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What About the Art Easel?
The words ‘art’ and ‘craft’ are often times used interchangeably in preschool settings. However, they are, when really considered, very different. I KNOW this topic is a hot button for many. My goal here is two-fold:
Lisa Murphy, aka the Ooey Gooey Lady, often says in workshops and her podcast that we need to consider 3 things when we plan (and this does not apply only to Arts & Crafts):
What are we doing? 2. Why are we doing it? 3. Who is it for?
ART: Per Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, art is defined as a skill acquired by experience, study, or observation. It is also defined as the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects. Oxford Dictionary (online) further defines it as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
CRAFT: A craft is defined as skill in planning, making, or executing and also as an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill
A cursory reading of these definitions seems to suggest they are similar. They are the act of creating. However, there is a difference. Did you see it in the definitions?
The primary focus of art is creative imagination. The primary focus of a craft is, in my interpretation, a set outcome. (The final product is planned, then made and then executed upon). In addition, it requires manual dexterity.
The difference is Art is subjective. Crafts are objective. What does this mean in preschool? It means that art is subject to the preschooler’s creative imagination and the outcome is his/hers whereas crafts have a prescribed outcome before the activity begins.
Is One “Better” Than the Other?
I don’t think ‘better’ is the word I’d use. I would say that art (when open-ended) is more developmentally appropriate for preschoolers.
There are many foundational skills preschoolers need to develop before going to elementary school. Providing art activities that allow them to use a variety of tools and mediums as well as explore and investigate how these tools and mediums work will help them develop in the top domain areas.
Crafts do not, most times, provide this ability.
Why not? Well, because the focus is using set materials in a set way to provide a set outcome.
The goal of doing crafts, in most cases, is for the parents (specifically so we have an object to send home).
Certainly, if all children are making a bunny out of the materials provided, each bunny rabbit will look a bit different.
Perhaps the color of paint they choose is different or the eyes are placed closer or further apart. However, in the end, there will be 16 bunnies that look strikingly alike.
The skills children learn doing this (and the ones many educators state when providing craft activities) are fine motor development, following through on a task and following directions.
I agree that crafts do provide an opportunity to work on use these skills, however, they do not help children develop these skills. To me, that is the biggest difference.
It takes fine motor control to place small items on a craft. Crafts do not help preschoolers’ to ‘develop’ fine motor skills. They require preschoolers to have some level of mastery in fine motor control. Art activities, when open ended, allow the opportunity for children to develop these skills.
In my years working with preschoolers, I plan art activities 98% of the time with the goal of providing opportunities for the children to develop and strengthen areas such as fine motor control, eye-hand coordination and creative thinking.
I do, on occasion, plan crafts for special events (such as Mother’s & Father’s Day and Christmas) and provide the activity as an open choice for children. There are also times when children want to make something that looks like a specific “thing”. When this is the case, I do provide the materials that child needs to create the said “thing”, however, I do not plan it as the art activity for all the children for the day.
To read more about this topic, you can CLICK HERE to go to the article on the website where I go into more detail about the differences between subjective and objective activities.