I worked for several years as a Craft Specialist for a major retail chain. Being allowed to use and demonstrate new products for the store gave me a wide knowledge of a variety of crafts and artistic hobbies. I was also responsible for coordinating crafts with children, which as a teacher, was a win-win situation for me. I also made it a point to tell parents the educational benefits of the activity we were doing. It is incredibly important to me that a child have an artistic hobby, a creative outlet that allows them to produce something tangible.
Yes, children, really everyone, needs to get outside and be active. I walk every single day. However, my hobby is crafting - mostly making jewelry or knitting. That is a stationary activity and doesn't provide physical activity for me. So what good is it? There are many benefits that we don't even consider!
Probably one of the earliest crafts that kids participate in is using a modeling clay, such as PlayDoh. Not only is kneading the dough a stress reliever and quite therapeutic, building something that is in a child's mind, a favorite cartoon character for instance, is the beginning of pattern recognition and pattern reading. Children develop their own steps in production. What I mean by this is if a child is modeling an animal, in their minds they create the body, then the smaller parts - eyes, nose, ears. To them, these steps make sense. In school, they will be taught to do certain things in steps - order of operations in Math, steps in a science experiment, the writing process, or how a bill becomes law. One of their earliest understandings of steps is through craft play at home before school ever starts.
Puzzles are great for geo-spatial skills. Being able to visualize that a certain shape could or could not fit in a particular area will benefit children with geometry applications. Most of us use the lid of the puzzle as a guide in piecing it together which enhances our logic and classification skills.
As a pre-teen, my mother taught me how to macramé. Remember those great plant hangers and giant rope-like wall hangings from the 70s? Yes, that is one of the first crafts I ever learned. What skills did I learn? Reading directions and a pattern all the way through before even starting a project, which is essential for many school assignments. Being able to measure accurately became an essential skill which enhanced my skills in geometry and science. Reading and interpreting a written pattern is another great geometry skill as well as understanding that many things must be done in steps - just like the modeling dough mentioned above. Tying knots worked on my fine motor coordination as well as eye-hand coordination which helps in many school subjects from coloring, cutting and using glue to Physical Education classes and eventually to skills needed in a science lab. Finally, having a finished product that I can use in the home or give as a gift was a mental reward similar to the sticker I might get on a school paper.
If your child expresses an interest in an artistic hobby, help them explore it if at all possible. The benefits can only enhance their cognitive abilities and can ultimately translate into increased learning in school. If you have a craft that you know how to do, teach it to your child. Knitting, sewing, playing an instrument, woodworking, even an everyday activity like cooking all contain skills that children can benefit from. You don't have to tell them that they are learning. Check your local craft stores, especially in the summer, for craft classes for kids, and take you children to them. There are a many that are free.
Crafts and artistic hobbies are a great way to increase learning and understanding for all of us - young and old.