The month of April has been filled with preparations for my new teaching gig that begins in May.  I have been scouring the storage area of the childcare center and finding an abundant supply of toys, puzzles, games, and craft items.  This week I organized the craft/art supplies.  Opening bag after bag of plastic beads, stick-on googly eyes, pom-poms, popsicle sticks, and pipe cleaners got me thinking about whether teachers provide art time or craft time for children.

Craft time

– following directions to make an object, design, or picture

– using specific materials, pre-cut patterns, or colors for certain parts of the object

– looking to a finished example to complete the craft in a similar way

– all children making the same product with minor variations depending on the ability of each child to follow directions or physically manipulate the materials as the adult example shows

Art time

– representing unique and individual ideas

– using materials and colors in unexpected, different ways

– creating what no one has ever created before and will never create again in just the same way

Craft time generally supports an overarching theme.  The rainy days of early spring might be a learning focus for a pre-k room.  During a meeting time, the teacher shows the children his own rainy scene with cotton ball clouds and blue tear drop rain.  He then explains how the children will each have an opportunity to make the same picture.  If following directions is the purpose of the experience, then I submit that there are more authentic ways for children to develop this skill.  And if art is the purpose of the experience, then deep inspiration, limitless creative opportunities, and unique individual expression of ideas needs to be present.  An art exploration with the rainy day focus may include providing blue and white paint colors, cotton balls, glue, blue tissue paper, scissors, silver-colored ribbon, etc… and then inviting children to consider the rain as they create with the materials available.

The Reggio Emilia Approach* values representation and children’s expression of their thoughts and feelings through hundreds of creative avenues (The Hundred Languages).  This representation and expression is how children learn and often seen in the Project approach to learning, too.  The above explanation of art brings children closer to representation and expression than that of crafts.  Art focuses on the decisions, actions, and words spoken during the process of creating.

Getting back to the bags of stick-on googly eyes and pipe cleaners that await me in the storage room of my new teaching job, I am curious to see how the children choose to use these materials.  I may put stick-on googly eyes out next to the home-made play dough.  The pipe cleaners may join the block area.  The craft sticks might go into the sand box outside.  Trashing what seems more crafty than artsy is too wasteful, so I am depending on the fresh inspiration of the children to repurpose these items!

Here are some books and a blog that inspire my art work with children:

Children, Art, Artists: The expressive languages of children, the artistic language of Alberto Burri by Reggio Children

Rapunzel’s Supermarket: All about young children and their art by Ursula Kolbe

The Book with a Hole by Herve Tullet

An Everyday Story: Project-based and Reggio inspired living and learning

*To truly be inspired by the Reggio Approach, the subject being studied through art comes directly from the children and is never decided upon solely by the adult/teacher or preset curriculum.

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