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Crafts Vs Creating

Meghan and her youngest daughter drawing with chalk on wet concrete. Her daughter experimenting next to Meghan's drawing of a star.
Meghan and her youngest daughter drawing with chalk on wet concrete. Her daughter experimenting next to Meghan's drawing of a star.

We’ve all seen, or have had children make, the cookie cutter construction paper penguins or the adorable handprint animals. They are cute, don’t get me wrong! Plus, I feel it’s so special to save my daughter’s tiny little handprints. However, there is controversy over the concept of crafts such as these.

Recently, I saw a video on Instagram that really bothered me. The video was made by a teacher who was showing how her students craft project was supposed to turn out and then how it actually turned out. If I remember correctly, it was a precut duck figure with googly eyes. When the video flipped to the kids' ducks, the music changed to this awful scratchy sound, like a broken record, to poke fun at how the kids craft didn’t turn out right or didn’t look how the teacher wanted. The ducks were all wonky looking, with parts glued in funny places, crooked eyes, too many feathers, etc. It was obvious to me that the teacher wanted the ducks to look differently, but to my eye, there is nothing better than art that you can tell was made by children. I wonder what deep learning children were expected to gain from this duck craft. One could argue that it's a fine motor activity, it’s following directions, it’s teaching them about parts of duck, sure. But why do we have the expectation that each duck should look the same or look perfect? Should children be able to craft a perfect duck that matches that of an experienced teacher? How can we expect children to test their creativity and keep creating in the future if we tell them exactly how to make something, or show them how the product should end up? I would much rather see messy, crooked, funny looking ducks on my daughter’s classroom wall than a row of perfect and clean looking cut out shapes. How about you?

Meghan's daughter engaging in process art in her highchair- messy paint, paint on the highchair but also all over herself, with no desired outcome.
Meghan's daughter engaging in process art - messy paint with no desired outcome.

To explain the idea of crafts vs creating more in depth, let’s think about babies and

toddlers. They learn by exploring. They start walking by pulling themselves up on things, scooting along the couch, or walking around the house in a walker. Babies learn to eat by playing with their food; they explore the feel, they mix it up, they throw it on the floor, they feed the dog, and ultimately, they make a big mess and sometimes get bites into their mouths! You might guide your child when they are learning to walk and eat, but you usually don’t expect a baby or toddler to walk or eat the right way at first. Art is the same way. Young children should be allowed to scribble with markers and make huge marks with their whole arm or little, tiny marks with their fingers. They should be able to glue lots of things onto a massive pile of glue because that’s how they learn about glue and its properties. They should mix all of the colors of the paint until it turns brown and get more on their hands than on their paper because again, they’re learning about paint and the process of painting- they don’t or shouldn’t yet care about the product. Emphasize open ended projects where children can be free to experiment with cause and effect or figuring out what kind of art they do or don’t enjoy.

Remember, when planning crafts, think “how can I go deeper with the children to truly engage them and let them be creative?” If you wanted them to do a similar activity to the one, I talked about above, I might find a book on ducks or print and laminate photos. I would introduce the colors, shapes, and names of the ducks and then ask the children to draw the duck themselves with a sharpie. After they had done this, I would give the children creative license with watercolors to paint a duck habitat and fill in all of the feathers. You could also have them make a 3D duck out of clay, feathers, and sticks for a more life-life bird. The possibilities are endless. In summary, if you do set out a craft project - do let it be optional for children and do let them be in charge of their creativity!

When planning art projects for kids, try searching for “Spring process art” instead of “Spring crafts” and see what you come up with! Let your children be explorers who are learning to become artists instead of assuming they are already artists, or even want to be an artist!

For more information on curriculum planning and activities, see my resource, “Curriculum Basics” linked here and in the resource library.


Meghan is a born and raised Montanan, mama to a rambunctious toddler and a bonus mom to two amazing preteens. She recently earned a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education. In addition to her position as an Early Childhood Specialist at the University of Montana, Meghan enjoys a variety of odd mix of jobs; nannying, creating and selling travel play dough kits, making essential oil blends for kids, providing families with child guidance on Facebook and Instagram, and now providing ideas and tips to child care providers in partnership with Raise Montana! Meghan is also a content contributor for 406 Families, a site dedicated to connecting families to local events and resources.

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