Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Trouble with Arts and Crafts

I am so very jealous of all these crafty mamas of the Internet and Instagram showing off their children's art.  It makes me feel both inspired and inadequate!

I know they are meant well, but I end up expecting picture-perfect finished products from my daughter and feeling frustrated when things don't match the blog post.  After years of too many un-fun, high-effort sessions,  I've become desensitized to the eye-candy kid crafts on my feed. 

So here's an idea: how about we working mamas relax and let our kids take the lead?  

I remember getting sucked into the dream from the very beginning.  The baby footprint that becomes *so cute!* a butterfly impression.  The toddler paint splatters that reveal *ooh clever* a heart when the washi tape is pulled off.  The art example where blogger kids cover the *entire* paper with color.  

I tried many.  And my daughter couldn't have cared less.  
To her it was all about the process of creating.

This was meant to be a print-making art activity.  I envisioned shapes and textures made through the comb and swabs.
She just cared about mixing colors and feeling the paint.

I enrolled my daughter in summer art classes starting 3 years old.  She brought home amazing artwork and clay sculptures I never thought a three-year old could do.  I spent P2,000 on framing a monarch butterfly oil painting.  What a sucker.

With hindsight I now know that everything was mostly directed, finished and polished by her yaya:

The clay projects for summer.  Now that I'm wiser, how could a three-year old have done this herself?

Why are we parents and teachers so pressured to take over arts and crafts for toddlers and preschoolers?  I am so guilty of this.  In all our past art playtime I found myself seeing her art with a judgemental eye: looking for symmetry, the use of the "right colors", staying in the lines, looking for the recognizable rather than celebrating any creativity.   When I lead the way, I'm still focused on whether the end-result will look good.

But when I leave her alone, magic happens.

She turns the simple art materials I leave on her shelf into masterpieces only she understands but is so heart-meltingly proud of.

Paper, price stickers and crayons.  She proudly showed this off when I came home after work.  She was still three here.
THIS.  She folded, refolded, pasted, coloured every layer and took a very very long time perfecting this at three years old.
Paper, crayons, stickers, buttons and glue.  When she was four she made this as a present for her best friend in preschool. 
Toilet paper rolls, popsicle sticks, styrofoam balls, crayons.  Her self-directed sandcastle at our DIY sensorial play drawers

Sand, paint and popsicle sticks.  Our very popular sandy paint play activity 
Washi tape and imagination.  She doesn't want this removed and picks up the play wherever she left off, at five years old.

I've found that when I relax and allow her to surprise me, she often does.  I watch her with no pressure except to observe and learn about her, not to grade her. Best of all, I enjoy the moment.

Relaxing on art also means I allow her more times of being "bored" so she has more chances for creativity without me jumping in with an idea.  

Washi tape, price stickers, letter stickers.  Our after-work play for that night was all her idea at five years old.

Hers and mine.  I follow her lead.

At six years old, one weekend it was yarn that was the material of choice:

This is exactly the scene I walked into.
At this age, her imagination is at its most active. She said these were the ponies' fashions.
I wonder what story this was in head?

Clearly a lot of time and effort was put into this creative outlet:

And also a lot of pride.

She's seven years old now and I sadly see the beginnings of self-consciousness and insecurity.  She compares her work unfavorably to mine.  She puts her drawings down.  She now draws houses the way you would expect - a chimney, a square window, the rectangle door, the sun in the sky.

Is that inevitable?

She took art classes up until a few months ago: Global Art taught her "proper" colouring techniques like shading and hues.  She also absolutely loves her weekly art class in her Montessori Elementary school.  More and more, art is clearly adult-led: new techniques and skills are introduced to broaden her experience and appreciation of art techniques.    

But I miss her creative experiments.  Art has become a less frequent activity she chooses to do at home.  I'm still figuring it out, except I feel the pressure when occasions roll around and my screens positively explode with tempting crafty ideas.

And so all the more reason to relax, working mama! I confess it's been liberating to hang back this time and remember that the purpose of art isn't so much the finished craft to proudly display.  I wish I hadn't been so controlling during the preschool years when experimenting matters most.  

I still love browsing kid craft ideas but now I do it with a different focus.  
To collect experiences of creativity.  On her terms this time.  

Art with a child's purpose, not mine.

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Here is a gallery of "join-in play" : ways to play together


  1. Amen! That is exactly the realization I had this week: ��. Also just read an article about how schools focus on teaching your kids to make something for the parents' fridge rather than allowing the kids to learn and create on their own terms. Interesting stuff.

    P.S. I love your daughter's creations, especially the Little Pony makeovers ��.


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