Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Art versus Craft: What it Means for Little People

I used to LOATHE the post-storytime craft activity at the public library. Every week, a few minutes after storytime, a librarian sets up some sort of reading-readiness project for the kids to do--stuff like coloring a picture of an apple tree and then gluing construction paper apples all over it, or making a paper bag puppet, or making a spider out of construction paper and pipe cleaners and hanging it from a coloring page web with yarn--you know the thing.

The thing is, though, that the projects are always very step-by-step, very procedural, and I'm very...not. I'm highly opposed to giving a child supplies and then telling her what to do with them, or showing her a finished project and instructing her how to do the same thing.

I'm all for establishment, such as "Let's listen to this Bob Marley CD and color how it makes us feel," or parameter-setting, such as "I want you to paint this picture frame for Uncle Chad," or even instruction, such as "Here's how to hold my expensive Micron pen. Don't push down too hard or you'll break it." And some stuff, such as my Jacquard fabric paints, is supervised VERY carefully when in use. But on the whole, I think that children's creativity is vastly more powerful than adult creativity, and I am strongly opposed to an unnecessary top-down, adult-controlled hindrance on that creativity.

In other words, unless it's absolutely necessary, don't tell a kid what to do.

The problem, however, is that Willow and Sydney LOVE these step-by-step craft projects. They always have. When each was under three years old I tried to shield her as much as possible from even knowing what the craft project was "supposed" to be--the resemblance of their paper plate "clocks" to the other children's paper plate clocks resided solely in their both being done on paper plates--but as they've grown more aware of the world around them and more adept at using the daily craft supplies of paper, glue, and scissors, they've come to adore this time. Witness:

They're making snowmen, of course, out of construction paper, paint stirrers, cotton balls, sticker dots, pom poms, markers, and glue sticks. I don't even know where to start.

It's been hard for me to even so much as resign myself to this kid's craft schlock, and I still don't enjoy it, but I do see how it holds value for the girls. Will, who has always been so much inside of herself, has always loved taking her completed project over to show Ms. Janet, who clearly loves each and every little child's project and enjoys discussing them in detail with each child. Sydney, who at times can barely settle herself long enough to eat a piece of toast, and who will fly off the handle if her sister bumps her arm in passing, will happily focus like nobody's business on any kind of project.

So it's interaction with a nurturing adult who is not their mother, and instruction following is important for developing logical ordering in thought and action, and...um?

And at least I don't have to worry that they will focus too much on making their projects look like the example:
Paint stirrers--who knew?


Anonymous said...

I'm with you on letting children explore art to their heart's content, supervising only when the tools are dangerous, such as hot glue or exacto blades; or if the materials used are of the permanent nature. As the semi-responsible adult in charge you just can't let young children run amuck with Jaquard paint, sharpies or india ink!

You are spot on in that there is a time and place for more directed activities. Kids love order and rules. No, really. They do. Regular meals, bedtimes and step by step instructions. Following directions helps to develop logical thinking skills - very important should said child discover someday that they love love love math and want to study it in college. Finally, you have to consider the social aspect of organized crafting. It's important in kid world to learn how to work together, to be a part of the team. Primative bonding and friendship building - complete with spiffy snowmen-on-a-stick.

cake said...

i think you are smart to focus on what else they might be getting from those sorts of activities, other than expressing their creativity (they clearly get plenty of opportunities for that at home). ordering, logical thinking skills, socializing...

not wanting your child to do certain types of crafts, because of their structure, can turn into another kind of rigidity. you have the good sense to know when to back off.