Arts and crafts don't simply create original artwork for your refrigerator. In fact, for kids, "arts and crafts play a very big role in developing critical skills for school and social functioning, as well as for life beyond the school years," says Laura Phillips, Psy.D., board-certified pediatric neuropsychologist in the learning and development center at Child Mind Institute in New York. Here, experts say, are three reasons why arts and crafts are very important to your child's development.
They help kids hone their fine motor skills.
Many arts and crafts projects give children the chance to learn how to grasp and control pencils, markers, crayons, paint brushes, and other handheld tools, "which will help strengthen and fine-tune the fine motor movements that they will later use for dressing, feeding, and handwriting in school," says Phillips. Plus, arts and crafts help kids "learn how to coordinate the movements of two hands together," as Phillips explains. "For example, when they draw by using one hand to secure a piece of paper, or when cutting by holding a piece of paper with one hand while using the other to manipulate the scissors. Bilateral coordination is really helpful [later] for typing."
Michelle Manske, mother to 8-year-old Henry in New York, noticed her son's fine motor skills begin to develop as he learned to manipulate a paintbrush. "It really helped with his pencil grip for school at a young age," she says, adding that, "we spent endless hours with simple projects such as gluing countless pom-poms on construction paper. Every time he had to pick up a tiny pom-pom and place it on the glue dot, he stimulated fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination."
They help kids learn to plan and problem solve.
While structured arts and crafts such as coloring books or packaged kits may provide guidance, more loosely-defined projects can encourage real creativity in kids. "The best part about arts and crafts is the creative possibilities are limitless," says Roseann Capanna-Hodge, Ed.D., L.P.C., and pediatric mental health expert. "Through art, children learn to explore their environment, learn about themselves, and develop their imagination. With art, there is no right or wrong—only what feels good to you. Children can live in the moment, and art is such a wonderful creative medium for kids to develop who they are."
Aubry Parks-Fried's 7-year-old daughter was never drawn to arts and crafts like other kids, says the Chicago mom. So, Fried encouraged her combine her love of the outdoors with art projects. "We would collect and paint pinecones, trace leaves, and imagine what Big Foot looked like," she describes. "It was important to show her that art is not limited to paper and set of crayons."
They help children develop cognitive skills.
Arts and crafts teach kids about spatial relations—think: fitting and gluing tiles on a template—and cause-and-effect relationships like when they learn mixing red and blue paint creates purple. They help children learn problem-solving and flexible-thinking skills, too. "In this way children, are also nurturing skills that underlie emotion regulation such as patience, self-control, and frustration tolerance," Phillips explains. "When they meet their goal, they then bank that success—which can also contribute to improved self-esteem and self-efficacy."
Manske's son learned self-regulation thanks to arts and crafts, she says. "He learned about cause-and-effect and patience; in order to layer the next paint color, you have to wait for the first one to dry," she explains. And, because Manske's son was drawn to woodworking from an early age, "planning out a project from start to finish helped him learn sequencing and formulate a creative idea into a tangible object," she adds. "If he wanted to build a boat and take it to the pond to watch it float in Central Park, there were so many skills and subject matters involved. We'd learn what materials can float, how to draw and create the boat—and then we'd enjoy 'testing it out.'"