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A few months ago, on a particularly dreary and rainy Autumn day, I decided to move the table out of our art area and tape some big paper to the wall. I knew I was having a small class, so this would be a perfect day to experiment with some action art. I envisioned the kids using their legs and feet to move the markers and other materials across the paper. But soon after beginning, the experience turned into something else completely.
The first discovery? It was hard to draw with their feet!
It was such a new sensory experience, their thoughts were on both the magic that was happening with using their legs, and the logistics of making it work.
You can see in this little video how they are working hard to figure out the best way to hold the marker with their toes, scooting their bodies closer to the paper, and discovering different ways to make their lines.
A third child entered class, and she gave it a try.
This little girl was determined, and was not going to give up so easily. She was actually trying to draw something.
She then had an idea…what if she tried drawing with other parts of her body, and not use her hands at all?
Next she tried drawing with her mouth.
And then her elbows!
Eventually all the children were up on their feet and back to using their hands. They went to the art shelves to gather a few more art materials, like dot markers and watercolor paints. They continued to draw on their mural as our conversation became more thought-provoking.
One child wondered, what if you had no hands? Could you still make art?
This question led us to start talking about people with disabilities. I told them that there were some people who couldn’t use their arms for one reason or another. (They asked Why? so we went over lots of scenarios, like being born without arms, to losing the use of your arms.)
Yes, they can still make art, I said.
They wanted to see some of these types of artists, so I said I would look it up and show them the following week.
I loved the way this simple exercise – which was meant to be just another gross motor art activity – turned into such an important and beautiful discussion about how lucky we were to have our hands.
After they left, I went to my computer and looked up artists that used their feet or mouths to paint. And guess what, there is a whole society of these artists! The organization is called MFPA (Mouth and Foot Painting Artists). When the kids came back the next week, I showed them some photos, like this one of an artist who paints portraits with his mouth, and another mouth painter who painted this beautiful cherry.
There are also plenty of videos on YouTube of artists using their feet and mouths. This one of a little boy drawing in his journal is pretty incredible. But I didn’t show any videos to my four and five year old students because I hadn’t asked their moms and I didn’t want to upset them. Seeing a photo is one thing, but a video can frighten children who haven’t been exposed to loss of limbs.
I am so grateful that my students were able to experience this new perspective. It’s so important for children to put themselves in another’s shoes for a while. Kids tend to compare themselves to others who have more, but not often do they compare themselves to someone who has less. Gratitude is something that can be cultivated on a daily basis, and this experience certainly made us all feel more grateful for what we have.
Try this with your own kids!
Update: OMG, I just published this post a few hours ago, and as I was scrolling through Facebook (procrastinating because I really don’t want to make dinner), I saw THIS article about a Polish artist with no hands. You have to see his incredible drawings!