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Stop Making Cute Crafts with Young Children

by Early Math Counts

I wish I wrote this article.  I feel like I say these exact words every semester to every group of students I encounter.  But still, I go out into the field and see the same arts and crafts activities time and again.  Where does it end?

Many summers ago, some friends and I spent the summer watching each others’ children.  We called it “Moms’ Camp” and there were many things about it that were wonderful.  The kids played all summer long and the moms took turns being with the kids as well as getting days off (more off days than on days.)

One day, two of the moms (they shall remain nameless here, and I doubt they read my blog) decided to take the kids to the beach.  That was great.  While there, the children collected rocks to bring back.  Also great.  When they returned to one of the houses later that day, the children asked if they could paint the rocks.  Awesome!  However, by the time we arrived to pick up our own children, the moms had “fixed” their painted rocks, so they looked like paintings, rather than rocks painted by three, four and five-year olds.  I was livid as was one of the other moms, who like me is an early childhood teacher and advocate.

Both of these moms insisted that the children wanted them to fix their paintings and make them look more like the ones the adults were making.  Well (even if I doubt that this was true) if children see art that is made by adults, then they naturally don’t think theirs is as good.  This stands to reason.  In the case of rock painting, what do you think rocks painted by four-year olds should look like?  Should they look like little landscapes, or cute faces?  Of course not.  They look like rocks painted by children who do not have the fine motor control to paint teeny tiny paintings but do have a keen sense of their own style. I wouldn’t trade the beautiful painted rocks my children created for any of the more refined and sophisticated examples sent home that day.

We have to help everyone (teachers, directors, parents, colleagues, grandparents, etc) move away from cutesy arts and crafts activities and let the children create.

If you’ve never seen or heard this song, take a watch and a listen.  It will change your ideas about children’s arts and crafts and if it doesn’t, watch it again, until it does.

Harry Chapin, Flowers Are Red from kevin gilmore on Vimeo.





4 Replies to “Stop Making Cute Crafts with Young Children”

  1. 100% agree and I tell it to the parents of my students all the time. There is also a way in which you should comment on children\’s art that isn\’t all about praise. Ask probing and clarifying questions, get the children to talk about their creativity and process, and leave room for them to continue working on their project. When you exclaim, \”I Love it. It\’s beautiful. Can I have it and hang it on the fridge?\”, it usually ends the conversation and a potential work in progress.

    1. Yep. It is hard for me to get inside of the adult who wants children\’s work to look different than it should. Probing questions about the content, color, and thinking behind the project are much more meaningful and also communicate to the children that you are actually paying attention and not simply walking by saying meaningless sentences.

    2. I agree that we should have a conversation with the child about their project. What a great why to incorporate all kinds of learning. A great way to get kids to open their minds and to let yo into their thinking. I actually never thought of that before but it opened a whole other avenue to push the kids in their creativity.

  2. Sometimes the arts and crafts are cute little projects that go great with the lesson plan so the teacher uses the idea. No matter how often we explain to parents about children\’s art they still want to see a \’finished project\’ that is explainable with their adult eye.
    In the past I have had to remind volunteers/Foster Grandparents not to fix the child\’s art and to just \’leave it alone\’.

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