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Arts, Crafts & Creativity in School-Age Child Care & Recreation
By Anna Reyner, M.A.

'CREATIVITY'—what a wonderful word!


Creativity is one of those words that is bursting with VITALITY. It's full of life, full of passion, and full of spirit. Creativity has positive associations for nearly EVERYONE.


Do YOU make a habit of CREATIVITY? Do you ever think or say, “On our playground, creativity is a priority?” If creativity is one of your priorities, here are Seven Good Things for You to Know about the value of arts and crafts in child development.


Seven Good Things for You to Know . . . about How the Arts Help Children Grow

1.       Know the difference between arts and crafts

2.       Separate art as process from art as product

3.       Know about the left and right sides of the brain

4.       Know how arts and crafts help children reach developmental goals

5.       Know the theory of learning by doing

6.       Know which skills are developed with arts and which are developed with crafts

7.       Know how to define creativity


1. Know the Difference between Arts and Crafts  

The process of making art and the process of making crafts are related but they are different activities. Many people think of “arts and crafts” as if they were really one process. However, practice with making a painting and making a birdhouse show us that arts and crafts are really quite different activities. While art is an open-ended or 'unstructured' activity, crafts are goal oriented or 'structured.' In the above example, painting is an art activity and a birdhouse is a craft activity. A good arts and crafts program provides both types of activities, and allows children to experiment and learn from both.


Craft Activities:

Are structured projects with a pre-determined goal

Are project-oriented activities with a clear beginning, middle, and end

Involve assembly of 3-dimensional materials which are then decorated

Require specific materials


Art Activities:

Are unstructured, open-ended activities with no pre-determined goal

Are process-oriented activities with no clear beginning, middle, or end

Use a variety of basic art or craft material with no specific instruction sheet

Require an instructor or leader who is comfortable with open-ended art


Key Words for Distinguishing ARTS from CRAFTS

      Arts                                                Crafts

      Open-Ended                        Goal Oriented

      Unstructured                        Structured

      Process                              Process & Product

      Creativity                             Skill Building

      Emotional Release               Critical Thinking Skills

      Self Expression                   Discipline, Staying on Task

      Feeling                                Thinking, Relating, Coordinating


2. Separate Arts as Process from Art as Product  

      Art as Process                    Art as Product

      Education                            Fine Art

      Recreation                           Commercial Art

      Therapy                               Decorative Arts


3. Know How Arts and Crafts Help Reach Developmental Goals

Eric Erickson, in Childhood and Society, wrote that the developmental goals of school-age children fall into four main categories:


1.       Cognitive Development (Thinking)

2.       Emotional Development (Feeling)

3.       Social Development (Relating)

4.       Sensory-Motor Development (Coordinating)


In order to become healthy, happy and productive teenagers and later healthy, happy and productive adults, children ages 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 & Crafts Develop Thinking Skills

·         Problem-solving skills develop from experimenting with a wide range of arts and crafts materials.

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

·         Visual thinking skills and three-dimensional information processing are exercised in the process of assembling materials.


Arts & Crafts Develop Feeling Skills

·         Self-expression is the foundation of art making.

·         Crisis intervention art is something you can use to help children handle stress and the trauma of any community crisis.

·         Sensory stimulation from art materials awakens children's five senses and teaches a healthy outlet for pleasure and satisfaction.


Arts & Crafts Develop Relating Skills

·         Sharing of art materials requires social interaction and cooperation.

·         Cooperation inherent in art activities encourages relationship building and friendship skills.

·         Shy or less verbal children can participate comfortably and be more active in a non-competitive environment like the art room.


Arts & Crafts Develop Coordinating Skills

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

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

·         Self-esteem correlates positively with a child's sense of physical coordination and mastery.


4. Know How ARTS Versus CRAFTS Develop Different Skills  


Arts develop feeling skills


Crafts develop thinking, relating, and coordinating skills


5. Know about the Left and Right Sides of the Brain

Participating in arts and crafts activities activates both sides of the brain, both the linear left hemisphere and the creative, non-sequential right hemisphere. Both types of activities are excellent for helping children reach their full potential.


Left Hemisphere: Logical, sequential

Activated by reading, math or linear problem solving


Right Hemisphere: Creative, intuitive

Activated by art, music, dance, and drama


6. Know the Theory of Learning by Doing

Children retain what they learn much better when hands-on activities go along with that learning. Research has shown that people 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!


Arts and crafts offer children endless opportunities to learn by doing. And they are likely to remember what they learn!


7. Know at Least One Definition of Creativity


Creativity: The act of making something new.

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


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 every passing year. Our own creativity becomes a memory—something we outgrew or lost along the way. If a child grows up believing in her own creative self, she will have a better chance of finding constructive outlets for creative energy in later years. The child's creativity will not be just a memory; it will be a valuable personal resource and something to nourish and to use every day.



With all of these important theories in mind, you can see why it's important to make the most of your arts and crafts program. Encourage your staff to put active energy into both the arts and crafts portions of your program, and let them know it's an important part of their job to inspire creativity in the art room. And don't forget to share your own enthusiasm as you work with kids—put on music, sing, create, and create art alongside your children. Have fun. Be a role model, and you'll spark creativity in others.


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.