CLASS ACTION

How learning arts and crafts is beneficial to children

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 November, 2014, 10:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 November, 2014, 10:14am

My son's year one teacher lets them do a lot of colouring and paper crafts with staplers. I thought this was preschool stuff. He seems to enjoy it, but is it proper education?

In early primary, many of the more "academic" skills you might hope to see are still a little ahead of many students' abilities. Having good fine motor skills means it is easier for a child to hold a pencil correctly to write, manipulate items to count, even hold books and turn pages. What you might see in the classroom instead are children tearing strips of paper, scrunching, stapling and stuffing balls into a shape, following instructions and describing to another child what to do.

The teacher will need to gauge how ready her class is for a lot of writing. Pushing a small child to hold a pencil for long periods of time to write a full page of text is exhausting and counterproductive if they can't hold a pencil correctly. Also, thinking about the story they are working on, the sentences to craft and which words to use decreases their pleasure in what they're learning.

Looking at a child's gross (big muscle groups) and fine motor skills will help the teacher decide on how to divide classroom time between muscle development and actual writing.

Farther down the arm are the bigger hand muscles used in scrunching, stapling and stuffing. If you have ever done this all day, you know how tired your hands will be. For small children it can be tiring after an hour or less. Combining activities like tearing, scrunching and stuffing gives a child the chance to rest one set of muscles while they use the other. The opposable thumb is something humans have over other animals, but it is still a muscle to be strengthened. Teachers are aware of the impact a lack of strength and coordination will have on their students' ability to fully engage in and learn from other activities.

Folding paper into origami or paper springs gives the finger muscles and the brain a workout. Think about how the brain has to see the item they are working on, communicate with the fingers and rotate the item to create the desired outcome. All of this is developing your child's abilities both to think, observe and physically manipulate. These skills will be so important in many academic areas later.

Colouring is perhaps an easier skill to see the importance of. Teachers and parents can provide children with bigger shapes and larger crayons or even triangular crayons to help develop their hands towards writing well. It also gives the teacher a chance to observe and correct pencil grip while they write. Every detailed drawing refines fine motor control and prepares them for writing.

The act of choosing pens, pencils and crayons and negotiating is essential for developing brains. Children develop their reasoning by explaining why they want grey paper for the sky or black for their grapes. They also learn to explain and reason and choose, developing independence and confidence that is essential for a successful academic career.

As they work on a craft, students also have to focus on following instructions, whether written on the board or spoken by the teacher. Also the number of instructions a young child is able to follow needs to be appropriate to their abilities, and strengthened and lengthened.

Listening to other children explain what to do gives them chances to develop their oral interaction and prepare them for writing out their own instructions. Children need to be able to talk about doing something before they can write about it. If they cannot instruct you or tell you a story, they are not ready to write one.

Also, teachers don't choose these activities just to keep kids busy; it's also about guiding, supporting, explaining and encouraging. So it is good your son enjoys these activities; he's getting a lot out of them.

Kris Gienger teaches at a Hong Kong international school