The Benefits of Arts & Crafts for Children's Learning & Development - Sticks & Stones Education

The Benefits of Arts & Crafts for Children's Learning & Development

The Benefits of Arts & Crafts for Children's Learning & Development

The benefits of arts and crafts is a critical component of children's learning as well as any curriculum in an education setting.  There is no doubt that arts and crafts are an enjoyable activity for children. It is also an integral part of their learning and development.

child drawing on a table with art products and wooden toys

From early mark making with chunky crayons and finger painting to using play dough and clay to create figures or objects. Children's fine muscle strength and dexterity develop through creative and open ended play. They learn to tell visual stories using their hands and this then supports their language and literacy development not only through school, but life.  

paint on a childs hand

The best form of creative arts for children is open-ended art which places the emphasis on the process of art rather than the final product. The creative process is far more important for children  than the final outcome. It involves granting children the freedom to interact with art materials in their own unique ways, as opposed to imposing expectations for the creation of specific realistic drawings, paintings, or products.

In the case of younger children, this approach entails allowing them to explore art materials using all their senses, aiding them in gaining familiarity with and comprehension of the world. For preschoolers, open-ended art encourages experimentation with various techniques, exploring the consequences, attempting innovative problem-solving approaches, and initiating the exploration of representational art. 

A string of adult designed craft, with all the same design and the same outcome is not the highest form of expression or learning that young children deserve! Open-ended art holds so many more benefits for young children's learning and development. 

Some of the benefits of engaging in the creative arts and crafts include:

Physical Benefits of Arts & Crafts for Children

  • Development of fine motor skills: As children move their fingers and hands, they help in develop their fine motor skills. The seemingly simple actions of holding a paintbrush or pencil helps to  strengthen muscles and improve control.
  • Enhances dexterity: With the enhancement of fine motor skills and much practice, a child’s manual dexterity, artistic skills, and speed will also increase.
  • Improvement of hand-eye coordination

child sitting at a table using scissors to cut

Social Benefits of Arts & Crafts for Children

  • Children can learn about their own culture as well and learn to appreciate art from other cultures.
  • Enhances self-expression. Children can express their feelings through the process of creating. 
  • Helps in socialising
  • Supports social confidence and peer relationships

Cognitive Benefits of Arts & Crafts for Children

  • Enhances creative thinking and nurtures problem solving.
  • Sharpens skills of decision making.
  • Enhances memory and visual learning
  • Children learn about colour, shape, pattern 

arts and crafts for children's learning and development

How can I support children's open-ended art?

Apart from allowing children dedicated time and space for independent exploration, there are additional ways to foster creativity at home, in an early learning setting as well as in the classroom. A great place to start, is with the careful choice of art supplies.

The following is a compilation of commonly available open-ended art materials that hold significant potential for enhancing creative thinking.

 Traditional Open-ended Materials with Creative Potential:

• Acrylic Paints
• Paintbrushes
• Watercolor Paints
• Eye-droppers
• Finger Paint
• Tape or Glue
• Clay or Play Dough
• Pipe Cleaners
• Pastels
• Chalk

Non-TraditionalOpen-ended Materials with Creative Potential:

• Cardboard Tubes
• Cardboard Boxes
• Craft or Popsicle Sticks
• Velcro or other Adhesives
• Wire
• Coffee Filters
• Recycled Food Containers
• String, Thread, Yarn, etc.
• Sponges, Tennis Balls, Golf Balls
• Leaves, Sticks, Rocks, or other Natural Materials
• Buttons and Fabric Scraps

How else can we support children's creative potential and artistic learning?

How we speak about children's art, and how we respond to their creative offerings also impacts their learning. When we acknowledge children's creativity rather than praising it, we are able to take children's learning to another level. When we use intentional and thoughtful language with children, we support their learning as well as how they feel about their creativity and their art. 

"When you want children to develop a healthy self esteem , celebrate and acknowledge their efforts, but do not praise them." Dr Louise Porter. How does this relate to children's artistic learning? Well, by being intentional we can support children through our words, acknowleding them rather than passing accidental judgements or making assumptions. 

I so often hear educators say: “I like your picture!” or "What a beautiful painting." And while both these statements are positive, they are laden with judgement. We are accidentally teaching children that they should seek approval from others outside of themselves rather than creating art for themselves. "A hallmark of open-ended art is children’s intrinsic motivation to create, without seeking to meet others’ expectations."

Instead we should acknowledge, validate and then ask open-ended questions. "Thank you for sharing this with me! You seem so excited by your work. Do you want to tell me about it?" By shifting  the emphasis on the educator or parent, we are redirecting the focus back to the child. This same response can be used when a child asks "Do you like my drawing." which is often a very tricky one to respond to. 

Open-Ended Arts & Crafts Experiences that Support's Children's Learning 

Art Ideas for Babies (0-1 Years Old):

  • Tummy Time Painting: Lay out a large sheet of paper and let the baby explore painting while on their tummy.
  • Sensory Bags: Fill a sealed plastic bag with paint and secure it for mess-free finger painting.
  • Texture Exploration: Introduce various textured materials for the baby to feel and explore, such as fabrics, feathers, or soft sponges.

Art Ideas for Babies (1-2 Years Old):

  • Exploration with Natural Brushes: Use leaves, feathers, or other natural objects as brushes for painting.
  • Torn Paper Collage: Provide magazines or old newspapers for tearing and creating collages.
  • Playdough Creations: Foster creativity by offering playdough with different tools for sculpting and shaping.

Art Ideas for Toddlers (2-3 Years Old):

  • Exploration with Playdough and Nature Items: Introduce natural items like leaves, twigs, or small stones for embedding into playdough creations.
  • Nature Collage: Collect leaves, petals, and other small nature items during outdoor play and use them to create collages.
  • Watercolor Resist: Apply a layer of white crayon on paper and let children paint over it with watercolors, revealing hidden designs.
  • Exploration with Textured Fabrics: Offer various textured fabrics (like burlap, silk, or velvet) for children to feel and incorporate into their artwork.

Art Ideas for Preschool Children Aged (3-4 Years Old):

  • Nature Printing: Collect leaves, flowers, or other natural items for printing on paper using paint.
  • String Painting: Dip string in paint and create unique patterns on paper.
  • Recycled Material Sculptures: Encourage building with recycled materials like cardboard boxes, paper rolls, and bottle caps.

Art Ideas for Preschool Children Aged (4-5 Years Old)

  • Storybook Illustration: Have children illustrate scenes from their favorite stories using various art supplies.
  • Mix Media Collage: Combine materials like fabric, buttons, and paper to create textured collages.
  • Shadow Tracing: Place objects with interesting shapes on paper and trace their shadows.

Art Ideas for Primary School Aged Children  (5-12 Years Old)

  • Found Object Sculptures:Use discarded materials to create 3D sculptures, exploring form and balance.
  • Comic Strip Creation: Encourage storytelling through the creation of comic strips with drawings and captions.
  • Abstract Watercolor Art: Experiment with watercolor techniques, allowing for free expression and blending.
  • Paper Mache Creations: Build structures or figures using paper mache and paint them once dry.
  • Upcycled Art Projects: Challenge children to repurpose old items into new artistic creations.
  • Community Art Mural: Collaborate on a large-scale mural, incorporating diverse ideas and skills.

Remember to adapt these activities based on the developmental needs and interests of the children. These open-ended art experiences not only support creative expression but also align with the principles of the Early Years Learning Framework, fostering a holistic approach to children's development.


Here's a list of recommended further reading on the topic of arts and crafts for children's learning and creativity:

  • "Becoming With Art in Early Childhood": This book is a piece of gorgeous art in itself and it is exactly what you need! It inspires the reader to think and do and above all, become, with art. The book contains a series of sketches of specific examples of art practice in early childhood settings, from writing songs about monsters with a child, to making with clay, exploring Aboriginal arts, working with pigments to teaching drawing and creating mosaics.
  • "The Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family's Life with Art & Creativity" by Jean Van't Hul: This book offers practical and creative ideas for art activities suitable for various age groups, promoting artistic exploration within the family.
  • "Art Workshop for Children: How to Foster Original Thinking with more than 25 Process Art Experiences" by Barbara Rucci: Barbara Rucci provides a guide for parents and educators with hands-on art experiences aimed at encouraging original thinking in children.
  • "Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children" by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky: Although not exclusively about art, this book explores the concept of "loose parts" in play and how it can inspire creativity and problem-solving in children.
  • "Beautiful Stuff!: Learning with Found Materials" by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini: This resource emphasizes the value of found materials in fostering creativity and provides practical ideas for incorporating them into art and learning experiences.
  • "Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem-Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art" by Susan Striker: Susan Striker discusses the importance of art in the development of toddlers, providing strategies for encouraging self-expression and problem-solving through art activities.
  • "Art and Creative Development for Young Children" by J. Fox and R. Schirrmacher:This comprehensive guide explores the role of art in early childhood development, providing educators and parents with insights into fostering creativity in young children.
  • "The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups" by Erika Christakis: While not solely focused on art, this book explores the importance of early childhood experiences, including creative activities, in shaping a child's development.
  • "Rethinking Early Childhood Education" edited by Ann Pelo and Margie Carter: This collection of essays touches on various aspects of early childhood education, including the role of art and creativity in fostering a holistic learning environment.
  • "Art Education for Social Justice" by Tom Anderson: While more geared towards educators, this book discusses the intersection of art education and social justice, exploring how art can be a tool for positive change.
  • "Art, Play, and Narrative Therapy: Using Metaphor to Enrich Your Clinical Practice" by Lisa Mitchell and Carmen Richardson: This resource delves into the therapeutic aspects of art, play, and narrative, providing insights into how these activities can be beneficial for children's emotional and cognitive development.

These readings cover a range of perspectives on the importance of art in childhood development and provide practical ideas for incorporating art into learning experiences.

References + Further Reading:

Creative craft activity or craptivity? - Anne Peters
Acknowledgement compared with praise - Dr. Louise Porter
Open-Ended Art: Fostering Creativity in Young Children
Encouragement vs Praise: What's the difference? - ACECQA 


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