Hello Alexandria!  

This week we are introducing you to a young volunteer here at The Messy Artist: Alexandria, an 8th grade middle school student. After seeing our sign one day while driving by with her mother, she reached out to us about interning. She joined us this summer and currently helps out in our Chagalls classes of 3-6 year old children. Her patience and ability to relate to the students are wonderful complements to the passion she has for both art and children.

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How long have you been coming to The Messy Artist?
Since July of 2014, for the summer.

Why did you want to intern/volunteer here?
I wanted to volunteer at a place that I can use my skills/love of art and work with children.

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What is the best part about interning at The Messy Artist?
Connecting with the children, and being able to work/teach to every child. Also, learning about new art projects/ideas that I can share with other teachers and peers.

Have you always enjoyed working with young kids? Have you had other experience doing this?
Yes, I have been working with kids for a long time, and have always enjoyed it. Before I came to The Messy Artist I worked with children, but mainly with children at a special needs camp.

What’s your favorite age group to work with?
Any age group, but if I would have to choose, it would be with 3-8 year olds.art class for elementary toddler and middle school children

We know you help your mom a lot with children with special needs. Do you prefer working with typically developing children or children with special needs?
I don’t prefer any type of children – with or without disabilities – but I have a special place in my heart for children with special needs.

What is your first memory of making art?
In my first grade art class, I drew a still life picture, using pastels, charcoal, and color pencils and realizing my talent because I won an art award.

The Messy Artist Alexandria art
Alexandria’s award winning artwork was made into a notecard by the school. Here is one of them.

Do you have a favorite medium (painting, pencil, clay)?
Pencil and painting but only acrylic – not watercolor.

What are your favorite things to do in your free time?
Drawing, All-Star Cheerleading, Reading and completing puzzles.

What advice do you have for adults, about art or kids? 
I would want adults to encourage each child with positive feedback with each project/picture that they draw. Also, to engage with their imaginary play and design of what they made.best art class for children morris county nj

What is your favorite place that you have been?
The beach in Lavallette.

What is your favorite project you have done at The Messy Artist?
The frozen paint, because while we drew with the cubes of frozen paint it would melt away in your hands. Art and Science combined!frozen paint messy artist

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Alexandria – and for coming in to intern every week! You help make The Messy Artist a special place.


Tips and Ideas to Engage Students

Last week’s blog post focused on Donna’s history in special needs education.  This week’s post will focus on tips she has learned though the years and incorporated into our classes at The Messy Artist.  Though many of these originated for the unique circumstances of a special needs class, they are very effective in classes with typical children as well.

One of the most important things that I have learned over the years about teaching is to use the students as your guide. If the students are not understanding your lesson or if they are not focusing, then you, the teacher needs to alter your lesson. It is not the children’s “fault”. Children are naturally curious and are eager to learn and grow; it’s just a matter of finding the right approach for each situation.

Often times in a special needs class, one will be dealing with a unique and distinct set of challenges for each student. A class with 10 children could mean 10 different abilities and learning styles. Here are some simple ways that I have found to engage young children, both special needs and typical.

1. Vary your voice. Simply altering your usual speaking voice can be very effective in capturing kids attention.

  • Volume: Using both loud and soft voices can be very effective to grab children’s attention. A sudden LOUD voice (not screaming) then moving quickly to a soft voice can be very effective. Whispering can also be a great way to get kids to settle and quiet themselves to hear you.
  • Speed: I especially like to pause to give children a chance to process and chime in with a response. For example: if we are beading and discussing patterns I may say, “I’m going do blue, yellow, blue, yellow, blue … (then the kids all yell out ‘yellow’)
  • Intonation: above is a great example for intonation as well.
  • Act out your words. Just yesterday our teacher Viviana, was doing a lesson on warm, cool, angry and sad colors. As she was talking about how colors can make you feel, she was expressing those feelings with her face, voice and body. She incorporated a multi-sensory approach to get her message across. It was truly amazing to watch!fine art classes and parties for kids new jersey
  • Don’t be afraid to sing something! Breaking into a bit of song can add a bit of levity or interest to the class; the kids will are always intrigued to hear a familiar song with different words. (I.e, “Row, row, row your boat” tune used for “Time, time, time for snack.”

2. Supply distribution

Since we encounter delivering art supplies to children in almost every class, it is something I have thought a lot about. I generally do not like to pass out the supplies myself. I find that when the teacher passes out the supplies the kids are just sitting and waiting. They often start calling out or grabbing from their neighbors. Instead, I like to vary the ways they get them.   Here are some of my favorite methods of getting supplies to everyone:art class and parties NJ

  • The Supply Table. In our art classes we regularly have a supply table, a separate table with the tools or materials laid out for students to walk over to and select what they need. After a short lesson, I then direct them to get their supplies from the table. I (or often, the assistant teacher will do this while I am instructing) put out exactly what they need so that they can be successful following directions. However, I always have a few extra items so that even the last child to go to the table has a choice. Depending upon their age and the project, I may have them go get two items. Often I may give them instructions to go back to the supply table several times throughout the lesson. I love this approach for so many reasons.
    •  It instills independence
    • It increases their attention span – after sitting and listening to a lesson, getting up to get their supplies lets them move around a bit.
    •  It teaches the children to follow directions. We often increase the complexity of the directions as the year goes on.special needs art education
  • The take one and pass one method: I give the first child a bin of pencils and ask him to take one and pass the bin to Jonny, then Jonny takes one and passes the bin to Sophie etc. This encourages patience and waiting and teaches them to follow simple directions. I find this works really well with the 4-6 year group and they sit nicely and wait their turn.
  • The name recognition method: I will often write the children’s names on the back of the their paper before we start. Then when I am ready to give them their paper, I hold one up at a time and have them identify their paper when they see their name. This works nicely for children as young as 2 ½. I think about the fine details such as the first paper to hold up is one of a child that I know will be able to identify their name. That way the children quickly get the hang of what they need to do. I also try to have the papers for the children that can’t wait too long towards the beginning. Lastly, make sure you write the children’s name large and clearly enough so that they can read it easily.

3.  Have a bag of tricks. Be prepared to change and alter your lesson at any time. Kids are unpredictable and a lesson that may have worked very well in the past may fall flat with a different group of kids. If they are not interested, change it up at the last minute to grab their interest.   Here are some wacky things we have done at The Messy Artist.

  • One day I walked into the classroom to find the teacher had all the children drawing under the table! How fun is that!
  • Another day the teacher started the class with the lights out and the tv on with a slideshow presentation of the lesson. Since our classroom does not have windows it was dark and exciting. It immediately got all the kids’ attention.
  • When I use the supply table I will often tell the children to crawl, slither or jump to the supply table to get their things. It’s great to incorporate gross motor activity into your lesson.

Do you have any special tips to to add to our list of ways to keep kids engaged? Please let us know!

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.

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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: