It only takes one thing.
We can be happily working on an art project or hands-on activity, everything going well, me taking pictures and feeling like we are accomplishing something – and then one thing goes wrong.
It might be that the Harry Potter Wand seems too wide.
Or, that the line he drew is not as straight, or curvy, or thick as he wanted.
One time, it was the glue that dried on his fingers.
It only takes one thing for my son to feel overwhelmed and meltdown.
I used to avoid art for this very reason. It just seemed like too much to take on, knowing that we likely wouldn’t be able to finish with smile. Then, last year, my son began art therapy.
I saw his confidence soar. I saw him relax. I saw the benefits.
Friday Fun-days: 52 weeks of Easy For Mom Activities
As you know, I have been determined this year to devote Fridays to artistic and hands-on activities. I see how much it helps him and I needed a way to overcome my own anxiety about his explosive reactions when something doesn’t go as planned.
It has been a huge blessing, both for his heart and for mine.
But the truth is, it has also been difficult, both for his heart and for mine.
For every Friday Fun-Day activity I have shared, at least one in three has resulted in total chaos. The wand was especially tough because he wanted it to be just right. He had an idea in his mind of what he wanted it to look like, and when it didn’t match up with the real thing, he was devastated.
We have eventually worked our way through every activity – otherwise, I wouldn’t share it. And as we progress through this week-by-week, I am learning more and more how to best help diffuse the stress and actually enjoy art with my son.
Art Without Meltdowns: Activities For The Perfectionist Child
Because my child can be quite a perfectionist when it comes to any of his projects, I find myself relying on these three steps to best help him enjoy our activities together.
Before we begin any hands-on, artsy type activity, I discuss the importance of “mistakes” in art. We talk about how there is no right or wrong in art, and how part of what makes it beautiful is how different everyone’s work can be. I have also showed him different pictures on Instagram of what some of my friends (and fellow bloggers) are creating with their kids. It helps for him to see other children at work and their various skill levels.
For an amazing look at children completing art projects online, please let me introduce you to my friend, Erin. She blogs at Nourishing My Scholar and uses Instagram to show her creative family in action. She inspires me as a mom and her kids inspire my son.
Take A Break
This seems so easy, but the truth is, when we are in the midst of a project, I am often just as involved as my son. I want to keep working. I want to finish it. But I know that focusing on the activity and not my son never works.
If I see him growing anxious at all, we take a break, run around the backyard and grab a snack. I wait until my son asks to go back to the activity, so he doesn’t feel pressured and then we pick up where we left off.
Choose Less Structured Activities
More than anything else, choosing activities that do not require perfection in order to look great or be executed well, makes all the difference around here. For example, we don’t do any free hand drawing at this point – it requires too much precision and always ends in tears. Here are my favorites for less perfection and more fun!
These are amazing! Because the lines and colors are blended together, anything looks beautiful!
Tracing with a Light Board
This is my son’s all-time favorite, anxiety reducing, art activity. Because the light board clearly displays the picture he wants to trace, it takes the guess-work out of creating it. He actually asks to do this when he is feeling anxious.
Posterboards and Printables
Any time we are working on activities that involve paper cut-outs and printables, we glue them to a posterboard. For some reason, this decreases his anxiety. I think it’s because it looks nice, no matter what actually happens in the learning itself.
Like chalk pastels, no precision is required with sidewalk chalk. Plus, he has to move in order to use them!
If we are struggling to find an activity that will help my boy stay calm, using nature as part of our study almost always helps him calm down. Planting flowers, smearing dirt on our “ancient greek coins” or gluing shells onto a clay pot allows my son to create without frustration.
Stay tuned – next week’s project includes slime and chemistry.
Want to learn more about how we approach meltdown-free learning? I am sharing more details today on the Joyfully Homeschooling Podcast. Please take a listen and Happy Friday!
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.