Pull out some crayons, scissors, glitter and glue, and you’ll do more than create bonding time with your preschooler. Researchers say creative time helps kids prepare for school and long-term success in subjects such as math, reading and writing.
It’s no surprise that making crafts provides developmental benefits for children. Using a scissors to cut paper or holding a crayon to draw a shape helps build fine motor skills. Children use these skills as they refine their ability to eat with a fork or spoon and learn to dress themselves. Activities such as coloring and cutting paper also help with bilateral coordination – using both hands at once to perform a task. This will come in handy as they learn to tie shoes, type, or hold a pencil while writing on paper.
But researchers also point to arts and crafts as a way for young children to begin building “executive function.” Executive function includes the ability to focus attention, control impulses and use working memory.
Crafts help children focus attention as they’re planning what to make and organizing their materials. They don’t realize they’re setting goals and paying attention to details that will help achieve those goals – but that’s exactly what they’re doing when they decide to build and paint a wooden car model, for example.
Waiting for paint to dry so they can move on to the next step teaches patience and self-control. Crafts can also promote flexibility, because things don’t always turn out exactly as planned (or pictured on the package!). Children can learn there is no right or wrong way to be creative – which is why it’s OK to let them choose how they want to paint that model car (or where to put the wheels, for that matter).
Working memory – part of short-term memory – is how we manipulate information when working on a task. It’s what we use when we have to do sequenced tasks, such as following a string of directions on how to put a model together.
Making a craft is also a self-esteem booster. Completing an age-appropriate craft – especially when someone hangs it on the refrigerator or posts a photo on Facebook for all to see – gives a sense of accomplishment and pride.
Executive function can be further enhanced by making something that encourages imaginary play, such as a mask. Imaginary play encourages children’s abstract thoughts, and allows them to focus on a pretend world crafted entirely in their heads. Experts believe executive function is further enhanced by sustained, elaborate imaginary play – in which children make a plan, stay in character (teacher, pilot, firefighter, ninja, chef) and live in that alternate world for a period of time.
Knowing that craft time builds preschoolers’ skills and confidence is reason enough to pull out the glue and scissors. The fact that projects help prepare them for the future just adds a whole lot of sparkle.
Looking for some craft ideas? Local craft stores frequently have inexpensive kits, or check out these websites: