Art vs. Craft: The Difference in What Children Learn

Don’t be misled by the phrase “Arts and Crafts.”  The two words are not synonymous.  They do not represent the same activity.  The materials used for art and a craft may be the same but the learning outcomes are not the same.  Children gain different skills from participating in an art activity and assembling a craft.
Freely painting at an easel without adult instruction is art.
Art is self-expression.  The formal definition of art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”  An art activity has no pre-conceived product.  It is entirely about the process of creation and comes from the thoughts of the artist.  In a classroom, students are simply offered the opportunity to create – to paint or sculpt or draw – and they freely determine the end product.  A teacher does not show an example, provide materials that suggest an outcome or give instructions.  The beautiful blobs of paint, freely drawn shapes & objects and pile of glued collage materials are examples of art. 

When creating art, students make decisions and exercise their imagination skills.  It is essential that early learners have the opportunity to freely create every day.  Children learn that they are capable of making decisions by being given the opportunity to do so.  They expand their knowledge base by exploring their own curiosity about the materials and possible outcomes.  While creating and using their imaginations, young children who are creating an original piece of art are able to hone their fine & gross motor skills.  They use the scientific method and critical thinking skills as they explore the medium in a way that is based upon their own curiosity and desire to problem solve.  They give us a window into how they view the world and where they each are on the developmental spectrum.  Every piece of art looks different and children learn to embrace what they have conceived and created.

Crafts, on the other hand, are created with a particular product in mind.  When children participate in a craft, they are more focused on a product.  The teacher or parent has a particular outcome in mind and provides materials to encourage that outcome.  The items produced all look similar. 

When asked to create a product, children are making a craft.
Making a craft teaches children to follow directions to reach a goal.  The children will all be encouraged to make the same or a very similar item.  They likely will have seen a sample of how the final product should look.  While not all children are able to create the exact outcome, the products will be variations on the same theme.  All of the students might be trying to create an assigned animal, item or group of people.  This is often referred to as “cookie cutter” art – and that is a misnomer.  If all of the students are producing the same or very similar products because of a common goal, it is not art at all.  It is a craft.

While art is open ended, a craft is closed.  Art is about the individual and his/her abilities and perceptions.  A craft is about the product and not the person creating it. 

I have had child development students, early childhood professionals and parents ask, “So which is more important?  Which is a better use of time – art or a craft?”

I always respond by acknowledging that both have merit; however, the opportunity for self-expression is rarer in the course of the average day and, in fact, in the course of an average life.  We spend a great deal of time following directions and working toward goals that come from outside sources.  As adults, we have responsibilities and people in authority who limit our ability to be creative.  The same is true for children.  They spend a good portion of their days being asked to follow the directions of adults.  They follow multiple step-by-step processes every day.  It is only with intention that children are given the opportunity to create from their own imaginations.  In order for them to become confident in their own knowledge and abilities, we must let them explore freely.  

Ideally, children will emerge from the early childhood years and childhood as a whole with the knowledge that they are capable thinkers who are able to make good decisions. In order for that to happen, they must have many opportunities to create without the constraint of passing and failing, pleasing and displeasing.  They must be able to just do and have the world think it’s wonderful.

And so, the more art the better….

Are you looking for other ways to have more meaningful learning in your classroom?  Sign up for my upcoming webinar “Improve Your Circle Time:  Make It Time Well Spent” – click on the title for details!  Participate live or sign up to ensure that you get the replay in your email.

You can learn so much more from me online!  “Helping Preschools Achieve with Cynthia Terebush” – An Online Learning and Support Community for Early Childhood Professionals.  Now with individual memberships and staff bundles.  Check out my informational video HERE and go to Helping Preschools Achieve for more details. 

And in person….Go to my full website for information about webinars, presentations and individual consulting for parents and educators -Helping Kids Achieve.

Copyright 2016 © Cindy Terebush
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