Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Plea For Creativity, Or: Crafts Are For the KIDS

Attention children's librarians and preschool teachers!

Yes, I mean you, the nice lady spending hours pre-assembling crafts that you expect the kids to put together perfectly, just like one of those kits from Oriental Trading or something.

Yes, you, the other nice lady who is carefully crafting the "model", the elephant with the perfectly placed trunk, the mouse with 2 nice symmetrical ears, the spring scene with the blue sky, green grass and red flowers.

You are spending far too much of your time on these projects and you are doing something that, if anything, is DETRIMENTAL to the development of the kids that you love.

I know, I know. You think that they need to learn that the grass is green, that the skies are blue, that rabbits have 2 ears and that hair goes on the top of the head and the mouth on the bottom.

You think that having done their craft, the children will give it to their parents with this sort of an attitude:
"Here's this dumb craft thing I made in 2 seconds. If you don't keep if forever, I will come to resent you"

Sorry to burst your happy rainbow bubble, but odds are, that craft is going to get scrunched into a backpack, abandoned on a library table or live in the car for months.

The ones that do get pinned to the fridge will stay there a while, then odds are they will be covered over by other projects, or disappear under the coupons and finally end up in the trash or the recycle.

As the mother of a pair of very creative daughters (and they get all their art talent from their dad, I'm not boasting on my behalf), I can tell you that after 17-odd years (eep!) of motherhood, most of those art projects disappeared long ago into that Great Repository of Kids Art in the sky.

I have certain, very treasured samples of their work--things that mean a lot to me. The rest?
Gone, baby, gone!

I bring this up because I want you to take a look at the title of this book and commit it to memory:

"Preschool Art:
It's the Process, Not the Product"

Take that as your mantra!

It's not about copying a model that looks just like yours. It's not about carefully gluing pre-cut pieces together, following directions step by step.

It's about learning to use scissors. Getting sticky with glue. Shaking glitter.  Learning to string beads onto a pipe cleaner.Squishing dough in your fingers.

It's about making the trees purple and the grass yellow, or coloring everything black. It's about deciding that the ears go on the back--and you like putting them there. Or deciding that the caterpillar you're making needs antennae that the librarian didn't think of--and making your own.
(True story, that one.) It's telling your mom, or your nanny or your teacher or your librarian all about your picture, and what it shows and why you're proud of it.

It's writing your name on that creation and showing it to someone, then promptly forgetting about it.

Preschool crafts teach fine motor skills, thinking skills, problem solving skills. They instill pride in kids for being able to do things themselves.
Doing cookie cutter crafts is doing nothing more than filling time. It isn't educational, it is counter-educational!

So what DO I recommend---after 20 years of crafts with preschoolers, usually on a shoestring budget?

1)Present crafts that work on the skills kids need. They need to learn to hold a crayon/market correctly. They need to learn to work with a scissors. They need to practice other fine motor skills. Skills, BTW, that you and the parents/caregivers already have. YOU don't need the practice.

2)Present crafts that allow kids to make choices. Do you want to make a red rabbit or a green one, Jacob?  What color do you want your cat's tail to be, Bella?  Let them pick their own color paper, their own colors to use. Somehow, they all eventually learn that the grass is generally green and the sky often blue. This is their play time. Let them PLAY!

3)Want to use a pattern? Fine. I've made lots of crafts where I've given the kids simple cardboard templates they can trace around with a marker, then cut them out, sometimes with a little help from a grownup. Kids usually LOVE cutting, and modern kids scissors work for both right handed and left handed kids.

4)Get asked by parents for a model? Tell them to ask their child. If things go together upside down and it looks right to that child, fine. It's their craft. Let them own their creation!

5)Collage related crafts are easy and adapt to just about any time of the year. If you insist on a pattern, use an outline--last week here I gave them a simple polar bear shape that they filled with cotton balls. But the kids used them different ways--several figured out how to unroll the cotton and used it that way.

Stickers, ribbons, foam shapes and torn paper of various textures are collage basics. I've also  used popcorn, dried beans, and shaped pasta of all kinds. And muffin cup liners in different sizes are great--they can be cut, smooshed flat or folded any way your kids can imagine it.

6) If the craft is so complicated the parents/caregivers are doing it, no matter how good it looks, it is NOT a good craft. Just give them a coloring sheet to take home and be done with it.

PS: Right now I am prepping stuff for a craft based on( what should have been a Caledecott Honor Book) Michael Hall's "My Heart Is Like A Zoo" . And I will admit that I am cutting out tons of hearts in advance, mainly because I couldn't find an easy source for lots of paper hearts, even at Valentine's Day!
I will also have some extra pages with hearts printed on them that the kids can color/cut their own way. Maybe even some heart stickers if I can unearth them.

There will be markers, glue and scissors but no examples, no models. The kids can cut them, fold them  paste them and turn them into any animal they can imagine.And if they don't all do animals that's fine with me. Will try to take some pictures tomorrow..........


  1. Oh I LOVE that book. Again, I so very much agree with what you've written here. I have an art background, and my thesis portfolio was all about the difference between art and craft--experience vs. product. I have definitely felt like an outsider because of my way of NOT doing crafts and focusing more on the kids' experience. Nice to know I'm not alone :D

  2. *the book I meant is the Preschool Art one, though I do also love My Heart....


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