4 tips to keep kids focused during crafts programs
Watching kids' eyes light up at their own creativity is a gratifying experience, but if you've ever taught crafts to kids, you know all too well the challenge of igniting that creative flame. Here are some tips to help you prevent distractions and keep your group focused during craft time.
Do a dry run
Kids of all ages are easily bored, so it's important to plan your day's activities by setting an agenda. "We have found that having samples of what the finished project will look like, as well as detailed step-by-step instructions, is extremely helpful in keeping kids on task during the projects," says Daniel Rothner, founder and director of Areyvut, a nonprofit organization that provides fun and interactive programming for Jewish day schools, congregational schools, synagogues, community centers and individual families.
Instead of going in blind, do a dry run of your project idea before you share it with students. This will help you feel confident that you know exactly what is involved, including the potential challenges for children. "If you're going through a step-by-step lesson, you should make the project yourself first and pay attention to the length of each step," says Andrea Mulder-Slater, co-founder and producer of the arts education website KinderArt."
Set the scene
Positive energy goes a long way in inspiring youth; and it helps to have a charismatic personality. Before you begin a new project, paint a mental picture to help your students visualize their goals and destination.
For example, when Terina Nicole starts a class on sneaker design, she begins with background information. "I might provide a history of shoe design so they'll understand the context of what they're doing," says the modern leather artisan and freelance educator.
She does the same with classes in fashion accessorizing and design or related crafts for kids. "When I do a jewelry box class, I bring in a designed jewelry box so they can see what they'll end up with," she says.
The setting of the project can also help motivate your students. You wouldn't conduct an astronomy class in a ballet studio, and it's equally important to set the visual tone for your young students. "If a teaching space is filled with creative supplies and art hanging on the walls and ceiling, then I think kids are more inspired to dig in," says Mulder-Slater.
Designing an inspiring space could require some creativity. Can you bring in special props to enhance your project theme? Does it make sense to lead your project outdoors or out in nature? "If we all waited for state-of-the-art facilities with natural light and big worktables, none of us would be teaching art," Mulder-Slater says.
Encourage creative risk-taking
Motivation is a full-time pursuit, and kids will quickly lose interest if they feel they're off track or lacking in talent. "Ultimately, the goal when teaching art is to encourage students to take creative risks and not be afraid of making mistakes," says Mulder-Slater. "We get so caught up in doing things the 'right way' that we lose the ability to fail. I often tell my students that mistakes can be happy accidents, and if we don't mess up, we'll never grow or learn."
Children between the ages of 5 and 8 will jump in and try anything, but as they get older, they can become more self-conscious and aware of how their output stacks up against that of their peers, Mulder-Slater says. That's when it's important to be a source of encouragement. "It's sometimes helpful to give them a step-by-step foolproof lesson to help build confidence. Then the real job can begin," she says.
Keep lessons age-appropriate
Terina Nicole says she prefers teaching older students because they are usually in the class by choice, while younger children often participate because parents or teachers require it. "All little kids are very creative, but they can be distracted easily and just want to mess with stuff," she says. Keep boredom and mischief at bay by always planning projects based on the learning style and capabilities of your age groups.
"Anyone who has ever handed out a tray of paints to 5-year-olds know that they will inevitably begin mixing all the colors together to see what happens," Mulder-Slater says. "Let it be, but be prepared to redirect the focus to avoid chaos."
She also suggests developing what she calls "filler projects" to keep the faster students occupied while their peers finish. Crafts education should be a joyful experience for all and a medium to express energy, creativity and accomplishment. All it takes is a little preparation, energy and age-appropriate planning.
Key tips and takeaways
- Do the project yourself first to ensure the steps make sense and that you have a finished piece for an example.
- Create context by educating students about the project before you get started and by working in a space conducive to creativity.
- Let mistakes be part of the creative process so the lesson is more enjoyable for everyone.
- Lessen frustration by considering your students' ages, and let that guide expectations.