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The Bigger Lesson

How crafting can teach lessons beyond art

On the surface, art class is fun. It’s a respite that takes kids away from the grind of math, science and English, it promotes creativity, and when it’s over, they go home with a finished project to put on the refrigerator.

But if that’s all that comes to mind when you think of the role of arts in education, you’re selling it short. Few things possess the ability to reinforce lessons from other subjects the way art class can, where a project can develop math skills, help with physical coordination and even plant the seeds of entrepreneurship in a child’s mind.

Opening up to the possibilities

What does art bring to an educational curriculum? Simply put, it allows educators to approach a subject in new ways. In contrast to simply working with pencils, paper and textbooks in a core class, art class helps students develop important life skills in a hands-on setting. Eddie Yvonne Mazarura, founder and CEO of Workshops Essayer in New York City, says the approach appeals to most kids, who are generally active, tactile, hands-on learners.

“You’re creating things that you wouldn’t normally be creating in a classroom setting,” Mazarura says. “Through art projects, you’re taking these concepts that are words on a page in another class and applying them to everyday life. When kids see how a concept is relevant to them, it makes much more sense.”

In workshops run by Mazarura’s organization, children are required to use math, science and beginning entrepreneurial skills, among others, to complete art projects.

“In a project, students might have to use fractions or percentages,” she says. “They might have to use measuring cups. So they’re thinking about basic math skills. And we use those skills in ways that get our kids to think in terms of some basic business concepts. We have also been working with some classes on creating different types of beauty products — things people use every day.”

As children grow and mature, crafting can help reinforce more advanced concepts, such as teamwork and completing a sequence of steps in order.

“Younger children, in kindergarten through second grade, might be able to grasp how to attach pieces together using brads,” Mazarura says. “Older children, we have them work on projects that involve sewing from patterns, using different materials and completing a project that requires different steps. It can sometimes be frustrating for kids as they learn, but you can see the process as the light bulb goes on in their minds and they start to figure it out.”

Learning by doing

It’s that “light bulb” that represents crafting’s biggest benefit as an educational reinforcement tool. Art allows children to observe first — teachers should always present a completed project at the outset — and then work through the steps to complete the project themselves, whether individually or as a group. Crafting classes are most effective when they include both types of projects.

“Few subjects touch as many educational areas as crafting and art,” says Helen Dolas, founder and CEO of Arts and Services for Disabled in Long Beach, California. “It builds social and emotional competencies and helps psychological development, as well. It touches physical development in the form of promoting fine motor skills. And, of course, it promotes appreciation of the arts. It’s an extremely important part of any well-rounded academic curriculum.”

Tips and takeaways

  • Factor math, science and beginning entrepreneurial skills into art projects.
  • Reinforce more advanced concepts, such as teamwork and completing a sequence of steps in order.
  • Art can contribute to psychological and physical development, as well as lifelong art appreciation.

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