© 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: 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: Activate and awaken the inner child, reduce tension between staff and older people.

We collaboratively create a game with the audience. After our arrival and establishing a presence in the space, our initial focus is on the ball itself.  

We introduce the ball through clown actions and propose a game with straightforward rules. 

Playing with balls serves as an excellent tool for building connections. This shared play activates energy and joy.  

When the rules are clear, we have the freedom to invent new ball games. 

Develop the game incrementally and maintain simplicity in the rules. This activity requires sensitivity and self-awareness in our movements.

Intention: Activate all the senses, encourage participation, and foster play. 

We initiate the experience with a newspaper, using it as a sensory tool to facilitate engagement.  

Together, we explore the newspaper’s potential, creating sounds and connections with the material. The object serves as a foundation for building connections.  

Playing with the object entails transitioning from its conventional use to creative exploration. 

 We discover ways to transform the object, using it to narrate stories through its various forms (e.g. using simple paper to represent wind, water, boats, rain, and more). 

Allow ample time for presenting the object. When transforming it, maintain clarity and simplicity, giving each step adequate duration for acceptance and enjoyment.

Intention: Forge a connection, invoke nostalgia, stimulate the senses. 

We arrive with a basket and initiate a role-playing game of going to the market.  

The first step is to establish a connection; employing the basket piques interest and links to the topic. 

We invite the older people to participate in the play, simulating a trip to the market to buy vegetables.  

The market theme and role-play activity rekindle memories, emotions, and provide a sense of familiarity and competence.  

Throughout the play, participants can assume various roles, such as selling or buying. 

For sensory stimulation, real vegetables can be used. Be mindful of their reactions to actual vegetables, as some may not immediately recognise them.

Intention: Cultivate connections through play, evoke emotional memories, spark sensory responses. 

We enter the scene with a sound and voice impulse, mimicking the noises of a young kitten or puppy while introducing a partially concealed object.  

The hidden item is a plush kitten or puppy, and we suggest that we found it on the street. We engage in playful exchanges, imitating the animal sounds and encouraging the audience to interact by touching the small animal.  

As the play unfolds, the focus shifts towards the connection between the audience and the object of our play. We invite everyone to collaboratively name the little animal.  

While the scenario is built on fantasy, the interaction rekindles physical memories and emotions. 

Initiate play with sound, allowing it to set the stage for the context. Only introduce the object when the residents actively search for it. The sound and their reactions establish the connection; be patient to nurture it.

Intention: connection, emotional memory calling 

Incorporating elements and characters from folk tales into our collective play provides a wonderful opportunity to awaken childhood memories. 

These tales also possess deeper significance, as they often contain archaic symbols and universal motifs that resonate on a profound level. 

Our approach starts by introducing a specific folk tale element, often initiated with the use of a relevant object, such as a storytelling prop. 

We initially establish a connection with the audience through clowning, creating a playful and engaging atmosphere. 

As the play evolves and the concept becomes clear, we transition with clown play to the roles of the folktale characters. 

Audiences have the option to actively participate in the play or enjoy it as part of the audience, so they can engage in a way that suits their preferences and comfort. 

A simple storyline is key, with the folk tale element serving as the impulse for our play. 

Props are used to represent different roles, and objects are employed to support the narrative consistently. This approach keeps the play enjoyable and coherent, emphasising the joy of playing together.

Intention: connecting to nature, sensory stimulation 

We enter with a big, colourful umbrella. 

Our initial connection involves drawing attention to this colourful object, activating interest, and initiating the topic of rain. 

To build our play, we start by creating the soothing sounds of nature, including the gentle rustle of the wind and the patter of raindrops. 

We incorporate soft rhythm instruments to enhance the experience. 

Gradually, we open the spacious umbrella and extend an invitation to the audience to come underneath it. 

Beneath the unbrella, we listen to the sounds of the rain, creating them by gently tapping our fingers on the umbrella’s surface. 

Based on the reactions we observe, the clowns respond with emotions and impulses that resonate with the audience’s engagement, fostering a shared and immersive experience.

This activity is best suited for individual or very small group interactions.  

The sound of the rain awakens an emotional memory, which can be a very intimate and sensitive action. 

We remain acutely sensitive and aware of the reactions this evokes, ensuring that our play maintains a soft and intimate quality, preserving the emotional connection with the audience.

Intention: calling back memories through well-known activities, sensory impulse, group connection 

The proposal is a game involving a familiar activity: washing clothes. 

This activity uses scarves for sensory benefits, allowing for hand-washing movements, the graceful motion of scarves during drying, and the fresh smell of the flying fabric. 

Our entrance involves scarves placed in a large washbasin, and we invite the audience to participate in this washing activity. 

This physical engagement quickly activates the memories of the audience and connects them to the theme. 

Rhythm and singing are incorporated into the play, fostering a sense of group connection as everyone participates in the shared experience. 

To enhance the fun, a long drying rope and clothespins are introduced, and both relatives and staff members become part of the play, helping the older people hang the scarves on the line. 

This collective effort brings forth the fresh, floral scent of clean clothes, enriching the sensory dimension of the activity.

Involving both relatives and staff in the game is a great idea. Everyone can play together, and we can even incorporate different types of clothes to make the activity more enjoyable and engaging for everyone.

Intention: creating a sensation of travelling, recalling memories, activating imagination 

The invitation is to travel together and the central theme is storytelling, accompanied by the creation of a train-like atmosphere. 

Starting with the suggestion of sounds and voices reminiscent of a busy train station, the journey begins by moving through the audience as if there’s a rush to catch the train. 

This initial phase offers opportunities for connection and establishing engagement. 

Through the use of music and carefully crafted sounds, we transport ourselves to the bustling train station, setting the stage for our collective adventure. 

Before embarking, we ensure that everyone has joined us, thereby stirring memories and prompting imaginative play. 

Upon reaching our seaside destination, a multitude of possibilities emerges, enriched by sensory elements such as blue fabric, the gentle sounds of water, and the tactile sensation of temperature. 

These elements add depth to our play.

As our journey concludes, we make the return trip by train, mirroring the initial game, creating a coherent framework for our entire encounter. 

Throughout, we maintain a keen awareness of sound and movement to prevent overwhelming sensory stimulation. 

We prioritise simplicity in our communication, ensuring clarity in each part of the journey.

Intention: awakening interest, giving impulse, encouraging people to lift heads and make eye contact

Our initial gesture involves showcasing the shoes we’re wearing, bringing them to eye level for the audience, and initiating slow, deliberate movements. 

As we sense their attention fixating on our shoes, we generate sounds with them and begin to engage in a repetitive sequence. 

If we successfully capture their focus, we gradually expand the scope, moving our entire bodies and exploring a larger space while retaining the inspiration from the shoes. 

This approach gently punctures the isolated bubble of the audience, inviting them into a shared playful experience.

Frequently, when encountering audiences in care homes, their attention tends to be directed towards the floor. 

In response, we initiate interactions within their line of sight. Take your time and allow the shoes, as well as the sounds they make, to pique their interest. 

Using shoes that are not typically found within their living environment, such as high heels or cowboy boots, can be an engaging way to create a connection. 

Intention: connecting, breaking the space.

Everyone gathers around the parachute, and the gentle movements of this object capture their attention and arouse curiosity. 

Clowns invite the audience to engage with it, either by tossing soft objects onto it or simply enjoying the spectacle. We carefully observe their reactions to gradually build up the play. 

In the next phase, we introduce a table beneath the parachute, and one clown lies on it. The movements of both the clown and the soft objects beneath the parachute create a simulation of flying. The audience contributes by imparting their own impulses to the object. 

The feeling of flying can be quite surprising. Keep focusing on how the residents react while making sure they stay physically safe.

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.