This afternoon, I was looking through my Twitter timeline, and I caught this tweet from a fellow Kindergarten educator, Shannon Andrews.
I’m so glad that Shannon recently shared this important reminder. We’re just starting to enter what I like to refer to as the “Craftville Season”: Thanksgiving crafts give way to Halloween crafts, followed soon by Christmas crafts, then Valentine’s Day crafts, and end with Easter crafts.
The funny thing about these crafts is that they tend to be the same in all grades, and while they’re often categorized as “art,” the question is, how are they really addressing the elements of design and creative thinking? Some people may question if I’m being too critical here. Maybe some children think these crafts are fun. Maybe providing an outline makes some children feel more confident in their skills. Are these crafts fun for everyone though? Do they promote thinking and problem solving? Do they allow for creativity? Do they increase a child’s confidence, or do they decrease it, when his/her final product can’t look like the model? Are they engaging for all? The new Kindergarten Program Document has us constantly question, “Why this learning, for this child, at this time?,” and asking this question may start to change our thinking about these holiday crafts.
More than four years ago, Aaron Puley wrote this wonderful blog post, where he questioned the engagement value of these types of crafts. He looked closely at curriculum expectations and provided some different art options. Aaron’s post, like mine, may make for an “uncomfortable” read. But it’s often through discomfort, and the dialogue that comes from this, that change happens. For me, Aaron started this dialogue four years ago. I’d like to continue it today. What do you think? If these crafts are being questioned for our youngest learners, should we also be reconsidering them for other grades? How do you approach this? I hope that this conversation may lead to a fresh approach for the “Craftville Season.”
Firstly, I’m glad my Tweet got you thinking! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the topic and for asking such great reflective questions. I have always had a hard time with holiday based crafts in all grades. Nothing makes me more sad than having an end of day duty the Friday before a holiday and seeing hundreds of students leave the school with basically the same craft. Yes the crafts are cute but they don’t have much value. Especially if the majority of students don’t celebrate the holidays that the crafts are for. I do think that it is important to discuss holidays from all religious and cultural backgrounds but I’m not convinced that a craft has to accompany it. If after discussing the holiday a child asks to create something inspired by the discussion, I think it is a very meaningful activity to engage in. The child then gets to exercise their own creativity and make intentional choices about materials and elements of design. But having a child make something that I have decided is important is not appropriate.
Thanks again for continuing an important discussion,
Thanks Shannon for starting this discussion with your tweet, and then extending it here. Your reply actually made me think of another important point in the Kindergarten document: that the Arts become a language for communicating thoughts and ideas (not the exact words, but definitely the implied message). If a child hears about a celebration, and then uses visual arts to share his/her learning, I think that’s very different than if we prepare a craft to follow-up the discussion. With a prepared craft, who’s doing the communicating? Where’s the thinking?
I will admit that when I started teaching 16 years ago, I did all of these holiday crafts. I didn’t question why. I thought that they were fun presents to bring home. New documents, new learning, and more conversations are having me think differently. I love how the Kindergarten Document is explicitly addressing this point. Now I’m hoping that the conversation among Kindergarten educators will extend to the other grades, as I still wonder, if it’s not right for Kindergarten, why is it a good option for other students?
Interestingly enough my teaching partner and I had this discussion last week. We decided that ultimately that not only is it about intention but it’s also about balance and needs of our learners. We have a young class with many three year olds. We have open ended art activities out all the time. On the other hand at times we have coloring sheets available as an option too. We decided to do the turkey craft. One that was a card for parents. One that allowed us to observe cutting skills and fine motor skills with markers. One that all children chose to do and one that all the children loved. While the stance in our room is that all children are artists some can do so much more than others based on their development. We prepared an activity that had many entry points and allowed success for everyone. They didn’t all look exactly the same yet they were definitely similar. As an adult I enjoy art. Sometimes I create my own painting or drawing. Sometimes I relax by coloring someone else’s drawing and sometimes I create crafts because I like an idea someone else created. Do I know the difference? Do they all have a place? Maybe. We mainly do open ended art invitations in our classroom but sometimes we have other opportunities for children who are interested.
Thanks for sharing, Heather! I really appreciate you giving us insight into the dialogue that you and your teaching partner had last week, and why you made the decision that you did. Your comment reminds me of some posts that I wrote last year on colouring. While I’m not a fan of colouring as art (as I tend to wonder if it allows for the creativity that is “art”), I could see the value in it for self-regulation (for some students). After much discussion last year, my partner and I did add some colouring books to our “quiet area,” and a few students chose to colour to “calm down.” This didn’t take away from our open-ended art provocations, but was instead, an option used for a different purpose. Could this sometimes be true of a craft? I’m not sure.
I do like how this craft was a choice for your students, and still allowed for some creativity if students chose to go in this direction. I can’t help but think about the line in the K Document about our view of the child as “competent and capable learners.” If we’re using these craft options to support student learning, how do we still communicate to children that “they’re all artists” and capable of producing great things with or without a craft option? Thoughts? I’m still thinking this one through. Thanks for giving me more to consider!
Maybe they’re all crafters and artists! Lol. My brain has been stretched all weekend thinking about it. I think that I’m trying to see things from all sides. One of the tweets I saw this weekend was about a response to we’ve always done it this way. If you were to start today would you start it the same way that you did? I certainly don’t “do” art the way I did 15 years ago in k. I definitely don’t know the answers. But if I’m having thoughtful discussions on how to introduce something. How we can build in more choice and creativity. Then maybe I’m starting it differently. I’m re-reading Susan Stacey’s book pedagogical documentation in the early years tonight and there is a great discussion a class is having about whether photographs are art. Maybe the students might come to their own understandings of art vs craft. Maybe it doesn’t matter if they’re choosing and engaged. We spent time as a class looking at all of our dots after dot day. They decided that they were art. They were all different and we made our own choices. I wonder if they would consider the cards we made art or not? Hmmm. I took pictures of them in case we wanted to revisit. Maybe we will …
Thanks for the continued conversation, Heather! You’re obviously doing a ton of thinking on this one. More than our decisions themselves, I wonder if this thinking and these discussions are key as we continue to make sense of a new document and a new way of teaching and learning. Your comments about your students are so important too. As we try to decide what to do, it makes sense to me that paying attention to the needs and responses of our children are critical … and this is obviously what you’re doing. Thanks for mentioning Stacey’s book. I loved that one, and I remember the conversation that you’re referencing. If you do ask your students about their cards, I’d love to know what they think. I wonder how their answers might impact on our own impressions. More to contemplate …