Friday, May 9th, 2014
At the recent Mom 2.0 Summit, I heard from a lot of moms who described recent debates – at their children’s schools – about the role of the arts in early education. In particular, during a series of roundtable workshops and discussions led by Elmer’s Products, Inc, numerous stories were shared about schools that are reducing – or cutting completely – time for the arts (particularly the visual arts and crafting ) in order to focus exclusively on “academics” (meaning reading and mathematics). As a developmental researcher, this practice is disconcerting to me, as it reflects a fundamentally flawed perspective on cognitive development in the early, formative years of life.
We’ve known for decades the value of hands-on activities in early childhood. Arts and crafts, as typically practiced in preschool and the early formal school years, have always been recognized as a primary way of promoting the all-important fine motor skills that provide a primary mechanism for cognitive exploration and learning (hence the value of literal “hands-on learning”). Current research has begun to uncover even more benefits. Thus, a central component of these many conversations at Mom 2.0 focused on an emerging paradoxical situation in education: as the research evidence supporting involvement in the arts increases, the opportunities for young children to engage in the arts may be declining.
The argument for “academics rather than arts” is simple – the primary goal of education is to accelerate the development of formal scholastic skills like reading, writing, and mathematics. Of course, children’s cognitive capacities extend far beyond these core “academic” abilities. Initiatives like STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) provide compelling frameworks that integrate the arts with science and mathematics. Developmental researchers have begun to articulate how the arts, in the early years, support the development of core cognitive skills (skills that are applicable to a wide range of academic subjects). For example, research conducted in partnership with Elmer’s Let’s Bond initiative identified, via survey of experts in child development, three such processes fostered by participation in arts and crafts:
- Visual-spatial skills (e.g., pattern recognition, detection of sequences, spatial rotation)
- Fine motor support for school readiness (e.g., motor manipulation of writing instruments)
- Executive functioning abilities (e.g., working memory, selective attention)
Educational research Jennifer S. Groff has provided a compelling theoretical model and rationale for the primary role that the visual arts play in development and education in an influential paper published in the Harvard Educational Review. Consider this summation from the abstract of that paper:
Emerging research on the brain’s cognitive processing systems had led Groff to put forth a new theory of mind, whole-mindedness. Here she presents the evidence and construct for this frame of mind, how it sits in relation to multiple intelligences theory, and how it might redefine the justification for arts education in schools, particularly in our digitally and visually rich world.
The point about our “digitally and visually rich world” deserves a bit of expansion. Groff argues that visual information processing – those core brain processes engaged by the visual arts – are a primary cognitive skill set and primary mechanism for how children learn. As our world becomes more visually driven, we are beginning to understand in greater depth just how important these abilities are for learning and cognitive development. Promoting these critical abilities via the arts do not come at the sacrifice of developing traditional “academic” skills. Rather, the arts not only offer support for later verbal and mathematical fluency, but also provide essential platforms for enhancing and fostering core cognitive skills that are essential for today’s young children.
Kindergarten Craft Activity via Shutterstock.com
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Friday, May 2nd, 2014
Engaging in hands-on activities like arts and crafts should be a part of every child’s life. New research and thinking continues to reveal the many social and cognitive benefits for children at different ages. That said, developmental experts worry that parents and children may not have as many opportunities to craft together for a variety of potential reasons.
Crafting at the Kitchen Table (via Elmer’s Products, Inc.)
To learn more about the benefits of crafting in childhood, and the barriers which can interfere with crafting time, I partnered with Elmer’s Products, Inc., to conduct new survey research that can be used to deliver tips about crafting to parents, which we will be introducing at the Mom 2.0 Summit. We surveyed 300 moms to learn more about the kind of information they receive about crafting, the type of knowledge they would find helpful, and the factors that can make crafting time a challenge in everyday life. We also surveyed 50 experts in child development to learn more about the many social and cognitive benefits of arts and crafts in childhood.
Most importantly, moms told us that they want to hear more about the cognitive and social benefits of crafting, and suggestions for how to get the most out of crafting time. They also sent a strong message that time pressure is the biggest factor that interferes with their desire to craft with their kids. Experts shared with us a number of social and cognitive benefits of crafting, along with tips that can maximize both the fun and the payoffs for children and parents.
I’ve combined all this information to generate 9 tips that may help busy parents and children incorporate arts and crafts into the flow of daily life and cultivate the many cognitive and social benefits:
1. FIND RESOURCES TO SOLVE THE TIME PRESSURES THAT MAKE CRAFTING HARD TO DO. Parents love to craft with their kids – but they find it hard to make time for it. One solution is to access crafting ideas that don’t take too much time, but provide all the benefits of crafting. You can get tips on activities kids and parents will love to do together that won’t require huge amounts of set up and clean up time.
2. KEEP IN MIND HOW IMPORTANT CRAFTING IS FOR KIDS AND PARENTS ALIKE (IN RELATION TO COMPETING DEMANDS). Parents and kids have lots of competing demands for their time. It’s helpful to remind ourselves of the many benefits of crafting (social, emotional, cognitive). To the extent that we can control our recreational time, it’s suggested that parents make sure that screen time and time devoted to structured activities outside the home don’t reduce the opportunities for crafting with kids. Just some good quality time with simple ideas, even with items around the house, are all it takes to reap many benefits, all while having fun at the same time.
3. MAKE IT FUN – CRAFTING IS ABOUT DOING SOMETHING TOGETHER. Don’t worry about the final product – it’s the process that matters. Smiles, laughs, and some silliness keep kids engaged (remember that for kids, play is their work) and their engagement will help them get the cognitive benefits from crafting while getting something equally as important – the bonding experience with parents.
4. TALK WHILE YOU CRAFT. Parents and kids don’t have as many opportunities for face-to-face interaction these days – and we all know that such interaction is critical for healthy emotional and cognitive development. The simple act of parents and kids having engaged conversations is highly predictive of later cognitive development. Crafting is a terrific platform for kids and parents to talk about the crafting itself – and whatever else comes up.
5. LET KIDS TAKE THE LEAD. Creativity is promoted when kids take the lead with activities like crafting. Parents can support what their kids are doing and help them by encouraging, lending a hand when necessary, and helping with suggestions. The creative spark is lit when kids try to figure out how to make things work.
6. PRAISE KIDS FOR THEIR CRAFTING EFFORTS. It’s clear from research that praising kids for their effort, and not the “quality” of their final product, is predictive of their future “mindsets” that underlie success in many domains (academics, sports, arts, etc.). Crafting is a perfect platform for encouraging and reinforcing effort rather than critiquing the outcome.
7. USE CRAFTING TO COMBAT BOREDOM. Kids will eventually get bored with anything – they always need to find something different to do. So … use crafting projects as that fun tonic to inevitable boredom. Kids will be primed for the creative engagement it provides.
8. MAKE SURE CRAFTING IS HANDS-ON FOR KIDS. It’s important that kids lead not only with their brains, but also their hands. Crafting is one of the best ways to encourage fine motor development, and the benefits that kids will get from doing the crafting activities themselves are critical for academic readiness.
9. CREATE HAPPY MEMORIES. Kids will form memories of making crafts with their parents that last a lifetime. Make sure those memories center around the emotional bond you are creating and not so much what the end product looks like. That end product, however it turns out, will carry meaning because it will take kids back to a very special time with their parents – and maybe even evoke your memories of crafting with your parents. Displaying that product will help this process along as well – especially if you all talk about the memories that you created together.
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Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
While we know that arts and crafts can promote cognitive development in childhood, researchers have begun to specify in more detail the specific advantages for both toddlers and school-age kids. I’ve recently articulated 3 specific cognitive benefits of arts and crafts in childhood (based on a survey of child development experts that I will be discussing at the Mom 2.0 Summit) in a blog post for Parenting.com:
- Promoting fine motor skills that contribute to academic readiness
- Fostering critical visual processing skills (e.g., pattern recognition) that are fundamental to cognitive development in the early years
- Encouraging the early application of emerging executive functioning skills
You can learn more about the research and uncover some crafting ideas here.
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Monday, April 28th, 2014
The Mom 2.0 Summit brings together influential moms from the blogging community and offers an opportunity to talk about core issues and challenges we all face as we raise children in today’s world.
Mom and Daughter Crafting
I will be attending this year’s Summit and am excited to connect with such a fascinating collection of influencers, both to learn about their many perspectives and insights, and to focus on the role that arts and crafts play in children’s lives today.
Although we know that engaging in arts and crafts offers many developmental benefits to children, important new thinking and data on the payoff of arts and crafts continue to emerge. That said, the complexities of daily life can make it hard to incorporate arts and crafts into the family schedule.
To this end, on May 2 at Mom 2.0, I will be introducing new research I have conducted in partnership with Elmer’s Products, Inc. I will be sharing a blog post that day highlighting key findings from this work that will give parents many ideas about how and why arts and crafts can be a meaningful part of home life, even given the realities of how busy everyone is these days.
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Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
With yet more snow and cold, and cold and snow, making it’s way through many parts of the country, lots of kids will be enjoying snow days. And while playing outside in the snow is a fabulous way to spend time, these days are also great days for doing arts and crafts.
Arts and crafts will be one of the big themes this year in child development. Why? We are seeing more research on the developmental benefits that come from doing arts and crafts. Even simple activities during toddlerhood – such as copying shapes – supports academic readiness for kindergarten. And new studies suggest long-term benefits, like being innovative in adulthood.
Want some ideas? Here are a number of ways to do arts and crafts at home. And what if you don’t have all the materials you would need for some of these activities. Then, just have your kids use what you have, and make up your own crafting activity! It’s a great thing to do on a snow day.
Little Child With Hands Painted via Shutterstock.com
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Behavior, Health, Must Read, Parenting, Red-Hot Parenting