Teaching Cooperation Through Crafting

How crafting can help children learn interpersonal skills

In a world where technology has made the distance between people shorter than ever, it is critical for children to develop interpersonal skills. Communication skills are essential to high achievement in academic pursuits and are essential to a productive and fulfilling career.

It all starts in those early years, as children progress through preschool, kindergarten and primary school. And as with all forms of learning, there is no substitute for hands-on experience.

That’s why crafting is such an important part of an educational curriculum. Crafting projects are, at their heart, a set of steps to follow and a series of tasks to complete — ideal for teaching children the basics of collaboration, cooperation and teamwork.

Start simple

Anna Roberts Ostroff, executive director of Arts For All, which provides arts education to disadvantaged students throughout New York City, says crafting projects should start off simple for younger students and gradually build upon each lesson to develop more complex collaboration skills.

“When we start out, it could be something as simple as teaching children how to share supplies at the table,” Roberts Ostroff says. “That starts to plant the seed about how everybody needs to work together to finish a project.”

From there, students can begin to incorporate the concept of sharing into the projects themselves, as teachers divide tasks among students, with each student required to complete his or her task to achieve a finished project. One student might have to cut out shapes, one might have to glue, and so forth.

“The term ‘ensemble’ is more of a theater term, but the idea can apply to visual arts, as well,” Roberts Ostroff says. “Students learn to perform together, they learn how each person’s role is valuable to the entire production, and if one person doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain, the entire production is a loss.”

Share ideas

As children age into upper primary school and intermediate school, they become capable of collaborating not only on tasks but also in thought. As opposed to giving students a step-by-step project to complete, teachers can give a team of older children an end product and let them discuss among themselves how to create it.

“In that case, the teacher’s role is more of a coach or mediator,” says Kimberly Watters, an assistant professor of studio art at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida. “You ask kids to bring their own ideas to the table, communicate and collaborate with each other, and dig deeper into the subject matter. It becomes more about thinking a process through, as opposed to just following steps.”

At the advanced intermediate-school phase, a collaborative crafting project generally takes place as part of a larger lesson plan. Students first learn about the prescribed subject matter, then use that knowledge to develop a collaborative dialogue.

“For instance, you might have a unit on public art, so you’ll take the class to see a public art installation,”

Watters says. “You’ll discuss it with them and use that as a jumping-off point to start the conversation in smaller groups.”

Teach lifelong lessons

Crafting projects stimulate teamwork development in a variety of ways, encouraging children to devise creative, collaborative solutions to problems while following prescribed processes and instructions.

“Projects like these offer a multifaceted package to students, where they’re learning on multiple fronts,” Watters says. “It’s not just about knowledge retention, it’s about working together to put that knowledge into action and use it to achieve a desired result. Those are skills that are very important once you enter the world of work.”

Tips and takeaways

  • Help younger students incorporate into projects the concept of sharing by dividing tasks among them — each must complete their task in order for the group to achieve the finished project.
  • Older students can start with a desired end product, and work together to decide how to achieve it — here the teacher acts as coach or mediator.
  • More advanced students will be able to incorporate collaborative dialogue into the curriculum.

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