A bit of anecdotage, a bit of fact, a bit of babbling.
Here are some of the masterpieces currently on display in The Equuschick’s living room. You will notice that they don’t look particularly neat or tidy, but as you’ll see, The Equuschick doesn’t think they’re supposed to.
Exhibit A, Anecdote: You might be interested to know that it was actually the 2 year old Ladybug and not the 4 year old DPG who was most involved in making the picture of the seasons. This is partly because her attention span is longer, and partly because the Dread Pirate Grasshopper was obsessed simply by using the scissors. He spent an hour just cutting things up with no particular method to the madness. (Other than the method imposed on him when, after reciting the rules such as Don’t Cut Anything But the Paper & Don’t Cut Clothes, Hair or People, he promptly exhibited his classic lack of inhibitory control and first cut a hole in his shirt and then snipped his mother’s arm. His scissors were confiscated, speeches and discipline were administered, and then he got them back later and behaved admirably afterwards. Take-home point: Inhibitory Control CAN Be Taught. But it will take a while and you’ll probably bleed alot.)
But, as Ruth Beechick says in her bookTeaching Preschoolers: It’s Not Exactly Easy but Here Is How to Do It (Accent teacher training series) when a child first attempts these things he isn’t supposed to be practicing anything that will look particularly purposeful. Adults like to watch small folks at it and wait expectantly to see Art magically appear, but they fail to understand that the really important things happening here are happening in the child’s brain and muscles, and not on the paper. He’s practicing opening and cutting the scissors and his muscles are practicing moving and controlling the crayon on the paper. The goal is not art, the goal is motor control. (Granted there are exceptions, as those of us with Busybrains should know. Some children are just that visually gifted and if you have one of those, the following probably won’t apply.)
Exhibit B, Fact: Most folks are convinced these days that you can’t teach children unless you’re using lots of Cool Things to make Other Cool Things that Look Cool, and then you can put them up on Pinterest and say “Look at the Cool Thing That I Just Made With Nothing But Popsicle Sticks & My Mad Cool Skillz.”
Mind you, lots of people are just that cool and crafty and they deserve to be congratulated, and should feel no shame in sharing their Skillz. The error our society often falls into is not congratulating the talent of the truly crafty, but assuming that this plethora of paint and popsicle sticks truly enhances learning significantly. (Exhibit C, Babbling: Perhaps a prime example of this obsession is exhibited by those who teach Bible classes, and here’s a loverly summary of that .)
Children throughout time and across all cultures have been learning things without the aid of so much as a single popsicle stick or a dab of glue. Myth Busted.
But actually, that’s only the first error our society falls into when it comes to educational crafts.
The second error is that these sorts of educational crafts and visuals are a reliable indicator of how much a child has learned. The truth is we as adults like to see tangible and easy to assess results and we like to see them quickly, so the arts and crafts approach suits us.
Having said all that, all of the above assumptions are not necessarily completely unfounded. They are, like most myths, misunderstandings of some certain truths.
Fact: Children do need hands-on and tactile experiences with manipulatives, and messy ones have always been best. Not all children have had the true privilege of playing with paint, but all children need to play in mud. (Helpful Fact: Mud is cheaper.) And George Washington Carver, a child genius if ever there was, did play in paint, but he made the paint himself from wild berries. (Also cheaper.)
The important word not to lose sight of here is “Messy.” Parents don’t like that part much. We LIKE the neat and tidy and shiny crafts on Pinterest. But The Equuschick contends that the neater the project, the more control the parent has exercised over it, the less the child has learned.
What children do learn from using paint, scissors, crayons, etc. are important things like how to use a pencil, how to use scissors. You’re letting the muscles practice those sorts of skills. This can be a huge help in building hand-eye coordination.
Now for the record, all of these things are still things a child can learn without a trip to Hobby Lobby. Children can practice using scissors while they help to snip green onions for supper, and they can practice handling manipulatives while they knead and form bread dough. They can help “paint” while spreading sauce for a pizza.
But if you like a bit of variety, cheap and easy crafts certainly do no harm and they can do some good.
Exhibit D, Further Anecdote: “Mommy,” said the Dread Pirate Grasshopper, “can you please help me tape this picture up? Just one piece of tape right here, on top.” The Equuschick obliged.” “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” screamed the Dread Pirate Grasshopper whirling around the living room like a tribal chief in the midst of a drug-induced pagan dance ritual, “Not there! HERE!”
You know, that other spot, less than a quarter of an inch, if that, from where That Idiot Woman the Dread Pirate Grasshopper Calls His Mother Had Mistakenly Put the Tape.
The good news is he calmed himself down within a few minutes and The Equuschick was even able to convince him that the tape was just fine where it was. They might not need much counseling after all.