Finger Painting with Different Sensory Preferences

Our second art class focused on learning styles and how to appeal to different sensory preferences when we teach. Loosely drawing from Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, we examined four major sensory preferences. Below, I’ve outlined those sensory preferences using some of the descriptions provided by our instructor.

Visual – neat, organized, calm, detail-oriented, works slowly, sometimes labelled as “fussy” or “neurotic”, wants quiet while working, worried about “flaws,” loves colour and detail in art.

Auditory -processes verbally (speaking out), learns through discussion, tends to work quickly, enjoys auditory elements in artwork (graphic novels, comics) and beautiful sounding language (poetry).

Tactual – touchy-feely, loves symbolism, looks for deeper meaning, wants to be comfortable (wants teacher to like them), communal learner, wants you to model directions, enjoys texture in art.

Kinesthetics – learns through movement/action, doesn’t care about mood of the room/teacher, risk-taker, can seem chaotic, struggles with detail, works quickly, involves whole body in activities, may enjoy the experience of making art more than the outcome.

Through our discussion, many of us were able to guess which sensory preference(s) we had and would be most likely to use in the classroom. Our instructor then led us through the same activity (finger painting colour transitions) using multiple approaches in order to appeal to each sensory preference. In each corner of the room a table was set up in a way that prioritized different sensory experiences.

The visual learner table provided  tools and gloves so that students wouldn’t be forced to actually touch the paint with their hands.

The auditory learner table was stationed near the computer, where they could choose music to play while they worked.

The tactual learner table focused on texture. Instead of painting directly on the paper, this station allowed students to paint directly on the table, then press their paper onto the paint like a reversed stamp.

The kinesthetic learner table had no chairs, so students could stand and move around as they painted.

I began the activity at the kinesthetic table. Although I love standing during activities and fully immersing my hands in the paint, I wasn’t able to produce the kind of texture I was looking for. In the photos below, you can see how my attempt to pile up the paint in sections only soaked through the paper and didn’t do much to create the illusion of texture from far away.

Once I moved to the tactual table I was able to produce much more satisfying results. By pressing the paper (very gently) against the pain smears I had made on the table, I made a much more effective textured look.

I really appreciated the opportunity to see how one activity can be set up in multiple ways for multiple sensory experiences, however, I think the tactual table was too different from the other stations. While I do consider myself a very tactual learner, I imagine that the opportunity to paint directly onto the table was appealing even for students with very little tactual preference. It was a great reminder of how difficult it may be to create equally appealing sensory experiences for students who don’t share my sensory preference.