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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.
In an earlier blog post, I talked about teaching preschool math and gave information on the 13 math process skills preschoolers develop throughout their preschool years.
Math is something we use and see every day in the classroom. Children are passing out cups of tea in dramatic play (using 1-1 correspondence to be sure each person has on cup). They are building ramps in the block area (using classifying and counting skills as they build). As a preschool teacher, you have the opportunity to observe their play and, therefore, know where each of your children’s knowledge is regarding the 13 math process skills.
Once you know where each child’s knowledge is, it can help you to provide materials and activities to introduce them to other areas of math. How do you do this?
The most basic and simplest way works best! Create a chart! List of the children’s names in a column and list the math process skills across the top row. As you observe your children in play, check off the areas you see them using in everyday interactions. Once you’ve done this for all children (and you will be able to do this throughout one week if your children attend 5 days a week or in two weeks if your children attend 2-3 days a week), review your list.
Are there areas that all your children have mastered? Are there areas that none of your children use?
For example, all your children may be able to rationally count up to 5 items. You notice that once the number of items exceed 5 items, they are not counting rationally but are rote counting. (This would be when they count, for example, 8 blocks. They touch one block and say one number as they count the first 5 blocks.
Once they get to the 6th block, however, you notice them saying two numbers as they touch it. When they touch the 6th block they might say “6,7”. When they touch the 7th block, they say “8,9”. When they touch the 8th block they say “10,12”. What does this tell you?
It tells you that they can rote count to 10 (notice they skipped 11). It tells you they can rationally count items up to 5. This lets you know that you need to provide activities that will help them count more than 5 items rationally. You now have your math goals for your classroom for the next couple of weeks. As you plan activities for math, keep in mind that you want to extend their rational counting to 8 or 10. You can do this through fun, interactive Circle Time activities, during snack time, while cooking, etc.
Once you’ve worked on this skill for a few weeks, look back at your list. Which other math skills do your children not have? Now plan for those!
How you might ask? I have 2 resources for you. If you head over to my Teaching Preschool Math article here, you’ll see a link for a free download that has (and is named!) My Favorite 13 Preschool Math Activities. It has one math activity that you can do in your classroom for each of the main 13 math process skills.
If you are looking for some training on preschool math, you’ll want to check out my Math in the Preschool Classroom workshop. It is a self-study training that will help you to define each of the math process skills that preschoolers develop, learn how to assess your preschoolers’ skills, how to implement activities to support these skills and give you practice planning math activities for each interest learning center in your classroom (because math does not ONLY happen in a math interest enter!).
You can learn more about my Math in the Preschool Classroom workshop by clicking here.
Knowing the math process skills that are developmentally appropriate for your preschoolers to be working on will help you to help them build a strong math foundation. These foundational skills will be what will help them to succeed in math in the elementary years! Focus on this foundation now!
Until next time,
The truth is, we do not “teach” preschool math. Math is not something we do to children! Math is all around us and is discovered by preschool children when they are provided with materials that encourage them to explore and learn about the world around them!
Preschool math is learned through hands-on activities and is ALL about your planning and not your teaching!
We can help children to rote count or memorize numbers, shapes and more however, they are memorizing names we’ve given to those symbols. They are not learning what those symbols mean or how they work if we help them memorize with flash cards or by rote counting the calendar every day.
Don’t believe me? If you have calendar time each day, ask each child, at the end of the day, which number of the month it is. Chances are, less than 20% of your preschoolers will remember the number, let along the name of the month. This is because we are teaching these things out of context – without a real-world connection that has meaning to them.
Think about what happens when someone tells us a lot of information about a topic we know little about. We remember some things but the rest is forgotten. It never makes it from our short-term memory to our long-term memory. In order for our brains to retain information it has to have meaning in context to us or it doesn’t make the cut to long-term memory! This is true of adults. This is also true of children.
There are 5 core preschool math areas which include 17 preschool math process skills! The best way to plan for them is to provide activities that help children use materials that support the learning of the skills!
Here is a summary of Math areas and skills:
Area 1 is Numbers and Operations and includes skills such as number sense, counting, one-to-one correspondence, numbers and symbols.
Area 2 is Geometry and Spatial Sense and includes shapes and spatial sense learning (under, over, next to, etc.)
Area 3 is Measurement and includes learning about weight, length, height, volume, temperature and time.
Area 4 is Patterns and Algebraic Thinking and includes exploring patterns, parts and wholes.
Area 5 is Data and includes ways to display and organize data such as sets, comparing, classifying seriation (putting things in its set order, as with puzzles or parts of a story), graphing and creating symbols and groups. As you can guess, this is a higher-level math skill.
As you can see, teaching preschool math is more than counting to 20 and recognizing numbers and shapes!
With so many math skills, how and where do we even start to provide children with the materials they need to develop all these skills? There are SO many ways including loose parts, making playdough, cooking, file folder games just to name a few. For a breakdown of each of these areas and ideas on how to provide your preschoolers with what they need to develop these skills,