Should you do art or crafts with your kids?
March 9, 2021
By Beth Herrild
Should you do art or crafts with your kids? Have you ever found an art project on Pinterest and then realized that it was really more of a craft? Granted, there are always gray areas, but all you have to do is Google art projects for kids or craft projects and it’s immediately apparent how interchangeably these terms are used! It does matter that they’re different and here’s why.
When I was an art docent in my daughter’s fourth grade class, her teacher was getting pressured by some of the parents to create cute projects like the other classes. She decided she wanted to do a project that the other classes were planning. Each child was given an old vinyl LP record, a stencil of a snowman, and paint. The kids stenciled and painted the snowmen onto the center of the record and then the adults heated the records until they were pliable and bent each one over a bowl form. When they cooled, each child had a decorative bowl made from an old record, with a snowman painted on the inside. While this was a super cute craft, it was not art. Why does it matter that crafts are different than art? It helps to define them:
A craft is an activity that usually involves creating something tangible; typically used for decoration or some sort of a functional purpose, something like a coaster, coffee mug, a macramé plant hanger or a bowl with a snowman on it. The activity of crafting engages the makers’ brains and hands; and may require her to learn specific techniques or skills. Fine craftsmanship is something to be respected! This distinction didn’t even begin to emerge until around the 14th century during the Renaissance. Children can learn both specific skills and patience when they engage in crafting. This in turn gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride. It can enhance self-esteem, and teach them that they have the ability to learn and do difficult things. Many adults get great satisfaction from crafting. There is great value in making something with your own hands. This is why the scrapbooking industry became a 2.5 billion dollar industry, doubling between 2001 and 2004. The downside of doing crafts with kids is the fact that the goal is to make the thing you’re making look like the example. This can be helpful in terms of learning some skills and techniques but can also be crushing for kids and blunting to their creativity! Craft projects are often marketed as art and kids are encouraged to be creative, but that’s confusing when really it’s not the goal. Could you do craft projects with your kids in ways that downplay the outcome and encourage creativity? Yes, absolutely. But this can be a tricky process.
Art, on the other hand, is typically a more unstructured process. It’s a tangible expression of emotions, ideas, thoughts, and creativity in a visual form that has some sort of aesthetic value. Though that value can be subjective, in the eye of the beholder, as they say. Art allows children to explore and express their whole range of feelings. Art can be a vehicle for kids to express feeling for which they have no words. While crafts can require problem-solving, art’s problem-solving is often much more complex, without the framework of a pre-determined outcome. Of course, this is not always the case if art is being taught in a highly prescriptive manner. Read more about that in my blog about Process vs. Pretty Projects. Art teaches children that there is usually more than one right answer when solving a problem, and celebrates different perspectives. An artist can communicate ideas, emotions, and highlight particular social issues.
According to research by the Brookings Institute “These findings provide strong evidence that arts educational experiences can produce significant positive impacts on academic and social development.” And, “increases in arts learning positively and significantly affect students’ school engagement, college aspirations, and their inclinations to draw upon works of art as a means for empathizing with others. In terms of school engagement, students in the treatment group were more likely to agree that school work is enjoyable, (and) makes them think about things in new ways.”
Art is an excellent way for kids who have experienced trauma to express their feelings. But your child doesn’t have to have experienced trauma in order to benefit from creating art. Even if you can’t see tangible evidence of feelings being expressed, there is a lot of great stuff going on in your child’s brain while creating art. To learn more about talking with your child about his art, read our blog post here.