I consider myself an “artsy-craftsy” mom. I spend quite a bit of time thinking of art projects for my girls, checking out web sites, reading magazines, and looking in library books for new ideas for our almost-daily craft time. My older daughter loves to draw, color, play with Play-Doh, make sticker pictures, create bead necklaces and bracelets, glue pom poms to foam picture frames…you name it, she loves it! My younger daughter is still “coming around” to crafting; mainly, she just likes doing whatever her big sister is doing.
So, imagine my surprise to find out that I’ve been doing this “artsy-craftsy-mom-thing” all wrong! At least according to Susan Striker, an elementary school art teacher and author of Young at Art, a book I recently checked out from the library. Take a look at some of the errors of my crafty ways:
1. My children color in coloring books, and Katy has recently fallen in love with dot-to-dots.
Striker makes this impassioned plea: “Please, never give a child coloring books, dot-to-dot, magic paint with water, or similar anti-art toys” (page 11-12). She goes on to say that “It is through these kinds of art activities that we inadvertently rob children of self-confidence and joy in producing their own work” (page 12).
I had certain misgivings about this when Katy first started coloring. I had read various resources that said it is much better to give children blank paper to draw on rather than making them color in the lines of a drawing someone else had created. It made sense to me, and Katy spent many, many months putting crayon to blank paper. And she didn’t really like it very much. Many of my friends’ kids of the same age didn’t seem to like coloring much either, so I just figured she was a little young for it. But then I gave her a coloring page one day, and she really enjoyed it! She worked at getting the crayon more and more closely within the lines. First, she would choose what colors she wanted the various parts of the picture, and then later, she would color everything in her same favorite colors—all orange, or all purple. She makes all of these choices herself, asks to color when she feels like it, and does plenty of other kinds of art the rest of the time. I’m just not sure I see coloring books as “the enemy” anymore. And the dot-to-dot seems to reinforce numbers and counting, as well as control of the pencil, which seems to me like pretty good preparation for writing.
2. I love finding holiday crafts for my kids to make.
According to Striker, “...it is also never helpful to create art for or about holidays. Jack-o-lanterns, turkeys, bells, Santas, trees, [etc, etc] have absolutely no place in the home or in any school program below grade two” (page 12). Earlier she had pointed out that these holiday crafts result in “squelching normal development, perpetuating our mundane stereotypical expressions, and trivializing our feelings for meaningful holidays” (page 5).
Holiday art is kind of the backbone of my home crafting time! The girls make sticker pictures that relate to the holiday or season at hand. They decorated real as well as paper pumpkins with stickers at Halloween, they made star and reindeer ornaments to give to family at Christmas, and they made thumbprint Valentines for their Daddy just a week ago. I use the craft experiences to talk about the significance of the holiday, and values like love, generosity, and thanksgiving. While Striker believes that such activities have “absolutely no place in the home,” they actually play a very big, happy, celebratory (and even educational) role in our home.
3. I encourage my kids to explore and try whatever they want to try with the materials they have during craft time. I am hoping to raise them with my same broad sense of what “creativity” is so that they can celebrate and enjoy all aspects of creative living.
Striker writes, “Let your child know that copying, tracing, and coloring-in adult art are not creative. Copying is cheating…” (page 20).
To damn copying, tracing, and coloring as non-creative cheating seems pretty extreme, counter-productive, narrow-minded, and even cruel. But maybe that’s just me. I think that copying plays a vital role in many artists’ development as they are learning their craft and developing their style. I use recipes to cook, and still feel creative when I do it, but perhaps that seems like non-creative cheating to some people.
4. The girls sit at the breakfast table for craft time, and we have a special vinyl tablecloth as well as aprons made by my mother to set aside the time and space as “special” (and, obviously, to help with clean up!).
Striker insists, “Don’t scold for drawing on unacceptable surfaces. Offer paper and say, ‘Oh good. I see you feel like drawing’” (page 22).
I can guarantee you that if our crayons, or markers, or paint found their way off of the breakfast table and onto the walls, the last thing you will hear me say is “oh good.” I can’t imagine that a parent would not make it abundantly clear that painting on the living room walls is unacceptable and better not ever happen again. Because that’s not a mess I would want to clean up more than once!
Some of the author’s other instructions (without my commentary, so this post doesn’t get too crazy-long):
5. Limit children’s time with puzzles, since they only have one correct answer (page 10).
6. Don’t draw in front of your child because you will have a “devastating effect” of arresting their development (page 12).
7. Paper that is 11”x14” is the smallest size that can be used effectively with young children (page 17).
8. Don’t throw out any of your child’s artwork, or you risk damaging their minds and egos (page 19).
9. Buy a leather-bound book for your child to use every day (page 21).
10. Never encourage your child to participate in art contests or other forms of competition (page 21).
Striker’s ideas for art projects certainly had merit, and she offered some fun art/craft ideas for children’s birthday parties. She had some helpful tips for encouraging children’s creativity in general, and she obviously feels very passionate about giving children opportunities for developing their creativity throughout childhood. I was simply taken aback, as a like-minded mother, to find out that according to her methodology I am going about it all wrong!
What do you think? Am I arresting my children’s development, stunting their creative growth, setting them up for a crushed self-esteem, limiting their potential, and trivializing their feelings? I would love to hear your thoughts!