A History in Special Needs Education

Hello Kids Art is going to take the next two weeks to delve into the unique relationship The Messy Artist creator, Donna Bernstein, has with the combination of special needs and art education.  The first installment this week will be a look at her history and the benefits of our art education here at the Messy Artist for children with special needs, and the next post will be tips and techniques Donna has learned from her years of experience and incorporated into the program.  Here is what Donna has to say, in her own words:

2014 has been a year of reflection for me. Both my son and I have entered a new stage of our lives: he as a freshman in college and my husband and I as empty nesters. This has made me look back at the last twenty years of my life.

As you may expect, there’s a lot of talk in our household about college majors and careers.  I find it interesting that kids need to choose so early what they want to do with the rest of life. Certainly after thirty years out of college, many of our jobs are not jobs or careers we started with. So much of our career path becomes dictated by the job that becomes available to you: especially in today’s economy.

When I went to school I was on a straight path to get my teaching degree. However, my first job out of college did dictate much of my career path and I am so thankful for that. It truly was by chance that I ended up working at Albert Einstein Medical Center in their Therapeutic Nursery with children with autism. Working at the Therapeutic Nursery became the start of my love for children with autism. I worked part time in the nursery school and part time on a research project studying children with language delays and autism.  While there, I was fortunate to have Albert Einstein Medical Center pay for the classes for my M.A. in education from Columbia University Teachers College.


Under the direction of top leaders in the field of autism, Dr. Doris Allen and Dr. Isabelle Rapin, my first job became a career changing experience. I developed top-notch teaching skills, diagnostic skills on identifying children with autism, innovative techniques on working with children with autism and so much more. I became completely entrenched in my work and learning about children with autism. After several years at Albert Einstein Medical Center, I moved on to work at other schools and spent much of my early career working in early intervention with children with autism.

new jersey art class and party children fine art class for children morris county nj

I see two important aspects of our program at The Messy Artist that benefit children with special needs. The first is learning through play.  Children soak up so much as they are playing – from motor skills to language acquisition to confidence.

This website is a great resource for outlining elements of learning that are achieved through play: developmental, emotional and educational.


The second aspect of our program that benefits children with special needs is the sensory exploration.

  1. Research shows that sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain’s pathways, which lead to the child’s ability to complete more complex learning tasks.
  2. Sensory play encourages language development, cognitive growth, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving skills, and social interaction.
  3. Sensory play aids in developing and enhancing memory
  4. Sensory play can be calming and soothing when a child is anxious or frustrated.
  5. Children learn concepts such as hot, cold, sticky, dry, full, empty and so much more.

Sensory play is a key element of our program.  Each week we have one or more sensory stations for the children to explore, and we change them every week.  Here are a few of them:


Author: hellokidsart

The Messy Artist is a special place to create art. We offer year-round art classes for children 18 months through adulthood. In addition to art classes from September through June, we offer summer art camp and Drop-In and Play art activities for kids between our regular sessions. Our bright, colorful studio is also the perfect place for a kid’s birthday party! The Messy Artist children’s art center was created and designed by Owner/Director Donna Bernstein, a professional educator and artist. The curriculum is inspired and guided by Donna’s teaching experience and research in child development, as well as her passion for art. At The Messy Artist, art lessons for kids entertain and enrich their brains, bodies, and hearts.

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