Monday, April 16, 2007

Crafts for Preschoolers

Two words: They suck.

Forgive the harsh language, but I really find most crafts for preschool-age children not just gag-inducing, but developmentally questionable.

Whether it's making little bugs out of pipe cleaners and egg cartons, gluing cotton balls on Santa's beard, or adding decorations to a cut-out animal, preschool crafts always seem to be about nudging children to mimic or embellish something an adult has made.

Even in the most non-judgmental, non-pressured settings, such projects are more about competency -- the ability to place those cotton balls in just the right place -- than they are about creativity. They're often either so easy and unimaginative that they amount to dreary busy work for wee ones, or else require children to do things that are well above their skill level (meaning lots of "help" from adults).

Oh, and the projects are usually really lame.

Don't get me wrong: I love doing crafts. I made all kinds of wacky jewelry in my 20s, created elaborate scrapbooks in my 30s, and now enjoy unwinding in the evening by making altered clothes for my kids.

I just don't think there are many crafts that are appropriate for two-, three-, and four-year-old kids. (Readers, feel free to weigh in -- and, by all means, share any ideas you have for non-sucky, genuinely creative little-kid crafts.)

Kids in this age group are better off doing art instead of crafts: open-ended creation, in which there is no model to copy or modify, no right or wrong. They need lots of time and space to explore different materials and media, scribble and smear, combine and remix, generally mess around -- and use their own imagination to describe what they are creating.

There will be plenty of time, later, for cute creations, if your child is interested in such things. In early childhood, it strikes me as more important to nurture the sense of open-ended exploration that art provides.

23 comments:

Magpie Ima said...

One word: collage. Perfect for all ages and loads of fun. My 4 yo is as enthusiastic as I am about collage projects and you can use just about anything for materials. But yeah, most preschool crafts are extremely lame.

Leslie Kauffman said...

Thanks, Ima (and I'm kind of a magpie, too -- if it glitters or shines, I'm all over it).

I agree -- collage is great. I put it in the category of "art" rather than "craft" because kids can do anything they want with the materials -- there's no model for them to copy or modify, no right or wrong way to use them.

Michelle R said...

I couldn't agree more! I am so surprised when we go somewhere and they have a 'craft' set up for my preschooler, the work is mine, not his. He's not gaining anything from this! I read First Art when he was first a toddler and we still use that philosophy, it's the process, not the product. I see so many parents (mostly those whose kids GO to preschool) who want fridge art. Hey it's nice, it's nice to look at but how much did YOUR kid actually do?
Great blog, keep up the good work!!

Michelle R said...

I just nominated you for the Thinking Blogger award, be sure to check it out!

KMDuff said...

I agree. Does cooking count as a craft? My 4 yr old loves to make cookies. They may not be beautiful to anyone else, but with a little guidance, he does it all - making the dough, rolling it out, cutting them out, decorating them, and eating them.

Anonymous said...

They do suck! Ha, so glad someone else said it! This morning, I put out some colored tissue squares and some glue. (My 4 year old son is NOT "crafty" although I was and wish he was--I've just decided to celebrate who he IS and not fuss about the rest). Imagine my delight when he set about making a collage/picture for me! I don't know who was more thrilled with the end result- he or me! I did not interfere at ALL and so he can proudly take full ownership. I think "art" is about making tools available and letting them go.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I love your blogs. I hope you update soon. I can't wait to see what you and your kids have been up to.

"Mean Mom" said...

Just surfed in somehow, just following links and found your blog! I agree about the preschool crafts. My son ent to a Montessori preschool (I was sleep deprived because he never slept and I needed the break!) In the summer, I would put together some Montessori-based activities (now that he's almost 16, I have the time to write some of them down and I'm currently doing that, with step by step directions and photos), he and his friends loved those. As for crafts, I just gave them paints, glitter, glue, paper, strips of paper, buttons, and all manner of odds and ends. I had an old door and set it up on cinder blocks in the backyard and that was their art table. I miss those days!

Julie
http://askmeanmom.blogspot.com

mrspilkington said...

we love doing "art a la eric carle" -- painted paper collage (a technique taught by jeanette ornstein). basically you use watered down tempera paints, sulphite paper, and any found objects as your paintbrushes to create texture. paint background layers with regular brushes, then use the found objects (brushes, bubble wrap, feathers, corrugated cardboard, whatever) to paint over that and then cut up the painted papers for your collages. lots of fun, you can do it in small bits over a few days or shorten the process if you like. an easy activity to adjust and change.

we also do a lot of collecting and making diorama-type things with specimen boxes, using natural clay to express different emotions ("what could you do if you feel frustrated?"), and some of the stuff in young at art, maryann f. kohl's books, and mudpies to magnets.

Kristi said...

Process not product! My girls love really art materials -- real paint, real brushes, pastels, etc. -- and create things that are much more interesting than the rote egg carton catepillar.

Great blog. I'm happy I found it.

KMDuff said...

We participated in a great simple craft recently - paving stones. Concrete + decorative rocks. We mixed up the concrete and put it in 8" circle molds and then the kids picked out decorative rocks from the dollar store and pushed them in to make designs. Personalized garden decorations. :)

Anonymous said...

As a preschool teacher, their crafts are not lame. The main purpose of doing preschool crafts( bear in mind crafts not ART), is to teach them. They are learning to follow directions and listen. The purpose is to see what they can do as they are given oral directions. I have a class of four year olds who do all of these "dumb and lame" art projects by themselves. They cut, glue color, paint, whatever by themselves. I'm there only to give the next step and see what they do with it.

Try being in a situation with 10-15 four year olds and watch the result you get from the beginning of September art projects and May. The result will amaze you!

katie's kids said...

To Annonymous

I agree completely. I see nothing wrong in a planned art activity where children may have to mimic an already templated project. There has never been a time where any one child in my class made the project the same as mine...that's where the child's creative stuff comes in!!! There's nothing wrong in encouraging your class to follow directions. I guess the author's child went to Montessouri schools throughout his entire school career. Lots o luck with that. it must have been a real reality hit whren he went through conventional classroom settings

Anonymous said...

hello i think it is really cool the way you talk about death to your children. Talking about it is like talking about sex. and i think whatever you told them is great! I'm just a 18 yrs old studying this field of subject and whatever you said for 'Crafts for Preschools' made me thought through.
Meanwhile, life and death is part of life. no one would like to lose a father, but i know you will be able to handle it! =)

and i thing you are such a nice mother.=D

Anonymous said...

So nice of you to trash on all the hard work preschool teachers do. I'm sure glad you child isn't in my preschool class! I completely agree with the other preschool teacher. Its about learning to cut, to apply glue, hand-eye coordination, and to follow directions. Life is not all about free expression and creativity - all of us, at many points along the way, need to learn how to follow direction.

A Magical Childhood said...

Exactly right. Life is not about fun, silly! It's about plodding along doing what other people say, about suffering through a job you hate in order to pay the bills. The sooner they learn that, the better!

Why let three and four year olds act like children and enjoy life? They need to learn how to sit still, shut up and do assembly work!

Can you imagine if your five year old entered kindergarten without knowing how to properly glue????

Your children are going to be terrible drones. They're heading full speed towards a life as free thinkers, entrepreneurs, inventors, artists, leaders, CEO's, writers and other rabble rousers. Or worse yet, happy, self-directed learners. For shame. ;)

Hooray for mamas like you.

~Alicia

Bennet said...

I agree completely. I see nothing wrong in a planned art activity where children may have to mimic an already templated project. I give some Crafts for Preschoolers projects. Watch and enjoy!

Anonymous said...

You seem like a cool mom and independent thinker( for me, the only way to fly) but I've been on the preschool side of the fence as well. I think I see both sides of this and both points. I really think if you haven't studied child development than your opinion on this is ( whoever you may be) doesn't have as much of a platform to stand on, the way we learn about how the way we teach affects children is all based in the outcome. No child has ever been traumatized because he had to make a cow in kindergarten, just the same as most of the world's most colorful and brilliant thinkers weren't even doing crafts and art alot of times. Some of that stuff just isn't as Huge as people like to think it is. More often the creative things that children make are really just fun things to do, and unless they end up finding a passion for art, they won't be apart of their lives when they get older. Far more important to them for the future are the little every day occurances , those are the real times to be teaching your kids. Art is supposed to be fun, Crafts are supposed to be fun, as long as children are having fun WHO CARES WHat they are making, with what and why. People shouldn't care about being cool, or green moms and the like that has NOTHING to do with what kind of person your kid will be in terms of success. All parents and teachers do the best they know how, we all end up being robots to society, sure some of us step outside the box, but until society and the government changes you're going to have to atleast teach your children to play ball( lest they end up in jail) while your encouraging all of that free thinking. Be Smart Folks. Everything I need to know I learned in Kingergarten, lol. ( By the way I've also taught toddlers and preschool aged children for 10 years and at the same time I'm liberal and very free thinking and open minded and encourage children to seek their own answers, not answers adults give them, that goes beyong art). Im only Anon b/c I'm not on blogger.

Anonymous said...

A good preschool(most of us find we do this)will have a mix of open ended art and skill building crafts. We are not all cut from one mold. There are free thinking children but we forget that there are children who like looking for direction. Who enjoy and have pride in their craft. Some are drawn to the open ended crafts, some to the structured crafts and some just want to play with the trucks or in the house corner all morning. To stick any child into one category could do more harm than good. Let's create well rounded children. That should be all of our goals.

nursery school said...

nice idea i like your blog

Anonymous said...

Preschool aged crafts do not suck it all depends on who the techer is that comes up with the crafts. if you use the right developmental stage for the right ages it could be good for the children.

Anonymous said...

Another preschool teacher's two cents: we do a mixture of letting the kids choice the entire concept (I always true to et their input on what they would like to use for art/craft time.) but learning to follow directions, hand-eye coordination and basic art processes are vitale. Those they do not get those exsperances fall far behind.