Teaching Tips

Crafts in the Elementary Classroom

When the Common Core was introduced it was with despair that I saw crafts disappear from the classroom. Many teachers were concerned that there was no place for crafting in the Common Core Standards. They had been told by those above that if it’s not a standard, they cannot teach it.

I think the authors of the Common Core would be horrified to see how their objectives for Math and Literacy have strangled creativity in some districts. I have said it once and I will say it again – the Common Core was designed to make teaching of Math and Literacy rigorous across America and ensure parity in for example third grade Vermont and third grade Washington. (For more about justifying teaching scissor skills, check out this blog post).

“These documents are not an attempt to demonstrate everything that a student should learn; rather, we have focused on two areas – English-language Arts and Mathematics. The standards have incorporated 21st century skills where possible. They are not inclusive of all the skills students need for success in the 21st Century, but many of these skills will be required across disciplines.” 
(From the Introduction to the Common Core State Standards, June 9 2010)

In case you are still worried about using crafts to enhance the curriculum, here are reasons why you SHOULD be incorporating crafts into the classroom.

(A quick word on the difference between arts and crafts. Many schools have arts programs that involve both unstructured and structured activities whereby children explore with their imaginations. Crafts have a specific goal at the end, and often involve sequential directions. Although the end product will vary from student to student, the steps in reaching the goal are as important as the final product.)

1. Creativity

Although we talk about crafts being structured, they still involve students making individual choices within parameters. For example, if you are making a paper snowman, then you get to choose how many buttons, the placement of the buttons and the color of the buttons, whether the snowman is happy or sad, what color his mittens are, what type of hat he is wearing. How many choices do students have when they are reading, or writing? Far less. Using crafts allows for a degree of autonomy rarely found in other subject areas.

2. Academics

For me, the real benefit of integrating crafts into social studies, math, science or language arts is the increased interest and engagement that results. Reading or watching a video about Garrett Morgan can be dry. Making a stop light that sequences the history of the invention is going to hook more students and will give them a tangible retell tool. Wearing a Santa Lucia crown, making a Kwanzaa Unity Cup, or an English Christmas cracker is going to have far more meaning to a young student learning about holidays that people celebrate than coloring in a worksheet. Manipulating 2D shapes to make a pumpkin helps students gain mastery of mathematical concepts.

This Garrett Morgan stop light craft is an example of how to reinforce social studies concepts in the classroom.  

3. Skills Development

This is a biggie. Have you ever complained that your students don’t know how to cut with scissors? Look at how many opportunities you have given them to use tools in your own classroom. Cutting skills, like all fine motor skills, need to be taught and practiced and practiced. Working those little muscles in small hands with fun crafts makes the process of improving skills so much easier, and there is a product at the end to be proud of. We can’t expect our young (or older) students to be able to cut with scissors if we have never given them the opportunity to use everyday tools, such as scissors, glue sticks and rulers.

4. Following Directions

As mentioned, crafts generally follow a set of sequential directions. Such great practice for students – start at step A, follow through B,C and D and end up with a finished product. Following directions requires focus and self-discipline to finish one step before moving onto the next. Listening skills will be sharpened if oral directions are given, and written directions require students to read with a real world purpose.

Written directions give students are real purpose for reading

5. Following Through

For the product to be completed, the student needs to show commitment to the craft, even when things are not going well! In the classroom, students have to finish a craft, and even if they did not turn out as expected, there are lessons to be learned. There are workarounds that need to be discovered, and solutions that they find on their own. Crafting is also a wonderful opportunity to develop patience and to hone their skills so that they improve.

These candy cane mice give students a prefect opportunity to practice their cutting skills and discuss holidays with this FREE download!

6. Communication

Crafting can be a group project, but even if a student is completing an individual craft, it can be a fantastic time for communication. Sharing differences in their crafts, helping others with a sticky problem, working through a paper obstacle and just the general chatter that crafting allows to take place whilst working on a project helps with socializing skills. You will often hear young children explain to no one in particular what they are doing aloud. “Ok, so what’s next? I am going to put the eyes on here. And then I need to get the hat.” It is a way for them to clarify the directions and remember them. And it is a wonderful way to see young people enjoying a focused task that doesn’t require screen time!

Go ahead and get the glitter out, and if you have not done so already download this free unicorn craft just by signing up for my newsletter. Happy crafting!

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