Art Breaks to Ease Student Stress and Build Language Skills

Art Breaks to Ease Student Stress and Build Language Skills

At the Riverview School, students have long accessed the arts to express themselves in alternative ways. One such article that describes this was written by Nia Thomas, MS, CCC-SLP, Teacher of Students with Speech and Language Disabilities (TSSLD). Miss Thomas wrote; 


As part of our work at this New York City public school for students with disabilities, my colleagues and I also use the arts to generalize speech and language skills to their daily lives. For example, it serves as a springboard for answering “wh” questions, commenting, or describing. We do much of this work via special grant partnerships with programs like Everyday Arts in Special Education (EASE).


As is true across professions, the pandemic has posed service-delivery challenges we never expected—or were necessarily trained to handle. So, when the NYC Department of Education District 75 partnered with the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) to provide student art access, we saw a new outlet for learning.


Staff from the school district and MOMA worked with us to create a pilot program. The new “art breaks” they designed integrated arts into our entire school community. All students now get opportunities to incorporate art into sessions and classes through weekly art breaks, professional development courses, donated art supplies, and programs for students and their families.


We see the benefits in our students with communication disorders: relief from the stress and anxiety of remote and blended learning, a chance to practice expressing themselves in a different way when prompted, and a new means of targeting  speech-language goals.


The MOMA partnership also reminds us of the importance creativity and the arts to our wellbeing. For example, we sometimes let students “paint with water” while listening to relaxing music. We use this activity to target requesting and identifying basic colors, so they ask what color construction paper or paintbrush they would like.


We recently had students initiate and follow directions to make play dough. Students were prompted to ask questions to problem solve throughout the activity. Once they answered exit ticket questions—what did we make, what were the ingredients, what was the texture and color—they explored their newly created play dough and made temporary sculptures.


If you think your students or school outside of New York City can benefit from a similar program, try reaching out to education departments at your local museums. Also, look for programs with museums around the country or world, as many have expanded their virtual opportunities, such as “Through Children’s Eyes” from the Louvre. Ask what partnerships they offer to schools or students with special needs and how you can collaborate. Most partnerships involve an associated cost, but it’s easy to get creative with funding. We explore many fundraising ideas, including looking for grants and asking local businesses or private benefactors to sponsor programs.


Similarly, I suggest inviting local artists to guest-lecture. At the start of the pandemic, I messaged—on social media—a street artist I admire who is from El Salvador (the home of one of my new students). Johanna Toruño, of The Unapologetically Brown Series, agreed to an online Q+A with a group of my students.


My students prepared for the event by completing goal-related tasks: One watched videos about the artist and helped create a slideshow, and another brainstormed questions to ask. The session went well, and students still ask about Toruño. She has offered to return and teach them how to make wheat paste for hanging their art in their neighborhoods.


We encourage students to present their work to us and their peers. For all of us, it’s an opportunity to get creative and build rapport, understand one another better, and strengthen the trust between us.





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