Please be aware of each child’s motor and motor planning skills before introducing art activities. You may just have to adapt the activities or use some other type of experience. I’ve seen many SLPs use fine motor activities that taxed the children’s skills too much so they were less able to learn the speech and language goals. It isn’t necessarily straightforward
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November 2017
Volume 22, Issue 11