Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sometimes.... We Craft

Painting seed pods to hang as ornaments on the Christmas tree- Craft.
Anytime you have a preconceived idea of what you are making, it is no longer truly about the process.  Regardless of how "open ended" you think you are making the craft, if it has a purpose or an expected end product, in my mind... it is no longer child-centered art. One way or another because you have given it a name or a specific outcome you drive the product. I don't think that you can always separate art from craft or craft from art, because the two are so delicately intertwined. I think that rather than a definitive black and white separation, we are dealing with various shades of gray. I am by no means saying that craft has no merit, as you will soon read, sometimes... we craft, but most of the time, we strive for process art.
Rolling paint on plexi-glass - art
There are a lot of things I see other educators doing with children, that simply do not fit with my philosophy. For example, I don't believe that coloring pages are for children. I don't think that children need to learn how to stay inside the lines, I in fact prefer that they do not. I love to see the evolution of their drawings, and to give them the freedom to create from their being, without the confinements of what something "should" look like. In fact, the word should ought to be taken right out of our vocabulary, as should = shame. (Thank you Partner's Institute for giving me the gifts of communication, and understanding that how we choose our words really does matter.)
Art of course is about the process, so when a child decides to to paint themselves instead of the paper, it is still art!
I love that the art the children create is about being in the moment, and really enjoying the doing, and just being rather than having to have some profound meaning or symbolism. As adults, we could really learn a lot more about the important things in life from children, of just being in the moment, and letting the paint brush take us away.... It doesn't always have to be about something, it doesn't always have to have a destination, or an objective, it is about enjoying the journey and the exploration, sometimes with unexpected twists and turns. Maybe you will choose to keep the touch stone or memento of your work, or perhaps the experience will be just a memory, but with art it truly is all about the process.
This craft requires patience and good hand-eye coordination.  Beads on a pipe cleaner make a great holiday ornament.
Craft, on the other hand, has a definite purpose. You go into a craft with the thought and expectation of having a finished product. Some crafts are very rigid, they require precise patterning and a specific skill set. They require you to master the use of real tools, and although there are some variations and opportunity to add artistic elements, in the end, your goal is to have something tangible.
Craft: Sewing our own "pizza" and play food for the kitchen area.
I'm learning and growing when it comes to crafting with young children. I have to admit in my early years as an educator, I was a sheep. I did what everyone else was doing, because it seemed like the right thing to do. I spent hours cutting out shapes and pieces for the children, designing the perfect "projects" for the children, all in line with our letter or theme for the week. Most of them were "cute."  You know, I never made the children do their project exactly a like, but when the teacher does most of the work, or drives the product, creativity is lost. I was a big fan of having the easel open, but even then we primarily only used paint brushes.
Who wants to paint with brushes when there are so many other interesting things to paint with and on!
I've come a long way in the last decade or so..... I've come to realize that the children are far more capable than we typically give them credit for. I no longer plan projects that take me hours to prepare that take the children less than 10 minutes to complete, but sometimes we still craft.  I like to think that our crafting today is more on the process end of the spectrum, but not completely art.  I know that some early childhood educators are not a big fan of craft for children. In some respects I agree, but there are a few reasons why I believe it has merit and continue to give children experiences with crafting.
Threading beads to make an icicle craft. 
First, I think that our world has become far too commercial. Children have very little concept of how things are made or where we get things from other than the store. Crafting gives children an opportunity to make something of use with their own hands. When we give them the opportunity to work with real tools, and to guide them in their safe explorations, they come to the understanding that we can create rather than buy. We can reuse, upcycle, repurose, and make something wonderful.
Using a hammer and nail to "tin" punch a juice can lid ornament craft.
I give the children real tools to use. The preschool children use saws, hammers, screwdrivers, sanders, and drills. They use scissors, needles, yarn, thread and my sewing machine. They use the hot glue gun. They learn how to safely use real tools, and they learn how to respect and care for themselves and others while they manage the risks of crafting.

Rubber glove and various other supplies used to craft finger puppets.
They learn how to follow directions, and make creative choices that may slightly veer from the norm, but all within the safety guidelines. This is where the art and craft can mesh. The child can still have the freedom to choose what to make and which tools they would like to use. They can determine how to create, and when they need assistance, we can help to guide them in the direction they choose by supplying resources and sharing our experiences and techniques. We must be careful not to drive the direction for the child, only to share what we know, supply the resources, and be there to support as they need it.
Painting with melted crayon and a blow dryer- process art.
Regardless of how we approach a project, children will find success. How they find success will be up to you.  Giving them the opportunity to find it from within because they have made the choices and built the skills will be far more valuable to that child than the quick "success" they have gained because you have done more of the work for them, or driven them to an end product that may look like something, but is not truly a work of their own. Please also remember that success is subjective, how you define success is, I'm sure quite different from how I would. Allow the children to be successful in their own terms, and in their own time.
Taking apart discarded cribs, a great way to learn how to use tools.
Let children process and enjoy art without the confinements of craft until they express an interest in moving to craft. "I want to make a .... " is a good indication that they are ready. This does not mean that you cannot give children an opportunity to learn how to use real tools prior to this time. Giving them tinkering experiences of taking things apart and putting things together will guide their skill development, so that when they express the interest, they will be competent, they will be ready.
Homemade stamps craft.
I run across so many cute crafts, and I often still find myself fighting the urge to do some of them with the children. I have found that self-reflection often helps when it comes to determining if the craft really has value to the children. Ask yourself:

  • How much prep time would this take? (From Lisa Murphy, the Ooey Gooey Lady... If it takes you longer to prepare than the children will be engaged, it is not process art. In my mind if this is the case.. it is not worth it.) 
  • What value does it have? Or in other words, what skills is it promoting and are they really developmentally appropriate? and are these tackled in a real way?
  • How much choice does the child have? Am I stifling their opportunities to be create, explore, learn, and grow?
  • IF the craft teaches valuable skills, is there another way to approach this that allows the child more freedom and meets the same skill set? 
  • How would I feel if this activity was presented to me? Is it boring? Are there too many guidelines? How much freedom to I have? 
Recycled glass jar luminary craft.
I have spent a lot of time in my journey has an early childhood educator exploring, growing, and learning, coming to conclusions of what I believe to be true, and the best path for the children I work with. You won't ever see a wall of nearly identical pumpkins or coloring sheets on our walls. You will rarely see hand print art (on occasion, a school aged child will come back and introduce the concept to the other children, and we often do have hand prints in our stepping stones). 
Our annual stepping stones craft.
 I know that we all come to the table with different skills sets and philosophies, but I hope it makes you think about how you engage children in art and craft. I know that as time passes, I take more and more care considering the opportunities I present to children. I know on this blog, you will probably find much more craft than art, but I have also come to realize how much easier it is to document and show you a craft process.... as with a craft, so much of the process is the same. Crafts make for easy tutorials!
Having an open art station instead of a planned "project" or limited materials available = More process child-driven art.
Having materials readily available for the children to choose to engage with will lead you to more process based art, with a bit of craft thrown in!  

Have you thought about how much time do you spend on the product- often teacher led crafts verses the child-centered art based projects? 

If you have a different viewpoint, I'd love to hear your perspective. I love it when another professional gives me food for thought, challenging my beliefs and inviting me to continue to learn and grow.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read ART "The Product- A Celebration of the Process." 


Kierna C said...

Amy I love your honesty & self-refection. In the past I too spent time cutting out shapes etc for the children to spend 5-10 mins on the activity! I think one of the best things I have discovered this year is that it's ok to just have fun doing an activity without an end result - thanks for sharing.

Pepper said...


I learned quite a bit about this working with a group of older toddlers. Despite the fact that many of the group were young threes, it was difficult to predict what art/craft activities they would really stick with and which they wouldn't even try. They would also take an activity a completely different direction. It really taught me to put less time into the prep work and to be much more flexible about where the activity was going and how it got there. I also learned to spend more time just being there with them and watching, rather than directing and assisting.

Kristin said...

Excellent post, Amy!

Ticia said...

My kids and I really enjoy crafts, but I try to balance it by letting them do it however they want. I have an idea of what I'd like it to look like, but I leave it up to them if they want to do it like that.

Niki Buchan said...

Great Amy, this links very well with my view on creativity. I feel very sad (and angry) when children ask "what am I supposed to do?" instead of using available resources in a way that brings out their own creativity. I believe children are born creative and as adults (often well meaning) we take this away by over structuring activities.

Unknown said...

Hi Amy! Know you're busy- but I just gave you the Kreative Blogger Award- you can see it here

Jennifer said...

I agree with your blog today ...made us all think about what we are doing I'm sure...

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