It’s a Craft! It’s Fine Arts! It’s the Best of Both!

Boy woodcarving crafts

Crafts have become a staple in camps and classes of all kinds, keeping kids busy with their inexhaustible potential for fun and learning. But ask any parent or youth director, and you might hear something about the dark side of crafts. They can easily become expensive, messy, and wasteful.

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Especially in light of recent news about possible budget cuts in the arts nationally, we can’t help but wonder if green-minded, arts-advocating Millennial parents would be more excited about dragging home kids’ art projects if they see signs of a true artistic experience – like color, texture, and beauty that their kids can actually talk about.

So as we wrap up this National Craft Month, we wanted to explore some ideas for incorporating the fine arts into your summer craft planning with Leah Hanson, Manager of Family and Early Learning at the Dallas Museum of Arts.

First of all, Leah says there’s a time and place for crafts that simply keep kids busy, teach them how to follow instructions, and give them a chance to have fun with materials. That being said, she offers a couple of simple ideas to give center stage to the fine arts:

Explore Materials, but Also Express Ideas

Most craft projects will allow kids to explore tools and materials, but you can give a project more artistic focus by helping children express “what they think in their heads, or even what they feel in their hearts,” Leah says.

“When you give three-year-olds paper and scissors, they’re focused on understanding how scissors work and trying to control them,” Leah says. “So now you have all of these snip-snips, so how can we use them to create beautiful artwork for Mom and Dad?”

In one of Leah’s projects, children cut colored vellum paper and arrange the “snips” on clear contact paper. They seal the picture with a separate sheet to create a lovely suncatcher. “So you allow kids to do what is developmentally right for them, and help them put that with an idea,” she says.

Showing kids a work of art provides a tangible stimulus for the idea part of a project. Before the preschoolers in Leah’s class created their suncatchers, they viewed and discussed a work of stained glass called Window with Sea Anemone (“Summer”) by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Though Leah has the advantage of walking kids through art galleries, you also can stimulate ideas with books, an iPad, a color printer, or a natural outdoor setting.

Think about the Kids More Than the Project

“On their developmental level, what can this group of kids do, and how do they discover?” Leah says. Kids not only have developmental stages of skills, but also developmental stages of artistic growth. A good question might be, “What are the artistic interests of different ages?”

  • Preschoolers are focused on exploring, Leah says. So they need lots of margin for projects. For example, if two-and-three-year-olds make a painting, they need oversized pieces of paper. Help them find inspiration in shapes and colors they can “spy” in famous artworks, storybook illustrations, or natural settings.
  • Elementary-aged kids go through this stage where they think there’s a “right way” and a “wrong way” to do something, Leah says. This might be a good time to let kids create their own versions of famous masterpieces while learning about the different artists – those who both reflected and rejected cultural norms.
  • Older kids often are interested in making art that looks lifelike, Leah says. Find a helpful art book that introduces various techniques for realism. Perhaps have these kids paint or draw a still-life or start a sketchbook of nature drawings.

For your own exploration and inspiration, Leah offers three of her favorite websites. Check out,, and





National Single Parent Day: 6 Ways to Make Participation More Doable

Tyra Damm was widowed in 2009 when her husband Steve died of a cancerous brain tumor at 40 years old. Since the time of his diagnosis, Tyra has written a beautiful and penetrating blog about their journey as a family, including her transition to single parenthood. She also writes related columns for The Dallas Morning News.

Since today is National Single Parent Day, we called on Tyra to share some practical ideas about how camp and class directors could broaden their reach to children of single parents. Continue reading

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Earlier this week we highlighted some ideas for marketing to parent customers – particularly millennials – now the largest generation in nation.1

But your customers also include children and teens. While some advocates might discourage marketing to children in any form,2 we want to point out that principles for making sales and reaching kids can go hand in hand. Continue reading

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Much of the world is going on Spring Break this month, and even if this cultural phenomenon doesn’t apply to you, it doesn’t mean you don’t need it!  Did you at least honor last weekend’s National Day of Unplugging? A thousand brownie points to you if you did!

Unplugging is a difficult practice for anyone, but especially for business owners. The fact that you’re a business owner (and a kids activity organizer) actually means you need it even more. Continue reading

Why the Threat to the Arts Threatens Us All

Does your program teach and promote the arts?

Do you have a personal passion for the arts?

Do you have or know kids who have or could benefit from arts programs?

If you answered yes to any of these questions (which should be most of us!), someone in your world stands to be impacted by the funding risks that arts education programs and organizations are currently facing.1 Continue reading

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If you’re just joining our Valentine’s Week tribute to love stories that began at camp, be sure to read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Meet Josh & Rosie Bogard

Josh Bogard has been an overnight camper for 30 years – first as a camper and now as Head Boys Counselor at Iroquois Springs in New York. Every summer as a child, the night before Josh’s 8-week adventure, his father repeated these words:

“Be nice to all of the girls because you never know who you’ll meet.  Remember, I met your mother at camp.” Continue reading