Art paper and crayons may seem ‘boring’ and ‘outdated’ to a child who’s used to flashy video games and battery-operated toys. However, many experts urge parents to get kids to do at least one hour of arts and crafts a week. Your child may balk a bit (‘But mom, my favorite cartoon is showing!’) but he’ll eventually enjoy it…and will definitely learn a lot from it.
There’s more to arts and crafts than making cute pictures to hang on the refrigerator. Each time your child creates something, he actually sharpens important skills that he’ll be able to use for the rest of his life.
1. Arts and crafts develop fine motor skills.
When your toddler holds a crayon, or your preschooler struggles with safety scissors, he stretches and strengthens muscles in his hand. These are the same muscles he’ll use for writing, and even sports! Many elementary school teachers moan that students can’t even keep up with taking notes in class because they’re more used to holding a mouse than a pen.
2. Arts and crafts build imagination.
A battery-operated toy sings, dances, and turns cartwheels at a press of a button. It does everything—and the child just watches. However, arts and crafts teach him to take an image or story in his head, then make it come to life. An old sock, yarn and buttons becomes the dragon in his favorite storybook. Pieces of paper are folded into an origami animal zoo.
By relying on his imagination, your child realizes that he doesn’t need toys to have fun… and that his mind has no limits. This is a powerful, and liberating, insight. Adults spend thousands of dollars to attend ‘creativity seminars’ to master a skill they could have learned right in their mother’s kitchen.
3. Arts and crafts build confidence.
Preschoolers need to build a sense of competence: ‘I can do this!’ or ‘I did it myself!’ This is an important emotional milestone. They need to know they can trust themselves, so they won’t be afraid to try new things or be frustrated if they don’t succeed right away.
Arts and crafts build their confidence. ‘I made something special and unique.’ And if they struggle a bit with the scissors, or make a mess with the paint, arts and crafts intrinsically honors the process—especially if Mom and Dad love their masterpieces! ‘I’m having fun! And making mistakes is okay…it’s part of getting better.’ Parenting experts say again and again that this is one of the most important things in raising a happy child.
4. Arts and crafts provide emotional release.
Young children don’t have the verbal skills or the self-awareness to say ‘I’m feeling upset that Mom and Dad are fighting’ or ‘I’m scared of my new school.’ In fact child psychologists will often use art therapy to reach out to troubled kids. Through drawings and paintings they can ‘release’ their emotions and give adults a glimpse of their inner world.
Even if your child has no major problem or issue, arts and crafts can give a fun, relaxing outlet. These can help him settle down after a tiring day, and put him in a quiet and calm mood so he’s finally ready for bedtime.
5. Arts and crafts encourage self-expression.
Your child has free rein over what he draws, paints and writes. His choices help him understand more about himself, and help parents understand his personality too. You can ask him questions about what he made. ‘What is the lion in your picture doing?’ or ‘That’s a great boat! Where would you like to go, if you could ride it?’
6. Arts and crafts make recycling fun.
Young children won’t understand abstract lectures on the importance of saving the environment. However, you can teach ‘eco-awareness’ early on by finding creative uses for old shoeboxes, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, plastic bottles, etc.
7. Arts and crafts teach kids to be less materialistic.
Companies rely on kids’ ‘pester power’ to get parents to buy new toys, new clothes, new books, new everything… It’s funny how a baby who was happy to play with an old box grows up into a preschooler who throws a tantrum in a store over an action figure that he’ll discard after a month, tops.
However, arts and crafts introduce your child to the idea that it’s just as fun to make toys than to buy them from the store, and if he doesn’t feel like playing he can always paint, cut or stick things together instead.
Some creative projects can also breathe new life into old, discarded toys. It’s fun to play dinosaur battles in a prehistoric shoebox diorama, or roll cars down a racetrack made of old cardboard boxes.
8. Arts and crafts are great for family bonding.
Many projects require adult supervision or instruction. Grab the opportunity to make something with your child—collaborating, talking, learning together, then gushing over the results. Then you’ll get something even more priceless than a beautiful picture to display on your refrigerator. You’ll create a happy memory.