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Preschool Crafts a Waste of Time?
May 19, 2016
Give me a fruitful error any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truths for yourself.
-Vilfredo Pareto

In her article, "Why Typical Preschool Crafts Are a Total Waste of Time" in Science of Us, Melissa Dahl discusses insights from the book by Erika Christakis, The Importance of Being Little, regarding the mindlessness of common preschool craft projects:

"Christakis's objections, to which she devotes an entire chapter of her book, are about these kinds of preschool crafts as a whole: the cotton-ball snowman, the paper-plate Easter bunny, even the perennial classic Thanksgiving hand-turkey.  These activities, she argues, place too much emphasis on the product — in this case, something to hang on Mom and Dad's refrigerator — and too little emphasis on the creative process.  Kids at this developmental stage benefit from messing around with paints, or clay, or crayons; they gain little, on the other hand, from assembling together some construction paper shapes that their teachers cut out ahead of time....

"There are some equally important developmental markers — social and emotional skills, for example — that are overlooked entirely by the hand-turkey activity and others like it.  If you listen for it, Christakis says, signs of this kind of development are evident in 'the kind of really rich, expressive language that emerges when children are engaged in creative work, like building a fort or playing house with other children.  In contrast, that kind of self-expression doesn’t happen during a more by-the-numbers 'creative' activity, the research suggests.  As a consequence, 'we have very little sense of these young souls who are doggedly making turkeys,' Christakis writes.  'Whether it’s turkeys or rodents, there is so rarely a sense of a real child, in a real place, attached to any of the institutional paraphernalia affixed, with pride, on people's walls.'

"A better way to go about art projects for this age group, she argues, is... placing more emphasis on teaching children skills and less on having it all result in some tangible creation that can be dropped into a backpack at the end of the day.  Instead of giving kids a project of making a sunflower out of a paper plate and premixed paint, for instance, what if preschools took the time to give them real instruction in how to use real art materials, like clay?  Christakis, herself, was skeptical of whether this could actually be worth the effort when she had her own classroom, but she’s since changed her mind.  Imagine what could happen, she writes, if a teacher would instruct her class how to actually use clay — how to shape it, how to change it with the use of more or less water, how to keep it from drying out by storing it properly."


Contributed by Zvia Dover



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Comments (5)

Displaying All 5 Comments
Streeta Farrell · May 19, 2016
Walnut Avenue Preschool
Concord, CA, United States

I 100% agree with the process over product approach to art in the preschool. We used to have themes every week or 2. Everything revolved around the theme! The teachers got so caught up in trying to make "cute" product based art projects, they forgot about the child's experience. I literally witnessed my teachers (on occasion) actually taking the child's hand to manipulate the outcome or tell them to place objects in certain places. So I removed all themes from our curriculum and we shifted to teaching different mediums/tools of art (collage, mixing colors, 3D art, sculpting, using rollers, feathers, stamps, etc..) We do more group projects too. I explain all this to the parents at the beginning of the year and I let them know they won't be bringing home alot of product art (cute projects).

Margery Heyl · May 19, 2016
Florence, MA, United States

Why does this always have to be presented as a black and white issue? Of course every preschool classroom should have rich open ended art materials available. But I think there is a value to craft projects too. I once observed an unhappy child who was having a hard time interacting with his classmates. His teacher sat down with him and introduced him to a paper plate chick craft. She showed him a finished chick and the materials and he happily sat down and began glueing. The teacher didn't control the process in any way and his finished chick was quite unique. As soon as he finished he started talking to his chick and then answering in a chick voice. Then he and the chick moved around the room cheeping and engaging with other children. It was obviously a very valuable experience.

Francis Wardle · May 19, 2016
Denver, CO, United States

I would like to add that all cultures include within them important crafts, and learning these crafts is very important for young children. Growing up I learned to paint Easter eggs, make straw starts, cut out paper for lanterns, knit, and weave baskets. Later I learned to weave cloth and follow directions to make things out of wood. There is value here.

Kim · May 19, 2016
United States

Thank you Lori, I couldn't agree more. These "Crafts" aren't done everyday. They are just the occasional activity. For the everyday art experience, it is about "messing around" and being creative.

Lori · May 19, 2016
Pennsylvania, United States

I like to think of preschool crafts as opportunities to listen and follow directions. The craft may also inspire a child to think outside the box--when a hand can become a turkey, anything is possible! I would say that the children in our program are quite proud of the crafts they make and although they may all have made a spring tree, for example, the placement of blossoms and color choices reflect their own personal aesthetic. We follow recipes to make a batch of brownies or to make a model kit, 'craft' art is not really any different. We also offer the children many, varied supplies to freely create their own art everyday. I see nothing wrong with giving the children the opportunity to create both process and product art in the classroom.

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