It is no coincidence that you often hear that key learning stages are referred to as the 'building blocks' of life. Building blocks have the most marvellous property that while a single block is uninspiring, small and unnoteworthy, put together with many others it can create the most fantastic palaces or castles, the greatest zoos or fun parks or the most wonderful houses. A building block is a unit of a much larger creation, and the possibilities of what a pile of blocks can become are limitless.
The same is true when it comes to learning fundamental principles. Learning letters is the first step on the way to learning to read and write; learning numbers is the first step to learning complex mathematics. Craft play includes many fundamental principles that help to develop fine and gross motor skills, as do sports and games. Each small step is repaid with much more value by way of long term reward.
Active children who participate in a healthy mix of games, craft and learning will be collecting 'building blocks' through life. These building blocks will make well rounded individuals, and in the same way that traditional building blocks can make almost anything, so fundamental learning blocks will create a child capable of almost anything they put their mind to.
Children love a bit of messy play and this spell of fine weather gives the perfect opportunity to make potions in the garden! Give your little ones a selection of little pots and a large mixing bowl and encourage them to find different ingredients to make a potion. Stir together sand, water, leaves, some small stones, perhaps some flowers such as daisies or dandelions. Look for small items around the garden that can all be mixed together.
Talk with your little one about what the different ingredients do? Perhaps the flowers make it taste sweeter, perhaps grass cuttings and leaves help to turn the drinkers skin a green colour? Pebbles might be to help make the potion more digestible, strips of bark from trees and a few twigs may give you strength.
Of course, stress that this is only pretend and that your little one shouldn't really drink it, but at the same time, fire up their imagination and see what they can pretend this potion is for. Describe the different textures of the ingredients and discuss whether they make the potion easier to stir, or lumpy, or change colour and so on. Observe the changes as more ingredients are added. Above all, have fun!
Role play forms a natural part of childhood, before long your little ones will assume characters in different scenarios and act out the different parts. Often role play is based on what children have observed, such as caring for younger siblings, keeping a shop or playing doctors, families or schools. As their imagination grows, so they begin to play made up scenarios such as fairies or princesses, explorers or monsters!
Role play offers many lessons to a developing child; clearly pretend play extends language and social interaction as children play with one another, or with a parent. Make believe nurtures imagination and helps children to develop abstract thought where they can extend the rules of the physical world into their pretend world. As they play they are developing their understanding of the world, learning to solve problems and learning the ability to view the world from the perspective of others.
Many role play games reinforce gender stereotypes from an early age; this seems to be a natural part of early play. Doctors and nurses and mummies and daddies might seem politically incorrect in this day and age, but the lessons learned from free play are much more important than lessons enforced about gender stereotyping at this young age. Any separation along lines of gender simply mirrors their understanding of the world through their own observation, and is done entirely innocently.
Other role play games reinforce notions of good and bad; cops and robbers, fairies and witches, cowboys and indians or simply goodies and baddies all draw lines between the good side and bad side and children dividing themselves in such ways will conform to the expected behaviour.
Young children should be encouraged in their make-believe worlds. They might be asissted with dressing up clothes or large props such as play houses or camps, but at the end of the day, children will be children and will explore their imaginary worlds even without these!
Here at ToucanLearn we offer a lot of art and craft based activities, besides keeping children occupied, there are very practical reasons why art and craft is important to learning children.
Before they can talk, art offers young children a way to express themselves and communicate ideas. Just as their sounds may not make much sense, so their splodges and scribbles may not mean an awful lot to you, but they are communicating ideas and this gives children a sense of freedom that develops further with language. They are also using their imagination and expressing what they see and experience in an abstract form.
Craft offers a way to explore the physical world. Art is tactile, you are experiencing different materials and textures, and interacting with objects to understand how they 'work'. There are malleable materials such as plasticine, sticky tack and dough; there are items that bend into shape and stay that way such as pipe cleaners, wire, even paper when folded and tucked into shapes. There are runny substances like paints and glue, they can be poured and spread. The variety of craft materials that a toddler experiences helps them explore the physical world and teaches the how different materials act.
Craft is about making decisions, not important ones, but decisions all the same. The thought processes that go on whilst your little ones are being creative inform their approach to problem solving. What are the options to make a googly eye stick to a piece of paper? Which one is best in this situation? How do I apply glue to the back of a small googly eye? As adults these 'problems' are second nature, but to a young child, these have to be learned and the lessons learned at this stage of their lives will inform all sorts of practical needs throughout the rest of their lives.
Of course, craft is also about developing fine motor skills, the ability to colour in within the lines; to stick glitter to parts of the page; to roll a piece of card into a tube and stick it into place. All of these and so much more rely on the ability to control hands and fingers in ways that are easy for adults but for children form an important part of learning. How can they learn to write when they get to school if they still haven't mastered fine control of their hands?
In addition to being graded according to the Early Years Foundation Stage areas of learning and development, all the activities we offer at ToucanLearn are classified by one of four overriding key development areas: making, moving, learning and speaking (relating to communication more generally). Most craft activities are classified as 'Making' activities with the focus on development of fine motor skills, but as you can see, art and craft activities help to promote development in all four of these key development areas!