One of the challenging yet rewarding things about being an occupational therapist is finding activities that virtually any child can do, and that will turn out looking awesome, regardless of ability level.
Marble painting is one of those activities.
Inspired by the creativity of Deborah J. Stewart over at Teach Preschool, I decided to give marble painting a try with my school-based OT kiddos, as well as with my 2 1/2 year old.
It was a fantastic success!
For marble painting, all you need is a cake pan, piece of paper, a few marbles, and a few different paint colors. My paint and marbles were both from the dollar store. Additional items that may be helpful include tape (to make sure the paper sticks to the pan and doesn’t slide around) and saran wrap (to cover the top of the pan and keep the paint-covered marbles from flying out). Let me emphasize that the saran wrap is SUPER helpful! Obviously, marbles can be a choking hazard, so don’t offer them to children who may put them in their mouth, and don’t allow them to do this activity unsupervised. Who would want a kid to roll paint-covered marbles around a pan without supervision anyway, right?
Before getting started with rolling the marbles through the paint, I found that it was helpful to introduce kids to the concept of rolling marbles back and forth in the pan. This could be done with or without paper and, to be honest, some of the kids were so fascinated with the marbles in the pan that it could make for its own separate activity right there!
Once you’re ready to get started with the artwork, just place a piece of paper in the pan and drip two or three colors of paint around it. The paint can be squeezed or dripped directly from the container, which is a great way to incorporate some fine motor skills such as index finger isolation (if you have to push open the lid), hand strength, and bilateral coordination (if you have to shake the paint bottle with two hands, hold with one hand while twisting open the lid with the other, or hold with two hands and squeeze out the paint).
Then pick up the marbles and put them in the pan. You can work those fingertips to pinch and drop them in one at a time, or you could even increase the challenge and work on in-hand manipulation by starting with all the marbles in your hand and “squirreling” them from palm to fingertips to drop them in one at a time. Or for those with limited hand skills, you can dump them from a cup into the pan and make sure there is some nice forearm and shoulder rotation. No matter the ability level, there’s a way to make it work!
Once those marbles are in the pan, get ready to start creating! If you have a child who you know will be unable to control how fast they tilt the pan back and forth, this would be the time to cover the pan with saran wrap. This is what I did while doing this activity with my school kiddos, however, at home we were daring and did it uncovered. It’s totally up to you.
On your mark. Get set. Roll!
Want to see how this activity works in real life? Watch the video demo below. This was the first time my 2 1/2 year old tried his hand at marble painting. He watched me demonstrate with my own paint and paper, and then he picked out his own. Watch how he uses the hand skills mentioned earlier, plus how he has to learn to adjust his speed after the marbles bounce out of the pan from going too fast.
Here are two different pieces of marble painting artwork we made!
I absolutely love that this is an inclusive art project. It doesn’t matter if you have Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, Developmental Delay, some other diagnosis, or no diagnosis at all. This activity can be adapted for anyone and participated in by everyone. And each person creates their own unique end product. How cool is that?
For kids who are impulsive or have difficulty slowing their bodies down, make sure you cover the pan with the saran wrap. Or, if your space allows for mess (or you can cover up the floor), consider leaving the pan uncovered so the marbles fall out if they go too fast. This will give the child instant feedback about what their body is doing and force them to slow down if they want to be successful with this activity.
For kids who are sensitive to noise, show them how it can become quieter if they go slower.
For kids who struggle to know their right from their left, emphasize each side by saying “left” and “right” as the marbles roll to each side. Have them say “left” and “right” as they do it.
For kids who have a hard time determining the location of sounds, have them close their eyes as they slowly roll the pan back and forth. They can say “left” and “right” as they do it. Or they can even close their eyes and say which direction the marbles are rolling in as someone else tilts the pan right in front of or behind them.
For kids who cannot track objects with their eyes without moving their head, challenge them to watch the balls as they roll back and forth. The slower they roll, the easier they will be to track. They can also make the marbles go in an up-and-down motion as they roll as well. Marbles rolling to the left and right will mimic the eye movements needed for reading. Marbles rolling up and down will mimic the eye movements needed for copying from near-point.
For kids who have “poor registration” and may not even be able to really feel how much their arms are moving as they tilt the pan, try using a heavier pan (but not glass) or even having them wear light ankle weights on their wrists as they do this activity.
For kids with low vision or similar visual impairments, try using darker paper (such as black) with lighter paints (such as white or pastels).
For kids who are only able to use a whole-hand “gross” grasp, make sure you use a pan with edges that are wide enough to easily hold onto, or find a way to adapt the edges to add handles.
And for kids who are simply young and eager participants, jump right in, help them out, and see what you can create!