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





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About Gina Calvert

Gina Calvert is the Senior Marketing Writer for ACTIVE Network, providing marketing and business resources for active lifestyle organizations across a range of markets, including government, nonprofits, camps, schools and endurance events, for more than six years.