Art Instructor suggestions for enhancing the museum visit for Special Needs students.

Before the Museum Visit

Share the biographies and art work of artists who have experienced physical and emotional challenges.  For instance,  Henri Matisse  created some of his most famous paper cut-outs from a wheelchair.  The brushes of Auguste Renoir were tied to his hands to enable him to paint some of his most memorable work due to crippling arthritis.  One of the most important pioneers of modern art-Vincent van Gogh-suffered from epilepsy, and emotional illness.  The list of physically and emotional  artists who contributed to the history of art  is long.

Call the museum beforehand to inquire about  programs for special needs students.  The museum may be able to contact local experts or a museum volunteer that specializes and understands the needs of your child or student.  Arrangements for preparing the environment (making necessary equipment and space considerations)  to enhance your child's visit can also be made at that time.   Help the museum to understand what your child/student will need.  Don't assume they know.

Contact volunteer organizations that specialize in special needs program.  Ask if a volunteer is available for advice or to accompany the tour.

Contact the special needs teachers in your school district to find out if they have suggestions for creating the best possible museum experience.

At the Museum

As a teacher/guide be sure to include everyone.  Speak directly to students who are physically or emotionally challenged-include everyone in an interactive positive experience.

Remember the power of words.  For instance, "Matisse created from his wheelchair," is a more honest and positive statement then, "Matisse was confined to his wheelchair."

As a museum guide create interaction and interest in your group.  Although it is important for students to understand that museum paintings can not be touched, the elements of composition-texture for instance can be experienced first hand, by creating a touchable piece that can be shared and passed amongst the group.  This is especially true for visually impaired students.  In fact, there are now art exhibitions especially created for visually impaired visitors.  There are also audio guides that are specifically designed for visually impaired visitors.
Use objects that relate directly to the painting you are discussing.

As a museum guide create a clear descriptive presentation.  Be certain that your presentation is clear, and creates a "mind's eye picture".

Utilize all the senses in your presentation.  Let students experience the "sound" of an environmental installation piece, or the "feel and form" of sculpture.  There are even artists who incorporate taste, as a "medium"
into conceptual works.

Listen to comments, verbal and non-verbal that will give you clues to students interests and needs.

Most of all create a  fun and educational environment that children will want to return again.

After the Museum Visit

Ask students to share their experience.  Talk about it.  What did they find most enjoyable?  Listen closely, to discover what they most enjoyed "doing".

Create art projects that reinforce concepts learned at the museum.

Display your child/student's artwork with pride and look for opportunities to display their work in neighborhood exhibitions, the internet exhibits for children, and other special events.

 Explore a variety of museums that emphasize participation including children's museums, interactive art installations, sculpture gardens, etc.

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