Saturday, May 30, 2009

Art versus Craft for preschoolers

Last week, while I was making my weekly stroll through Goodwill, I found an interesting book. I paid a whopping 75 cents for it, and spent the evening reading it, after the kids finally went to sleep.
The book is called Don't Move the Muffin Tins (a hands off guide to art for the young child). It was written in the late 70's by a teacher (Bev Bos,) at a cooperative school. The general premise of the book is that kids should be encouraged to experience art and creativity for its own sake. She makes a point about not confusing "art" with "crafts". Basically she advocates letting the kids paint and draw whatever they want, without ever saying "Let's draw a picture for grandma," or " Now let's paint a picture of Santa Claus". Instead, she would maybe provide green and red paint at Christmas time, and let the kids do whatever they want with it. Or nothing, if they prefer.
This was food for thought for me. I love crafts. I pretty much always have, even when I was little. I hope my kids do too. (Because it will be fun to craft together.)
To me, craftiness is a skill. For instance, I learned to crochet.I practiced and messed up, and eventually got better at it. Anyone who really wanted to could learn to crochet. I'm not saying you can't crochet art, because you can, and a lot of people do. But I don't. For me, it's just another skill, and a way to acquire a new scarf, or dishrag, or sweater, or whatever. So I have taught myself to do all kinds of things (with varying success,) and I'm crafty. But I never consider myself artistic or creative. I don't have the vision.
But I want my kids to. And truly, I think that vision is inherent to all kids, but for a lot of people, it eventually gets squashed. Sometimes it gets squashed by having people tell you for years to color in the lines, or make the tree green, because of course all trees are green. Sometimes it happens when a teacher tells you're no good at art. (Thanks, 6th grade art teacher...)
All of this is to say that I realized how much of what I've been doing with L is maybe too structured. I never tell him how to draw his bug, or what color it should be, but maybe I shouldn't be telling him what to draw at all.
A lot of early childhood curriculum is built around crafts. I think that's cool. Most kids like them, and they produce fun gifts for grandma or whatever. But in addition to that, I'm going to make a more concerted effort to encourage L to experience his creativity as an expression of himself. To let him draw or make whatever he wants, just to see what happens. Or feel the paint on his fingers.
I don't want to squash his creativity by telling him what to do all the time.
What are your thoughts re: art and crafts for little ones?
I don't know why, but this book struck a nerve with me. I'd love to hear what other people think.


  1. I think it's a mixed bag. I agree we want to let them experience art, but I find a lot of times it helps them to have an activity to enjoy it.
    I do have lots of paper and glue and markers around all the time for them to use, but I also plan lots of crafts. So, it's a both ways type of thing for me.
    One important thing I have realized is to know when to quit with a craft and just let them have fun with the experience. It's also good to know when to push them to try just a little more.

  2. Balance! In the early years I think it's good to show them different and varied things and a way to do them. But lettign them do it their way too. Free art some days...structure other days.