Animal Pillow: A Special Education Art Project for Grades 2 through 4

Task: sew an animal-themed cushion. The purpose of this activity was to help students retain the information they had learned in class.

Twelve students from the CDC and CDCA classes took part. Those involved were second, third, and fourth graders with a wide range of impairments such as autism, down syndrome, spina bifida, and blindness.

Day 1

The kids picked their favourite animal from a bunch of cartoonish illustrations. They were helped to trace their animal onto tracing paper. Because the tracing quality could be adjusted as needed during the sewing process, their efforts were fruitful. For more on that, see Day 2. Each student selected four textiles from a vast palette of options. The kids’ natural inclinations to select fabrics that best suited their needs (soft, rough, fuzzy, bright, subdued) was fascinating to observe.

Day 2

We pinned the pattern to three of the four fabrics. It served as a guide while we sewed. Following this, the bottom was given its fourth fabric. Three of the four edges were finished by sewing the four materials together.

Students worked with me individually on the sewing machine. I manipulated the “gas” and guided the fabric as it was fed into the machine. All the kids were thrilled to get a turn at the wheel. Now that I had a chance to go back at the first day’s tracing, I could see where I went wrong and make adjustments to make it better. Students could discard the paper pattern once they were done stitching. While some preferred the excitement and release of ripping the paper, others felt more at ease slowly removing it.

One CDCA student had trouble using the sewing machine because of her disability. We installed an Able switch to make the machine accessible. She was able to take part by instructing the machine when to turn corners by turning it on and off. A other student helped feed the fabric into the machine and then ripped off the paper backing. Her student benefited greatly from this situation in terms of gaining insight into the virtues of working with others, giving of oneself, and being patient.

Third and Fourth Days

Those kids who did not get to sew on day 2 were able to finish off their project today. To make their animal designs, students removed the top two layers of fabric. Then they used a pair of scissors to trim the pillow’s interior along with the design’s outer edge. As a result, some of the pupils needed assistance from the others to complete the task. I asked students who were comfortable with scissors to help others who were not with the cutting on the projects. The preparation of the pillows for stuffing took two days. When not making pillows, the kids in the school were working on animal-related projects with their educators.

Finally, on day 4, I washed and dried two pillows to help fray the edges.

Day 5

Fiberfill was used to stuff the children’s pillows. All the kids really liked this because it was so tactile and fun to do. Motor-challenged kids were given direct, hands-on help. When I was done stuffing the pillows, I used the sewing machine to close them. It was universally agreed that everyone has a favourite cushion. There were a few kids who immediately started using them to calm down when they were upset. Some of the kids even invited adults to their classrooms to show off their final products and tell their stories.

The original publication of this essay is ADVANCE for Occupational Therapy Professionals.

In her professional life, Bailey Earith works with fibre. She has spent the last 25 years helping people with impairments find independence through the arts by applying her knowledge as an occupational therapist. Her groundbreaking work with people who are disabled has been widely documented in the literature. She regularly travels the country to give talks and workshops. Artist-in-Residencies, “Special Art for Special People,” and “How to Provide Art Experiences for People with Disabilities for Parents and Teachers” are a few of the topics covered.

2022-09-23 19:30:00

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