Updated: Sep 12, 2022
The Benefits of Crafting with Toddlers
By Philip Mott, philipmott.com
Arts and crafts activities are ubiquitous in the homes of anyone with a toddler—finger paints, watercolors, scissors, paper plates, and a box of broken crayons are all mainstays for this age. Most toddlers just can’t wait to get their hands on these messy supplies. Parents fit into a spectrum of structured and free when it comes to crafts. I’ve seen toddlers engage at all points along the spectrum; they seem to just like doing stuff. The most valuable lessons kids learn from both structured and free activities are getting unstuck and working through failures. Everyone will enjoy the crafting process more when you find ways to support them practicing these two skills. Crafts happen to be a great way to practice them, especially indoors.
Getting Stuck Being stuck is different for everyone. For a toddler, just being able to remove a marker cap can be a show-stopper to the activity. However, a 5-year-old may be more concerned with not being able to find the color they want. If the purpose of the activity is so that kids will learn how to deal with frustration, then you don’t want to pile the frustration on too high. A really great method for this is allowing the child to get themselves stuck instead of sticking them in it.
This is where the structured parent has more challenges. They give their children a fun activity that is too challenging. The parent ends up doing most of the work, and the little one doesn’t always get that feeling of accomplishment we want them to have. The value in getting stuck is the feeling we experience in freeing ourselves. If you’re stuck in a problem you don’t know the way out of, you’ll experience anxiety and sometimes extreme frustration. But if you’re the one who got stuck in the first place, then getting out becomes a lot easier.
A word of warning, just because they are more likely to get unstuck themselves doesn’t actually make getting stuck any less frustrating for them. You will hear and feel some intense emotions as they face new barriers. As a good friend has often said, “There’s no such thing as a good problem.” If it’s a problem, then it will feel like a failure, and there’s nothing that feels good about failing. I feel so proud of the kids when I see them overcome these challenges, though. I feel proud of myself for giving them an environment where they can learn what they are capable of.
Grieving Failure You may not feel that grief is the right word for describing a toddler’s failure. What is grief but lamenting the loss of something you love? The fact that toddlers don’t have much they love means that their grief is felt strongly over seemingly insignificant events. Just like adults, it’s not a process you want to rush too much. Sometimes you want to step in and solve the problem, and sometimes you want to give them space and time to solve it themselves. Sometimes you won’t know which one is the better one to do. Other times you’ll think you know and then second guess yourself when the situation gets worse.
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld is a children’s book that covers this process in such a relatable way. The young boy’s tower project falls apart, and several animals try to console him. They try to teach him ways to get over his grief quickly. In the end, a cuddly rabbit shows up and just remains close. The rabbit is the one who sees the boy through his grief. I read this story to my children recently and told them that I always want to be like the rabbit. I never want to rush them through their frustration.
Regardless of where you find yourself on the craft spectrum, I hope you find these two ideas helpful. The big value for our little ones is how they experience their own skills. I can’t remember a lot of the projects my kids have made over the years, but the times when they overcome something, or they grieve deeply about a project have really stuck with me. I’m thankful I could be with them in those moments because I think those experiences shape them significantly. The crayons and finger paints will end up in a drawer someday soon, but you’ll see evidence of the lessons learned for years to come.
About the Author
PHILIP MOTT is a homeschooling father to three and a monthly contributor to First Time Parent Magazine and FatheringTogether.org.