Using Art for Speech Development

YES!  I said that right!  You most certainly can use ART to enhance a child’s speech and language development!  I do it all the time, with my clients and my own kids too.


Most children love art.  They love exploring and creating.  They especially love making messes.  It’s typically the adults that don’t enjoy the mess so much that they tend to avoid art projects altogether. I find myself often reminding parents that yes, it is OK for a child to run their hands through paint, to squirt way too much glue on the paper, and even get glitter in their hair.  GASP!!  Don’t get me wrong, I DO realize it is going to be extra work… it’s just ONE more thing to have to clean up, ONE more bath, ONE more disaster lying around the house.  I get it.  Trust me, I do.  At the same time though, I realize how much a child can learn from creating messy art projects.  They learn to be creative and to think independently, all while developing speech, language, and fine motor skills too!

Now exactly how do you encourage SPEECH through art you may be wondering??? Let me explain by defining two main types of art activities in young children.

Process Based Art Activities

Process Based Art Activities are open ended, child centered, and encourage your child to make something one of a kind.  You basically supply the child with the materials and let them create whatever their little hearts desire.  There is a strict “hands-off” policy adults should maintain during this type of art.  The goal is about the PROCESS not the PRODUCT.  Examples of Process-Based Art Activities include:  painting,  finger painting, drawing/coloring, snipping and gluing, and collage activities.  

I like to use Process-Based Art to Encourage Verbal Expression in young children.  While creating their masterpiece, we can use….

  • DESCRIBING WORDS to talk about what we see developing in their artwork, what it looks like.  Rich vocabulary is often used when describing.
  • ACTION WORDS to talk about what we are doing as we create.  Action words are critical when children are working on expanding overall sentence length.
  • LABELING to name all the items we are using to make the art (paint colors, brushes, art easel, etc).  I like to make sure there are some new vocabulary items involved in the project.  I recently encouraged a small group of children to paint with a FLY SWATTER.  That was most definitely a new word for them.  ;)
  • SOCIAL SKILLS to request items, share supplies, and wait their turn when necessary.

Below is a picture of a Painting Playdate I had in my backyard last summer that is a perfect example of Process Based Art.  My daughter and a friend were provided sheets of poster board, paint, and a variety of paintbrushes.  They were given no instructions, only to “paint.”  The goal that day was to explore, create, and have fun with a friend!  Mission Accomplished!!



Product Based Art Activities

Product Based Art Activities focus more on having a very specific finished product and do not encourage creativity or exploration.  There is more emphasis on the “steps” taken in the correct order at the correct time to complete the project.  There is usually an example given of how the end result should look.  The goal is the PRODUCT not the PROCESS.  Examples of Product Based Art Activities include:  coloring a page out of a coloring book, painting on a template,  a specific project such as making an animal out of construction paper,  or any “cookie cutter” project.

I like to use Product-Based Art to Encourage Auditory Comprehension in young children.  While creating their masterpiece, we can….

  • FOLLOW DIRECTIONS by listening carefully to each instruction given and following through.
  • SEQUENCE STEPS by completing the project in an orderly fashion.  Afterwards, we may recall these steps to explain how we made the project.  First we, _____.  Then, _____.  Next,_______.  Last we,_________.
  • IDENTIFY the items needed as we use them correctly to make our masterpiece.  
  • USE SOCIAL SKILLS to ask for help or clarification when we don’t understand an instruction.  We also will have to wait our turn to talk since there are more directions being given in this type of art activity.

My oldest daughter recently brought home from school a great example of Product Based Art. Clearly, the goal was to make a caterpillar.  She made a color pattern and had some body parts that I’m sure the teacher was targeting during her lesson.  I’m willing to bet there was an example given that looked very similar to the one my daughter made.



A Mix of Both?!?

When I incorporate art into my therapy sessions I often will create activities that are a MIX of both Product and Process Based Art.  This allows me to easily target both verbal expression AND auditory comprehension goals the child may be working on.  When learning and having fun at home with my girls I sometimes create art projects centered around a theme they are currently interested in. Theme based art activities are usually a perfect mix of Product and Process Based Art.   The picture below is an example of this.  My youngest daughter and I made a kite to talk about things we do in the Spring.  We had a couple of steps we had to follow exactly but she was also encouraged to sponge paint and create a unique design on her kite too.  



Now the point of this article is NOT to stress you out and make you think you need to have a list of specific goals to work on when doing art activities with your children.  Of course not! That is what us teachers and therapists have fun obsessing over!  ;)  The point is to show you how art projects can NATURALLY lead to developing speech and language skills.  By simply going through the process of creating art with your child (whatever it may be)  you are encouraging all of those wonderful skills and MORE without even thinking twice about it.  So don’t be afraid to let your child handle messy art supplies and make one big fat giant mess.  I realize it’s not something you will want to do every single day, but maybe during a special time or two you have with your child during the week would be more realistic?  The important thing is to simply initiate the process and watch the magic unfold.  I promise the fun and learning that will follow is sure to outweigh all of the mess that will be involved!  

Have Fun!




**Disclaimer:  All communication tips offered in the blog are not meant to substitute for professional speech and language services if your child qualifies for them.  They are meant for educational purposes only,  to provide simple examples of ways to promote speech and language development in children.

About Kelly

Wife, Mom to two precious little girls, and Speech-Language Pathologist who is passionate about helping all children develop their very best communication skills while making learning fun, creative and meaningful along the way!
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