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Christmas, creativity and process arts and crafts

Process versus product when participating in arts and crafts

Discover and understand the benefits of process art when participating in arts and crafts and learn how to build children’s creativity.

With Christmas fast approaching, many settings will already have planned what decorations and gifts the children will be making to take home. I would like to challenge your thoughts, plans and actions, to open your mind to other possibilities.

Let’s start with some questions. Why do you make decorations/gifts to take home? I can imagine the general consensus would be, because the parents like it; because they’re keepsakes; because the children like it. Let’s break these down:

  • The parents like it – I’m sure this is true, but they would be just as happy with something their child had decided to make for themselves, had put their own thought into, had chosen a favourite colour of someone’s, had used their own ideas, wasn’t forced to follow someone else’s idea, quashing their own creativity.
  • For keepsakes – whatever a child makes is a keep sake. Does it matter if everything cannot be hung on the Christmas tree or placed as a centrepiece, all children’s artwork should be treasured. Perhaps they’ve made a hanging decoration for the tree but it’s not a perfectly shaped star. It may look like a squashed blob, but they’ve designed it with someone special in mind. They’ve used their own ideas, creativity, imagination and put a lot of love into it.
  • The children like it – of course they enjoy making things, whether it is with wood, clay, playdough, paint, glue, paper etc. Children enjoy experimenting, discovering, creating, testing, practising, problem solving, it’s how they learn. So why is this not always promoted at Christmas?

Think about your planned creative Christmas card or decoration and ask yourself, what are the children learning? Really learning. Have you told them what they are making, where everything should be, how it should look, repositioned some pieces because the child put them in the ‘wrong’ place, added extra bits when the child got bored, asked them to do it again if it didn’t look ‘right’? Stop! All a child has learnt here is their ideas are worthless, they don’t live up to your expectations, everything they do is ‘wrong’, there’s only one ‘right’ way and you do it ‘better’ than them. Children will bore quickly, have their self-esteem and self-worth damaged, have their creativity crushed.

Make a change. Realise that children are individuals who are learning about themselves and the world around them. Listen to and believe in children. Why should you change? Because children need nurturing, guiding, time, to be respected, listened to, given a range of tools and resources to discover who they are and what they can achieve. It does not matter if their Christmas card has a brown blob on the front; that child spent time and care experimenting how colours look/feel/what happens when they mix. Do not worry if the Christmas tree has 1 sparkle stuck on instead of the 20 you had ready; they probably spent more time understanding the consistency/feel/ characteristics of runny glue. It does not matter if their star shaped clay hanging decoration is not an exact star; that child spent time understanding clay/using tools/building fine motor skills.

What can practitioners do?

By all means have craft and card making activities available. It’s how these are delivered that is important. Follow these simple steps to ensure children take the lead:

  • Ask individual children what they would like to create.
  • You could ask what their idea would look like or if they are unsure, search for ideas using different media – books, available resources, the internet.
  • Provide a range of resources to support their idea, children can help to choose what they could potentially use.
  • Supervise and help when asked by the child.
  • Allow children to get into the flow of their creativity. You do not need to interrupt their thought and process constantly.
  • Ask questions or comment on their piece when children are not in their flow e.g. your Christmas tree is looking very sparkly; if that piece won’t stick, can you think of another way of sticking it? The trick is to not assume what a child is making or assume they are finished.
  • Say, ‘this look very interesting, can you tell me about it’ instead of ‘what have you made/what is it?’
  • Children will tell you when they are finished. You will need to find a safe place for it to dry/be stored and tell the child where their creation will be.

Process learning.

When taking part in arts and crafts, the learning takes place during the creation, the process. Therefore, these activities must be child-led, where the greatest learning opportunities arise. Children should be able to:

  • have the choice of whether they want to participate or not
  • think of an idea (which could be based on a loved one’s favourite item)
  • plan
  • given time to complete their masterpiece
  • problem solve
  • be given adequate resources
  • change their idea midway
  • choose their own way of doing things
  • have a go
  • use trial and error
  • enter the flow
  • be satisfied in meeting their goal
  • test their idea

All these skills is without a practitioner adding any mathematical, scientific, communication (and more) learning. All of this would not happen if adults are dictating. Allow children to explore, discover, think and feel for themselves.

Importantly you must inform parents of the learning that has taken place during the activity. Ensure they are aware of how crucial encouraging children’s creativity is and they will understand and cherish the brown blob or misshapen star.

To summarise, there is no reason why the children cannot make gifts and cards, so long as it is their choice and use their ideas. Celebrate each child’s creativity. I’ve added some pictures of Christmas activities from my archive which all enable creativity produced by an enabling environment.

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