Crafts for Kids: Open Ended Art Projects or Specific Craft Activities?

Updated on November 10, 2011
J.G. asks from Minneapolis, MN
9 answers

So, I love perusing the web and all of the awesome ideas for kids crafts and whatnot. The thing is, I find myself a little perplexed at some of the super cute yet super intricate craft activities for children. I feel like, if I give my son some materials to create, I like to see what he comes up with on his own. A 2.5, he doesn't do "directed" crafts or activities well....but more than that I feel like making a specific thing like "a flower" or a "tree" or a "turkey" doesn't give him creative license and could become more of a chore than a process...which is what I think arts and crafts are about.

The exceptions being things like...making birdfeeders, or cookies, or something that requires a specific process....I"m thinking more like "art" type projects.

I'm wondering about your thoughts on the topic. I'd love to hear what you do at your house?

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answers from St. Louis on

With my daycare, I do "direct" specific projects. Most parents reprimand me if the project is not "perfect". Drives me nuts to be found lacking simply because I allow freedom, exploration, & creativity.

I am not kidding you: I have been reprimanded for the star not being on the top of the tree! I was actually asked "where were you? Didn't you direct him?" !! LOL

That said, I do allow freedom with art supplies.....after the specific project is completed. Both examples are sent home....& very few parents applaud the child's efforts. So sad. In fact, just this week, one of the girls painted a color-by-number project...& then went to town with extra paint paper. She used a lot of brown, black, & orange.....& her mom was grossed out by her efforts. Again, so sad. I know that explosion of color went straight to the trashcan. :( & it was actually pretty danged good!

Oh, & one more thought: I do see an importance in directing the child. It teaches/reinforces listening skills & the ability to follow directions!

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answers from Chicago on

We do both. My 4 yr old does a few directed crafts at home (he gets plenty of specific crafts at school) but mostly I just give him some art supplies and glue and he goes to town.

My 2 yr old is only doing his own creations--right now it is not about the product, but the dexterity & sensory aspect of feeling the glue & various art supplies--paint, cotton balls, dried foods, kosher salt, etc.

I will have them do some directed crafts for Christmas, but I won't be hovering over them to make sure that their trees have the star in the right place, etc.

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answers from Savannah on

The problem with open ended crafts is that kids can get bored easily because there is no specific outcome they are working toward. Collages are a great open ended craft that you can do that will hold the attentions of little ones. Get all sorts of items- stickers, buttons, feathers, glitter, paper scraps, tissue paper, jewels, anything that can be glued down, crayons, large paper for background. If you want to do a themed project, you can stencil a turkey, Christmas tree, heart etc, or have the shape cut out, then the collage can go on the shape.

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answers from Kalamazoo on

I think a balance of both is good. At his age, he should be "freestyling" it. My kids are now 7 and 9 and we have always done both - give them a bunch of supplies and say "have fun" and also give them specific supplies to create a specific item (usually for holiday decoration or something). They like both ways! But I would say that at age 2.5 he needs freedom to express himself and should not be confined to "rules".

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answers from Cleveland on

at 2.5 it should all be able exploring a medium not making a perfect replica. I hate preschools that send home crafts that the teacher obviously made. How fun is it to watch an adult make a craft and then tell everyone you did it? Get some finger paint or makers and just go at it.

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answers from Chicago on

I think it depends...

For our girl scout troop, they very easily can accomplish some form of our desired outcome for the holiday crafts we do.

For a 2.5 yr old, I think it IS more about the process, the mess, and the clean up. Not to mention the praise for his creativity and sitting still!

I regularly get a good laugh out of "Family Fun" magazine and their perfect little crafts they show. I mean, an adult CLEARLY made them to be picture perfect for their magazine. There's no dripping glue, crossed eye snowmen, etc.

I think you'll find that for you and your son your crafting will evolve. Start with the idea of having fun, getting messy and teaching him that he needs to help you clean up. Eventually, you'll move onto real pumpkin carving, styrofoam snowmen and class diaorama projects.

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answers from San Francisco on

We've done both, but my kids always preferred to make whatever they wanted. For years I kept a big box in the kitchen where I tossed all the fun stuff for craft projects: TP/paper towel tubes, berry baskets, scraps of wrapping paper, plastic bottles, cups and lids, bubble wrap, you name it. The kids would get out their craft supplies (markers, scissors, glue, etc.) and go to town! I miss those days <sigh>



answers from Minneapolis on

I teach preschool, and at your son's age, it should definitely be all about the process. My students do both kinds of crafts/art, and they love the open-ended stuff as much (if not more) than the projects with a specific end in mind.

Two year olds should be learning how to use paint, fingerpaint, scissors (if he can; don't worry if he can't cut yet), paper, glue, and so on, with joy and abandon. There are good art books out there about doing art with toddlers, and those would give you tons of ideas.

I'm amazed by the comments the daycare provider made, about parents being mad at her if their child's project (can't call it art!) isn't perfect. Man, that would drive me nuts! I'm glad she has such a good sense of humor about it.

Projects like that are about following directions carefully, and about fine motor skills. That's not art. Open ended art explorations are actually art. Both have their place, but the free expression stuff is the best.



answers from Houston on

Scotch tape is a main staple for all things crafts at our house. I could hand my kid any material and a roll of tape and he'll be busy for hours. Our favorite materials are a package of straws, stack of paper plates, empty toilet paper tubes, a roll of aluminum foil, paper bags, plastic bags, styrofoam cups, cotton balls. I go to the nearby dollar store and stock up and save for a rainy day.

I also save Capri Sun boxes. They make great building blocks and are sooooo durable. I also save up empty food boxes but they aren't as durable as the CS boxes.

Who needs Lincoln Logs anyway???? :)

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