It may surprise you to know, that I struggle greatly with how to encourage my children's artistic development. I'm not a very "good" crafter or artist, but I do enjoy it and I want my boys to find joy in it also. I've been starting to try very simple, classic crafts as an easy way to encourage my kids to be makers.
Recently my 5 year old turned paper dolls into Star Wars clone troopers and last week, my older son and I folded paper boats. In doing so, I learned a few parenting lessons about how to approach crafting with my kids.
I suggested to my 9-year-old that we make paper boats. Although he often declines my invitations to do a project together, he readily agreed to fold the paper boats with me.
I found a tutorial online (see below for the video!) and put it on my phone so we could both see it at our workspace. I suggested we start out by practicing with plain white paper and then move on to colored construction paper. After we made our prototypes we decorated them with little flags made out of toothpicks and tape. He seemed to really be enjoying himself.
When we worked on our colored boats, things started to go sour. The paper was obviously not a good fit for a folding project. It was hard to crease and it ripped during the last stage, sending my son into a pouting fit. In the end I rescued our session by bringing out a tray of water to test out our white boats, but the entire experience was enlightening.
I reflected on what I learned during our paper boat-making session ans came up with 7 lessons.
1. Prepare as much as possible
If I ask one of my kids if they want to do a project and then spend 15 minutes getting all the supplies ready they will have moved on to something else!
2. One on one time is better
Art and craft projects are infinitely smoother when I have only one of the boys. I can focus on my child's individual personality and cater to his needs. When I work on projects with both boys, my perfectionist older son and my free-and-loose younger son inevitably clash. Our art session devolves into a sibling rivalry match and I have to referee so much during the day, why add one more thing to the list?
3. Let the child lead as much as possible
Since we were working from instructions, I asked him to read them and help me figure them out. I could see him take ownership over the activity and that he felt being "in charge" was an important job. I only jumped in when I could tell he wasn't sure what to do. When I made my folds, I asked him, "Did I do this correctly?"
4. Help with trickiest tasks
The hardest part for my son was getting a really good crease. I made sure to help him with that at each turn as it would affect how well each subsequent step would go. I can read my kids pretty well by now and I knew if I insisted he do it all by himself he would have thrown the boat down in frustration.
5. Teach that mistakes are okay
Do not lose your cool or give up. When my son stomped away in frustration when his orange boat ripped on the last step I was tempted to throw in the towel, too. Instead I pointed that the white paper worked much better, the construction paper was simply too thick. Mistakes don't mean your technique is at fault. As we learn in school, failure teaches children to think like scientists.
There's a fancy term for this: growth mindset.
6. When frustration flares, distract and move on!
When the orange boat ripped and he didn't want to fix it, I simply suggested, "Why don't we see if our white boats actually float?" I knew that anything involving water play would be fun.
7. Keep trying
Some of you may leave a comment suggesting I have not accepted that my kids are not interested in arts and crafts, and why don't I just let them pursue their own interests for goodness sake?
Of course I know that art is not my kids' favorite subject, but does that mean I should abandon it? If your child doesn't like math, do you tell them they don't have to learn it?
Of course not.
I don't think art education is optional. It simply means, just as you would do with a child who doesn't like math, I have to work harder to find the key that will unlock their creativity. I don't ask that they become the next Picasso, just that they keep their minds open.
MORE PARENTING TIPS: How to get 10 minutes of peace!
And don't forget your video instructions to make that snazzy paper boat!