Making Sense of Art


At the start of every month, the Boston Children’s Museum Art Studio unveils a new creative endeavor intended to get the gears turning in our young visitors’ minds. For the month of January, we explored the concept of sound, specifically through making different sorts of sound devices. While this is a great project for encouraging listening and auditory responses, our audile senses aren’t the only ones that we’re aiming to activate.


Any art activity can be a solid multisensory experience – for example, sight and touch also played very active roles in our January projects as visitors decorated and stylized their devices, or felt the sound vibrations as a mallet made contact with a drum. In celebrating the use of all five senses – hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch – there are countless activities that you can use to exercise your child’s creative mind. Here are a few full-sensory projects to try at home:



In order to give your ears a proper workout, you can try out some simple instrument making, just like we’ve done in the Art Studio. Idiophones are musical devices that do not use wind, strings, or any kind of membrane, like the face of a drum. You can make your own idiophone by constructing a mallet. We chose to use wooden dowels as the handle, and duct tape or rubber bands as binding agents to hold our materials together. Use the pillowy combination of felt and cotton balls for a soft mallet, and pipe cleaners or string with larger wooden or plastic beads for something with a harder sound. To complete your DIY drum kit, make a “sound garden” out of extra pots, pans, or other metal or plastic kitchenware.


Sight is the easiest sense to fulfill through visual art making, and light, colors, and transparency are great concepts to utilize when exploring this sense. Try making a tissue paper collage, and observe the color mixing that occurs when two colors of tissue paper overlap. You can also use materials like tissue paper, scraps of colored plastic bags, and colored saran wrap to create a hanging mobile for your window. Apply the materials to a base – for example, paper plates with the centers removed lend to a dream catcher-style mobile – and hang in a window for the light to interact with the transparent and translucent properties of your materials.


Exercise your sense of smell by creating a set of spice paints. Check your spice rack and find a few spices with a pleasing scent and color – things like ground thyme, cinnamon, and cumin work well, and also give you a little variety in earthy tones. Mix with school glue, and add a touch of water to dilute your mixture. The spices can also be replaced with crushed fruit cereals to give you a slightly more vibrant paint.


It sounds unlikely, but you can explore your sense of taste with a little jewelry making exercise. “Candy” necklaces or bracelets can be made with a piece of string and an array of loop cereals, such as Froot Loops, Cheerios, and Applejacks. You can also try out some popcorn printmaking. Use sweetened condensed milk and food coloring to make “paint” for your popcorn. See what types of patterns can be made with the popcorn on paper through the principles of color and texture, and when you’re finished painting, you’ve got a snack ready in your studio.



Art making can easily turn into a super-tactile experience. To start, create a multimedia collage with materials like corrugated cardboard, felt, ribbon, and sandpaper. Clay making and sculpting are also great options for tactile exploration. Try a simple play dough recipe; BCM’s Kool Aid recipe works well: Mix 3 ½ cups flour with ½ cup salt. Add 3 teaspoons of vegetable oil, 2 cups of boiling water, and 2 packages of Kool Aid. Stir and add more water or flour accordingly until you reach the desired consistency.

Ask your child about their projects, about which senses feel most engaged and their feelings during the creation process, and provide supportive commentary on their work and responses.

While each of these projects is geared toward accessing one major sense, remember that art making and creative play are multisensory. Our eyes are used to plan and design, our hands to sculpt and mold, or move a brush – and the joy of a successful creation is a whole new feeling altogether.

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