I'm a big believer in the power of discovery art. 

Even though our children may have special needs, they are every bit as full of magic and mystery as any other human being -- unique competencies, potentials and curious personalities.

Discovery art is a great way to have our children explore the world while we explore the inner lives of our children. 

As an added bonus, in this activity, some of the materials can be found in your own backyard! 

An Introduction to Discovery Art -- Pinecone Painting

Best age:

Toddler or preschool.  Older children might like adaptive versions, as well.

You'll need:

Pinecones: if your child can help, pick them out from the backyard.  Our son isn't quite there yet, so I picked them and had them ready after his nap.

- Paint: nontoxic and washable.

- A white tray or plate.  If you don't have white, try to pick another neutral color that will contrast the paint and pinecones.


Our toddler was not yet stable when sitting on his own, so we found that placing a chair (or booster seat) on the floor worked well. 

We placed it in an area with a lot of natural light and calm music, a great setting to help focus the attention, even while securely strapped into a seat. 

The stabilization also helped prevent him from tiring out so quickly, using all of his energies to try to sit. 

Another set of options: work directly at the table, in a Goto seat, or in a high chair.

If your child can sit independently, of course, let her play in the position or place that works best for her!

Ready, Set, Go!

I dripped the paint into a row of dots. 

Ziggy, our son, can't identify his colors yet, but it is all part of the discovery. 

He doesn't have to tell me a play-by-play for me to see into him just a bit more.

You can prompt the activity with an open-ended question like, Ooh, look at the different colors -- what happens if we push a finger into one of these colors?

If your child has expressive language skills, try to let him do most of the talking. 

Yet even if your son is like mine and articulates very little, take a lot of joy in witnessing which color he does reach for first. 

Maybe today is a pink day, which is really fun when he never reaches for the pink! 

What might have inspired the pink? 

And maybe it's one tentative finger, or maybe it's a confident poke, or maybe it's a swipe of several fingers. 

How does your child approach the paint? 

What do her actions tell you about her -- in general, and how she's doing today?

Next, introduce the pinecones.  

At first, our son was very delicate with the pinecones, and, in fact, preferred to paint the tray or his lip.

Then he moved on to really gripping the pinecones, dragging them in the paint, and painting with his fingers while holding onto the pinecones. 

With discovery art, you'll start to realize it's less about the painting and more about the experience. 

There's no pressure for an end-product worthy of a frame or place on the fridge. 

It's just you, some pinecones, and an incredible spirit at play.

For instance, with this activity, I discovered how much my son prefers to paint and handle three-dimensional objects (including his hands) instead of a flat piece of paper. 

To think, all of that time I have spent pressing his hand on a paper, he was actually more interested in the paint being ON his hand! 

Slowing down any art process and experience can reveal crazy fun things about our little ones.

What does your child want to show you today? 

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