© 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: 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:  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: 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: Establish connection, rhythmic impulse, involvement. 

We introduce rhythm as we enter the space, using it to be fully present and establish connections. Rhythm is our tool for crafting the atmosphere.  

Clowns harness emotions and translate them into physical movements guided by the rhythm. 

 We incorporate musical instruments and encourage the audience to join us in rhythmic play. We explore rhythm through our own body parts.  

When a strong connection is established and communal play ensues, we may incorporate the resident’s body parts, providing gentle sensory stimulation. 

This approach requires attentive sensitivity to perceive reactions and utilize them as impulses. 

Start with straightforward and gradually developing rhythms, avoiding excessive noise. Playing with body parts necessitates sensitivity and self-awareness.

Intention: Connect, engage, and empower, altering the atmosphere. 

Our initial impulse is our presence; we allow time for everyone to settle into the space.  

To initiate a connection, we call out each person’s name with a rhythmic and melodic touch. 

Singing one’s own name serves as a powerful catalyst and an invitation to establish a connection, often evoking deep emotions.  

We take our time to connect and observe reactions, gradually building the melody based on the responses we receive from the person whose name we are singing. Strong emotional reactions guide our improvisation, allowing us to play with music and transform the atmosphere freely. 

It is essential to be familiar with individuals’ names. Singing their names is akin to offering a gift and creating a profound connection, sometimes eliciting powerful emotional responses. 

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: Forge connections, play collectively, engage in rhythm and movement impulses. 

Commencing with a robust presence, we establish a connection with the space and the audience.  

The rhythm of traditional hand-clapping games provides the initial impulse, capturing attention and evoking memories from childhood and parenthood.  

We integrate these rhythms into our movements, initiating subtle physical interactions. While engaging the elderly in traditional hand-clapping children’s games, we also co-create variations, embracing the joy of breaking the rules together. 

Repetition and structured movement sequences foster connections and shared play. Patience and clarity in executing sequences are vital. Allow ample time for reactions.

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: empower, transfer emotions 

The game aims to create positive feelings using poetry and imagination.

We start by noticing something beautiful about an elderly person and express it poetically, comparing them to lovely things like stars or rivers. 

We continue by describing the beauty in more detail through storytelling and body language, making the ordinary seem extraordinary. 

This makes the person feel appreciated and happy, and we carry this positive energy forward as we dive deeper into the imaginative world we’ve created.

Keep the poetic images clear and simple, avoiding complexity, stay with images and avoid abstractions.  

Aways approach this with genuine intentions, never pretending. The goal is to authentically celebrate the beauty in each person.

Intention: creating familiarity, creating group connection.

We begin our interaction from the room’s entrance by saying hello and calling everyone by their name. 

The act of speaking your own name serves as  an invitation for connection. 

Playing with the sounds of saying hello awakens interest and creates joy. We make it fun by playing with different ways of saying hello and paying attention to how people react.

As the game progresses, we add more physical movements and play with the distance between us and the audience, getting closer or moving farther away based on their reactions. 

It’s important to know everyone’s names for this to work. 

We usually begin with waving hands, doing it slowly and clearly to communicate our message. The game evolves based on the audience’s response – if they react positively, we make it more exciting, and if there’s a negative reaction, we tone it down.

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: 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: 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.