© Piros Orr

Artistic Tools

In our experience through ClowNexus, people with dementia and autistic children can both enjoy art because it engages their senses, lets them express themselves without words, gives them a sense of structure and freedom, and helps them remember and share emotions. Art is a way for us all to connect and communicate.

Intention: Stimulate the senses and promote connection through sensory engagement. 

The materials provided in this activity are designed to be touched, smelled, and listened to. Items such as a bag of leaves invite physical activity and exploration.  

They can be squeezed for a calming effect or used to create musical sounds, promoting a collaborative experience between the child and the clown.  

The various scents in jars can trigger the imagination and memories. By observing which senses a specific material excites the child’s most, the clown can sensitively support their interaction and shared play.  

The clown(s) may mirror the child’s use of materials and gradually introduce more play elements if the child is open to changes. Respect for the child’s timing is vital, as they may prefer repetitive play.  

For children with ASD, play often follows a formulaic and repetitive pattern, often focusing more on materials than on individuals.

Intention: Elicit sensory responses while incorporating learning and play. 

Clowns use seasonally appropriate natural elements (e.g., leaves, pinecones, chestnuts) to engage children’s senses and teach them about the changing seasons.  

This hands-on approach stimulates sensory exploration and offers an imaginative dimension to learning.  

Activities may involve planting seeds in spring, creating artificial snow in winter, or introducing other relevant objects to enhance the learning experience. 

This activity is closely tied to exploring the changing seasons and harnessing natural elements with a touch of imagination.

Intention: Propose familiar activities that foster unity. 

The clowns embody various animals, encouraging participants to use their bodies and join in the role-play.  

This activity trains children to recognise the animals represented, promotes physical activity, and facilitates emotional expression in a fun and appropriate manner.

Intention: Respond to the child’s invitation for physical contact, enhancing body awareness and self-awareness through various movements and games. 

Clowns accept requested hugs, lifts, or touches and transform them into playful games. 

For example, a lift may become an airplane ride, an arm or leg can serve as a road for toy cars or animals, and a hug can lead to a dance. Props, such as a Pilates ball or an elastic band, can be integrated.  

It is crucial to adapt the intensity of physical contact based on the child’s sensitivity to touch, whether they are hypersensitive or hyposensitive. Context & Pre-condition: This activity requires self-awareness and interpersonal perception. Clarity in communication and understanding the child’s needs is essential.

Intention: Connect and play using familiar props, imbuing them with new meaning and purpose. This activity allows children to be passive observers or active participants. 

Explore the sensation of wind using songs, sounds, and props that simulate wind (e.g., fans, fabric, ventilators). Engage in activities like flying in the wind (using leaves, fabric, feathers), imitating the wind (with gymnastic ribbons), and transform it into a participatory performance. 

Two potential settings: 1. Children sitting in a semicircle, awaiting the activity to commence. 2. Invading their space during an ongoing activity to capture their attention. The goal is to engage them in the activity offered.

Intention: Create a structured entrance that establishes an instant, poetic, playful connection. It serves to prepare a group of children for collective activities.

Enter the space where the children are with a suitcase, accompanied by a “hello song.” 

The suitcase contains items needed to sow the seeds of wonder that will blossom into joyful play.  

The suitcase or a similar container generates curiosity and signals that the day will be filled with more surprises and excitement.  

It motivates children to actively participate in the play. Initially, the suitcase can serve as the primary focus, as children are intrigued by its sound and texture, exploring and attempting to open it. It unifies the entire group and the space in which the children gather. 

(Note: Earth = golden fabric; Seed = a music egg; a bucket, bubbles = water; Sun = a yellow scarf)

Intention: Engage in imaginative play together. 

Description: Clowns use fairy tales as a foundation for shared clowning activities. They adopt various roles, and children are encouraged to join in.  

Fairy tales serve as a structural framework for the visit, guiding children from beginning to end. With the assistance of the clowns, children learn to follow the story and discover their preferred roles within it.  

This kind of play enables them to be active or passive participants, fostering a deeper connection between mind and body. 

Create a whimsical atmosphere and employ props. It is helpful to begin with a familiar story known to the children and, once the method is established, introduce new stories.

Intention:  Try to break the strict routines that limit the child’s play.  

The clowns commence by immersing themselves in the child’s ongoing game or pattern. Gradually, they introduce new ways of playing with toys and objects, inviting the child to partake in this fresh approach. They explore the full spectrum of sensory experiences with the toys.  

If the child remains steadfast in their routine (often a source of comfort and security), the clowns attempt to surprise them with a unique and intriguing toy, such as playdough, sand, a spray bottle, or a large piece of fabric. 

Acknowledge that patterns and routines are important for children as they provide a sense of self-regulation and security. Be open, accepting, patient, persistent, and consistent.

Intention: Connecting with the child through rhythm.  

By reacting to the sounds and rhythm of the music, the child responds either vocally or through movement, transforming the encounter into a conversation/jam session.  

This encounter acts as an example of communication and exchange without words.  

By listening to the rhythm, the child can respond by walking, playing, moving, and vocalising.  

There is also the option to incorporate instruments and invite the child to play with the instrument or join in as they prefer.

Intention: minimise the fear of strangers, improve the children’s social skills, improve their rule-following skills

The clowns seamlessly integrate into the daily classroom routines with a gentle and sensitive presence, always open and playful. 

While they actively participate in the regular activities, they still carry out their clownish behaviour, often dialled down to about 30% to avoid disrupting the class. 

Nevertheless, their genuine openness and playful spirit shine through. They engage in the same exercises and lessons as the children, even receive the same rewards.

This touch of playfulness often works wonders. It can rekindle the interest of a child who may have been struggling to focus, or inspire a child who typically isolates themselves to join in during teamwork exercises. 

The clowns act as catalysts to create an inclusive and engaging atmosphere within the classroom, fostering connection and participation among the children.

Intention: Delineate space, draw attention 

The clowns use a colourful rug to make a special area. It creates safe boundaries for play to happen. 

Using a rug to mark out a special space works like magic. It seems to naturally attract the kids, and they gather on it without any need for persuasion.

Intention: Awaken interest, group connection 

Two clowns enter with lively music and a mysterious suitcase, making the children very curious.. 

They  open the suitcase and inside there’s an instrument. They play with it a little and then put it back in the case. 

Upon arrival, the idea is to get the children interested in the mysterious content of the suitcase. 

There is a surprise in there, that needs to be discovered together as a group. . 

The clowns initiate a delightful ritual, knocking on the suitcase, asking if it’s ready to reveal its secrets. 

The suitcase playfully resists, presenting various tasks like knocking five times, cleaning it with a scarf, blowing on it, or singing a melody. 

Finally, with a sense of magic, the suitcase opens, revealing a treasure – the instruments. Inside are many instruments that can then be explored and played with. 

Some children join the group, while others explore independently, and a few receive assistance from the staff. 

It’s a joyful, interactive experience that fosters both group cohesion and individual expression. 

It can be less stressful if every child is focused on their own activity, instead of making them wait for an activity to start.

Intention: Connecting with a group of children, creating a safe atmosphere before starting other activities

A group of children sit in a half-circle. Two clowns approach, one playing music, the other using an object like a scarf to highlight the movements and attract attention. 

They start singing the childrens’ names one by one. This helps to establish a safe and familiar space before doing more activities together.. 

Children should be informed in advance about the clowns/artists’ visit. 

It also helps if children are wearing name tags on their chests or next to their chair to make the singing process smooth, ask teachers/parents for help with this. 

Consider every encounter with each child as a celebration of their name and who they are.

Intention: Connection, communication, finding a common game 

Set the stage for a delightful game of imagination with a child. 

You begin by miming the presence of a car in the room, complete with the revving of an imaginary engine and the gentle hum of wheels in motion. 

With playful enthusiasm, you extend an invitation to the child to join in the fun. If the child eagerly accepts, the room transforms into a bustling roadway, and together, you embark on the common game of a make-believe car ride. 

Take your time and savour the moment. There’s no need to rush; let the magic of imagination unfold at its own pace. 

Make your gestures and mimes crystal clear, ensuring the child can easily grasp the concept of the car in the room. Keep the atmosphere playful to keep the game light-hearted and amusing..

Intention: Sensory impulse, playing with touch 

We extend an invitation to touch the bag, encouraging individuals to listen to the sound it produces, feel its texture, and savour the woody scent it emanates. 

We gently touch the child with the bag, allowing them to manipulate and engage in play with it. 

We take a deliberate, step-by-step approach to enable the bag to evolve into an object of curiosity.

Intention: Connecting to the child’s world finding a common point. 

The clowns carefully observe and gradually initiate a similar movement using one specific body part. 

They craft a playful game around this movement and redirect the audience’s attention elsewhere. 

Mirroring is a delicate activity that can foster a sense of security, but it also requires  considerable time and a mindful approach. 

It’s important to be patient and attuned to the child’s cues. Once the child senses your genuine intention without any ulterior motives, you can slowly begin the mirroring process.

Intention: Flipping the focus from disability to abilities and special powers. 

This tool serves as an approach that is adaptable for use in playful, educational, or even challenging settings. 

The nature of the interaction will yield varying levels of energy, but one thing is certain – it invokes a sense of awe! 

Witnessing someone with superpowers naturally elicits amazement and encourages compliments, making it an empowering experience. 

The power in question should be authentic and genuine. It’s not about pretending to have the ability to see superpowers, but rather about truly “seeing” the person who is part of the encounter.