Arts and crafts put the ‘fun’ back in ‘curriculum fundamentals’. [iStockphoto]

A few years ago, creative and ‘indigenous’ craft classes were compulsory for students, and were respected by parents, teachers, and students. However, over time, the mounting academic pressure and curriculum goals pushed arts and crafts to the back-burner.

Arts and crafts put the ‘fun’ back in ‘curriculum fundamentals’. There is no doubt that arts and crafts are fun activities for kids. Be it colouring with crayons or making miniature statues from clay, folding paper to create fine origami or designing a handmade birthday card, there are many arts and crafts activities that can enhance the interest of the children and exploit their artistic potential.

Last month, I received an email from a retired professor of anthropology. Her enthusiasm for arts and special interests in indigenous crafts such as pottery and mat-making is quite admirable.

She strongly feels this would “benefit students both in strengthening their appreciation for their cultural traditions, and giving them a possible marketable skill.”

This reveals that some of our teachers and parents would like to see students meaningfully get involved in such artistic activities and experiences once again.

To this end, designers of the competency-based curriculum should effectively incorporate these ‘indigenous crafts’ in the syllabus.

By re-introducing arts and crafts in our curriculum and involving our learners in such activities in schools, we will move a step ahead and invest in building their cognitive, physical, and social development.

The fundamental questions in this conversation are the why and the how. Today, I will attempt to shed light on the why.

Learning the arts and crafts doesn’t just foster the creative development of a child, but also assists in advancing and refining his or her core skills, which in fact, goes towards boosting academic achievement as well.

Having extra-curricular clubs where young artists can pursue their hobbies can engage and augment a child’s cognitive and critical thinking abilities immensely. Cognition refers to the brain’s conscious mental activities, and includes thinking, reasoning, understanding, learning, and remembering. As such, the development of these functions is vital for all activities undertaken by a child. Fostering a healthy interest in arts and crafts, early on, in a child, can give him or her several key advantages;

Improved bilateral coordination

Bilateral coordination is the ability to simultaneously utilise both sides of the brain and is a good indicator of cognitive progress. Children who struggle with coordinating both sides of their bodies face difficulty in completing daily tasks like tying their shoes, conducting motor activities like stringing beads, and carrying out visual-motor tasks such as writing.

A critical skill to inculcate early on in a child, for example, dependent largely on bilateral coordination, is crossing the midline, which is the ability to reach across the middle of the body with one’s arms and legs crossing over to the opposite side.

This coordination ability is enhanced by creative activities since they simultaneously activate several different areas of the brain through absorbing tasks like using play-box ‘tools’, lacing yarn through holes, and various other craft activities such as splashing colours on canvas and moulding clay with their tiny hands. This is known to boost the fine and gross motor skills of students.

Improvement of hand-eye coordination 

Engaging in activities related to arts and crafts from a young age leads to tremendous improvement in hand-eye coordination. This will help a child during later primary school years when she or he is spacing out words or forming letters.

 Pursing arts and crafts has the inherent benefits of encouraging a child to exercise flexible thinking, de-stress, explore his or her individual creativity, and enhance learning through fun. [iStockphoto]

Enhanced focus

All forms of art, including sketching or dancing, require and train the perseverance and focus of a child, making them absolutely essential in enhancing his or her cognitive development. Art and craft must be an integral part of a school’s ethos, where a lot of topics and concepts are learnt through art forms. When teachers encourage children to put their creativity into practice, they boost their capacity to focus and grasp the subject matter at hand.

Strengthening visual learning

For young kids, painting, sculpting, and sketching play an important role in helping engage and evolve their visual skills, while also improving their knowledge of spatial relations.

When children draw items that are specific and correlated, like objects which are thick and thin, smooth and rough, far and near et cetera, they are able to easily understand the concepts of distance, size, comparison, and textural differences, in a rudimentary manner, which augments their fundamental visual analysis skills.

As such, arts and crafts help educate students in interpretation and criticism, showing them how to make choices based on visual information, which pure academics offers limited scope in achieving.

Activities like learning the guitar, jewellery-making, etc, need visualisation and memorisation of complex designs in mind. Visual processing and spatial relations are crucial in performing basic skills such as riding a bike or playing ball games, and an underdeveloped skill capacity may greatly hinder this functioning.

Advancing decision making/problem-solving skills

When we draw, we have to pay attention to various physical attributes of an object in order to depict it with accuracy. When a child draws a house or a tree, for instance, they employ their cognitive skills to determine, for instance, the relative size of the person standing next to it, or where the door should be. These entail problem-solving and decision-making skills that are being constantly applied and hence, assimilated during these exercises involved in producing artistic projects.  

A study was performed in Scotland, where primary and secondary school teachers were asked how they view the teaching of the arts in their classrooms.

Wilson, MacDonald, Byrne, Ewing & Sheridan (2008) demonstrate that “The arts were also seen as encouraging transferable skills of benefit in other areas of the curriculum, particularly literacy and numeracy.

"Primary teachers suggested that the potential of the arts for teaching other areas of the curriculum (for example, maths through music, English through drama) was insufficiently realised”.

Through years of experience, teachers often learn that the incorporation of arts into the curriculum delivery is something that can in fact help students to learn core subjects. Informing teacher of the benefits of art incorporation early on can shape their teaching methods and have more of a positive effect on all students in a classroom.

Pursing arts and crafts has the inherent benefits of encouraging a child to exercise flexible thinking, de-stress, explore his or her individual creativity, and enhance learning through fun.

This is why it is extremely important for parents and educators to encourage children to take up arts and crafts and provide positive reinforcements.

This, in turn, will help advance their academic standing and simultaneously promote their overall welfare.   

Arts and crafts;CBC;Education