Art for Autism


Over the last few months I have had the privilege of working with Zach.  Zach has severe autism and is non-verbal but had always enjoyed art activities when he was at school so his mum got in touch and asked if I would be able to provide weekly art sessions.  A fantastic aspect of art is that it really is for everyone.  Experimenting with colour and texture can bring joy on an enormous range of levels.  One of the brilliant things about the way Zach enjoys art is that he is solely interested in the process; what captures his attention are the sensations involved in stamping, squishing, sticking, spreading, sorting.  The finished product is of little importance to him which means that I have also had to cast aside any concerns about what we will be left with at the end.  This has been quite a steep learning curve for me and one that I have found really quite liberating.  I have come to realise that my role is to facilitate his experimentation and be willing to go with the flow.  If he is particularly interested in squishing a sponge in paint then the whole session may consist of this is various guises.  While I know how important the process is to all of the children I work with, it can be hard sometimes to not get distracted by a pressure to ensure they produce a high quality finished product.  My weekly sessions with Zach are serving as a handy reminder that art is ultimately about pleasure, and enjoyment of the various processes involved in making art can be extremely powerful in the development of all artists.

Happy New Year!


It has been quite sometime since I last updated my blog.  Time has flown by since the summer with lots of new after school clubs getting underway and the excitement of Kate joining the team to help us expand further.  I am now getting organised for the new term and I can’t wait to get cracking with our new topic of painting.  Painting is the topic that nearly all children ask for and look forward to the most.  I love it too as it allows for such freedom of expression and experimentation.  (I’m not so keen on the cleaning up afterwards but I guess that’s a small price to pay!)  I have become aware that there are very few opportunities in normal school time for children to paint.  It seems that even when the paints are brought out the use of them is quite controlled, with a keen eye on the finished product rather than the process.  To me, the joy of painting is all about the process, particularly with younger children who love to slap layer upon layer of paint down onto the paper until the paper eventually gives way.  It is all about them seeing for themselves what happens when colours are mixed together even is the outcome is sometimes rather…brown.  So with this in mind we will be having lots of experimental fun in our art clubs this term with the emphasis firmly on the experience. Ok, some of the paintings may end up looking rather abstract but what is hidden beneath those shapes and swirls will be layers and layers of learning and that is what we are all about. Now, where did I put those aprons…

Crazy Cornflour

We have been having lots of fun this week in our mini classes making cornflour prints.  This is a great activity to try at home as most people have some cornflour sitting at the back of a cupboard (probably out of date…don’t worry, it will still work!).  All you need is cornflour and paint and you are off, creating beautiful marbled patterns which can be printed from over and over again.  For those who have never tried using cornflour in this way it is a bit of a revelation.  In the tub it will appear to be solid but scoop some up in your hand and, hey presto, it turn into a runny liquid.  Drop it onto a tray and it will turn into a solid again.  We created these marbled effects by doing this repeatedly with a few different colours and then pressing some plain paper onto the marbled pattern that had formed in the tray.  This is such a simple activity but one that will keep little ones busy for ages as they watch the cornflour change state and create beautiful patterns.

Here’s what you need:

1 cup of cornflour

a squeeze of paint



Put the cornflour in a bowl.  Add the paint and a splash of water.  Mix. Add a bit more water until the consistency is liquid while you are stirring but appears solid when you stop.  Provide spoons, lolly sticks and other scooping/chopping utensils although you may find that hands are preferred! Mix up a few different colours, place in a tray allow them to explore!


Super Slime!

We have been going slime-crazy in our house over the last few weeks.  I don’t know if it is a general craze or one limited to my daughter’s school but making slime is THE thing to be doing at the moment, apparently.  They are making it at home and then taking it into school in plastic tubs to ‘play with’ at break time.


    My daughter making slime for her friends at 7am this morning.

This all might sound rather odd but I have become really quite obsessed with finding the perfect slime recipe.  We have had numerous disasters along the way and the internet is littered with recipes that, quite frankly, just don’t work.  However, I am (probably disproportionately) pleased to say that we have finally cracked it.   Such was our ‘Eureka’ moment that I thought I would share it with you so that you can avoid the kitchen disasters should the craze come your way.

You need:

5 tablespoons PVA Glue

Food Colouring

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Contact Lens Solution  (check it contains boric acid)


Put PVA glue in a small bowl.  Add desired colour and the bicarbonate of soda.  Mix well. Add 5 drops of contact lens solutions.  Stir until consistency starts to change.  Add 5 more drops and stir again.  It should start coming together as slime at this stage.  Put a small amount of contact lens solution on your finger tips to stop it sticking and scoop it out of the bowl.  Stretch and pull the slime until it reaches a non-sticky, slimy state.  You can always add a couple more drops of contact lens solution at this stage if need be but take it easy – if you use too much it won’t work.  Less is definitely more!

Once you get the hang of it it really is pretty easy.  You can add glitter to it or maybe even some scent.  Just make sure you store it in an airtight container or freezer bag as it will dry out.

Happy slime making!


Paint Swatch Art

I am thinking about redecorating my hallway and so have recently been spending time mooching around the paint section of various DIY stores.  Luckily, this is one of my favourite places to be (a bit sad, I know).  I just love seeing the vast array of colours and shades laid out before me on the colour swatches.  The possibilities seem endless; before I know it I’m getting carried away with all sorts of ill-advised colour combinations and have calm down and remind myself that I actually went in looking for a subtle shade of grey!

The other great thing about these colour swatches is that they are free and you can (within reason, I guess) take as many as you like.  They are super for making art with and children will no-doubt get just as excited as me by all of the lovely colours.  Grab a handful, cut them up into separate squares and ask your child to sort them into piles of reds, blues etc.  They will be astonished at how many shades of each colour exist.  They can then stick them down in a take on a colour wheel, perhaps going from darkest to lightest shade for older children.  Or, maybe they could use them to make a rainbow, thinking about colour order and using a mix of shades.  Another idea is to sort them into colour families and then cut them up into smaller pieces to use in a mosaic.  Your child could design a tile on a piece of square card and then use these small pieces to decorate.  This looks really effective.  I also love the idea of asking children to match up painted pegs with various shades (pictured below).  This will really get them thinking about the concept of lighter and darker which will help them out massively in other art work.

paint swatch

I’m sure there are many other uses as well, for grown up artists as well as children.  I’d love to know if you have used these swatches in art activities in different ways.  Please share your thoughts and ideas!

Crafty Card Ideas for Teachers

It’s getting close to the end of term and those of us with children in school or pre-school are starting to think about presents for teachers.  At my children’s school parents mostly club together and contribute towards vouchers.  Speaking as somebody who was a teacher, this is fab.  It’s lovely to be able to use the vouchers to choose something that you really would like.  That being said, the presents I most remember receiving as a teacher are the homemade ones.  It is lovely when a child goes to the effort of making something at home.  Despite what parents might think, teachers are genuinely touched by such offerings, no matter how ‘homemade’ they are.  I have kept cards made for me by children in the first class I ever taught and they hold very special memories.  With that in mind, I have been trawling the internet in search of some inspiration for this year.  I have tried to pick out ideas that are appropriate for even the littlest children to enjoy.

This lovely hand print plant in a pot has a nice message and is perfect for children leaving a nursery to start ‘big school’.

simple hand print teacher card



This lion is grrreat and will be a sure fire hit with little ones into animals with big teeth!

Here's a simple Father's Day craft Dad will love. Make a yellow footprint and fingerpaint on a brown mane and details to make a lion. Ad...


For a slightly more mixed-media option, why not have a go at this wax resist card?  Small children could draw a picture while older ones might write a message.

Crayon Resist thank you card painted by child


For slightly older children, this flowers in a cup idea is very effective.


This is a lovely way of using little hands to make a personalised gift.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful – I will be trying out a couple myself!

Mission Complete?


Recently, a child at one of our after school clubs said to me that he really enjoyed coming to the club because ‘it’s not like school’.  When I asked him what he meant he went on to explain that when they have art lessons at school they are usually hurried and there is not time for them to ‘get into’ what they’re doing.  He said that often they do not have time to properly finish their work and that this leaves him feeling dissatisfied with what he has produced.

As both a teacher and a parent I have seen less and less priority given to the creative arts in schools over the last decade and it is very sad to me that children have begun to notice how little value is placed in drawing and painting.  One of the reasons I decided to stop teaching in schools was the demoralising lack of time and funding given to the creative subjects that I feel are so important in the development of well-rounded individuals.   What kind of lessons are we giving children about perseverance and reward if they are starting art work with great enthusiasm then just letting them flounder in a forgotten corner of the classroom, half-finished?  Setting a goal, over-coming obstacles, developing an ability to view oneself with a critical eye, living with imperfections are all vital skills for art and for life in general.   As a former teacher myself, I completely understand the time pressure that schools are under  nowadays and clearly the ‘measurable’ subjects are given priority in a world dominated by league tables and the threat of special measures.  I long for a time, however, when we can get back to seeing the bigger picture and understanding that there is much more to the development of an individual than a row of ticks on a sheet.

Travel-Friendly Art Ideas

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It’s that time of year when lots of people are thinking about heading off on their holidays. With young children, the prospect of a long journey can seem daunting.  Everyone would rather their child didn’t spend the entire time watching films on a tablet but it is so tempting when you are concerned about disturbing other passengers – we’ve all been there!  The good news is, however, with a little bit of forward planning it is possible to at least punctuate the film-watching with some creative activities that won’t make a mess or annoy those around you. Why not give some of these a try this year?

  1. Bring along some paper and a set of rectangular (or other novelty shaped) wax crayons.  Round crayons are a nightmare – you will end up spending the whole journey looking for them between the seats as they roll off the table.
  2. Take a set of post-it notes that can be used to cut out fish shapes.  You can then while away some time playing the fishing game using a pencil with a bit of string attached to catch the fish.  Cutting out the fish shapes will keep little fingers busy for a while too. (NB. children’s scissors are usually allowed on flights but don’t forget to get them out of your bag as you go through security – again, been there!)
  3. A little box of paper clips and some string can be used for threading a necklace or bracelet.  You can also thread paper-clips into each other if you don’t have string. This won’t take up much room in your bag but will take quite a while to complete.
  4. Another thing that is light and doesn’t take up much space are pipe cleaners. They are great for making little sculptures and figures.  They can be used to act out a story once completed. Double the fun!
  5. For slightly older children, origami is great fun.  You can find lots of free printables at  Origami Club


Happy Holidays!

Magic Markers


‘Rainbow Lion’ by Roseanna, Age 6

I have recently become a convert to using marker pens with children.  I must admit, I had previously tended to avoid felt tips etc as I felt that the result was somehow less authentic than using ‘proper’ art materials such as paint or pastels.  I am not ashamed to admit, though, that I have completely changed my opinion.

At the start of the term I purchased some ‘Yosoo Graphic Marker Pens’ in a beautiful variety of colours.  I wanted the younger children in my after school clubs to get immediate and satisfying results and I thought that these might do the job. They were delighted by them and it was nice to be able to offer them something that they wouldn’t usually have access to.  I was very pleased with the results.  They are not like using typical felt tips, they are much more subtle than that.  The colour, on first application is semi-translucent, allowing for the gradual build up of colours and shades.   This is great as older children can begin using them in more nuanced ways, developing their skills as they go. There are so many lovely colours that I find it hard to imagine a situation in which you wouldn’t be able to find what you wanted.  They are bright and vibrant and have both a thick and thin end which means children can really focus on being neat when it is called for.   They have made their recent pictures come to life and, because their basic use requires no specific skills or practice, even the youngest of children have been able to achieve results they are delighted with.  For topics in which the main learning goal is the development of drawing skills, these are ideal.  I will definitely be using them for many projects to come.

Scrap Heaven


I have just returned from a visit to the Wotever Scrap Store in Welwyn Garden City.  It is such a fabulous treasure trove that I felt I ought to share it here, although I must admit it is tempting to keep it to myself.  I use this place regularly for my art classes and it never lets me down.  It is part of the Connect Club charity and offers therapeutic employment to vulnerable adults.  You can join for £25 for the year and then visit as many times as you wish and help yourself to as much as you can carry.   They have virtually everything you could think of, from ribbons and boxes, to card and plastic pots and any number of weird and wonderful bits and pieces that leave you guessing what they were originally intended to be.

During a ‘Robot’ topic I took a trip there to gather boxes and bits and pieces that might be useful for modelling.  It was only during one of the sessions did another adult walk through the room and recognise that the ‘funnel’ shaped boxes were actually bed pans (unused, of course!).  I must say that despite their rather unsavoury intended use, they made fantastic robots!  Often when I visit I go with a list and come out with a hundred other ideas for future projects such is the variety of scrap available. My own children love to come along when I go to stock up and never fail to find inspiration for their makes amongst the bottle lids and cellophane. It is a truly inspiring place, doing such great work for the community.  If you are ever passing, pop by and have a look around.  I’d be surprised if you don’t come out with your hands full!