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Seven Good Things for You to Know About How the Arts Help Children Grow
By Anna Reyner, M.A.

Have you ever wondered what it is that makes some arts and crafts programs stand out from the rest? Have you ever wanted to make your program more creative, more exciting, and more interesting for you and your children? You don't have to be an art specialist to run an exciting program that children want to come to, but it does help to know something about the value of arts in child development.

 

Here are seven good ideas from art educators and developmental specialists that briefly explain what it is about art that makes children feel good about themselves; grow intellectually, emotionally, and socially; and master the world around them. And while you don't have to have an art background to help children feel creative, you do need an open-minded attitude about the process of creativity and a willingness to explore, discover, and learn new things. Since the process of art-making is the process of discovery, let's begin by looking at these seven good things, and finding something that might help you in your work, something that perhaps you never thought about before:

 

Seven Good Things for You to Know

 

1.       Know the difference between arts and crafts. The process of making art and the process of making crafts are related, but different activities. Painting a picture and making a birdhouse show us that arts and crafts are really quite different. While art is an open-ended and “unstructured” activity, crafts are goal oriented and “structured.”In the above examples, painting is an art activity and making birdhouse is a craft activity. A good arts and crafts program provides both arts and crafts activities, and allows children to explore and learn both.


Craft Activities:

·        Are product oriented

·        Engage cognitive skills and problem solving

·        Require specific materials and instructions

 

Art Activities:

·        Are process oriented

·        Engage imagination and feelings

·        Use basic supplies and open-ended instruction

 

2.       Separate the process of art from the product of art. Children enjoy both the process and the product of art. One of the main goals of your program is to help children experience the joy of creativity and the satisfaction of mastery. While adults focus on the process of art, children are often concerned with the product. They want their project to look good and be worthy of admiration. So, it’s important to keep both the process and the product in mind when you offer an art activity to the children. You can do this by providing a variety of arts and crafts materials that are stimulating, age-appropriate, and easy to be successful with, and by providing just the right amount instruction and inspiration.

Children Who Are Involved in the Arts

(Source: Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County)

 

·        Imagine, create, express

·        Develop self-confidence and self-discipline

·        Interpret and reflect life

·        Experience an important window to different cultures and values

·        Are open to new pathways for learning all subjects

·        Think critically, solve problems and make informed judgments

·        Work cooperatively within groups

·        Appreciate other points of view

 

3.       Know how arts and crafts help children reach developmental goals. Eric Erickson, in Childhood and Society, wrote that the developmental goals of school-age children fall into four main categories: cognitive, emotional, social, and sensory-motor. In order to become healthy, happy, and productive teenagers, and later healthy, happy, and productive adults, children from five to 12 years old must have lots of experiences and repeated practice with tasks in each of these four areas. Arts and crafts help children experience and practice their skills in all four of these areas. How?

Arts and Crafts Develop Thinking Skills (Cognitive Development)

·        Problem solving skills are exercised in experimenting with art supplies and observing cause and effect.

·        Decision making is constant and continuous in assembling and decorating art and craft projects.

·        Spatial relations and visual thinking skills are engaged and strengthened.

 

Arts and Crafts Develop Feeling Skills (Emotional Development)

·        Open-ended art helps children communicate their real feelings and potentially have others understand them better.

·        Art materials provide sensory stimulation that can be fun, pleasurable and satisfactory.

·        In the event of a crisis in your community, open-ended art provides an outlet to reduce the stress of a trauma.

 

Arts and Crafts Develop Relating Skills (Social Development)

·        Art materials are shared in an environment that facilitates social interaction.

·        The non-competitive and cooperative environment of the art center helps children practice social skills.

·        Shy or less verbal children often participate more comfortably with others when involved in art activities.

 

Arts and Crafts Develop Coordinating Skills (Sensory Motor Development)

·        Fine motor skills are developed using a wide range of materials, craft accessories, and art tools.

·        Eye-hand coordination prepares children for real-life tasks at school and home.

·        Self-esteem is enhanced when a child identifies himself as being  coordinated.

 

4.       Know that arts and crafts develop different skills. Arts and crafts develop different developmental skills. Art activities develop feeling skills and promote self-expression. Craft activities develop thinking, relating, and coordinating skills. These skill arenas  overlap, but it’s valuable to separate them and understand the difference when you work with children. When preparing for an art activity, ask yourself what you need to focus on: Is it relationship building, self expression, cognitive skills, or coordination? Once you establish the focus, you can decide whether an art activity or a craft activity is most appropriate.

 

5.       Know about the left and right side of the brain. Participating in arts and crafts activates both the linear, left hemisphere and the creative, non-sequential right hemisphere of the brain. Generally, here is how the two sides of our brain process information:

 

Left Hemisphere: Logical, Sequential
Activated by reading, math, or linear problem solving

 

Right Hemisphere: Creative, Intuitive
Activated by art, music, drama

 

6.       Know the theory of learning by doing. Arts and crafts offer children endless opportunities to learn by doing. And they are likely to remember what they learn! Brain researchers tell us that children retain more information when hands-on activities go along with that learning. Children learn:


10% of what they READ
20% of what they HEAR
30% of what they SEE
50% of what they HEAR and READ
70% of what they SAY and,
90% of what they DO!

 

7.       Know at least one definition of creativity. Here are two definitions to start you off. Encourage the children to describe their definition of creativity as well.

Creativity: The act of making something new
Creativity: The art of combining things in a new way.

 

Conclusion
The potential for creativity “the act of making something new” lives in each of us. Most of us act less and less upon this potential with each passing year. Our own creativity becomes a memory, something we outgrow or lose along the way. If children grow up believing they are creative, they will have a better chance of finding constructive outlets for creative energy in later years. A child’s creativity will not be just a memory; it will be a valuable, personal resource to use every day.

 

Anna Reyner, M.A., is a dynamic creative arts instructor who is known for motivating people to get excited about their own creativity. She has presented workshops and keynotes on art therapy and imagination arts at more than 200 state, national, and international conferences.