I was recently at a friend’s house when I looked over on her windowsill to see the most darling little pinch pot with a seedling inside, poking up from the soil. When I asked her about it she told me that her daughter made it in elementary school and it has been a treasure to her ever since. In fact, she had kept all of her daughter’s school crafts and her eyes lit up as she showed me each one. She adored the creations and all their imperfections were perfect to her.
This experience made me think about the role of gift-making in school and in particular, the art classroom. In years past I have balked at the suggestion that I could spend my precious curriculum time making kitschy crafts for kids to take home to their families. I still feel that way in some respects, but I now believe that there may be a place for gift-making in the art room when certain parameters are set and adhered to.
Benefits of Spending Time Making Gifts in Class
When students create a successful, low-risk craft, their success rate skyrockets and their self-esteem grows. Children who may not feel that accomplished in other art forms will experience positive feedback from a project like this.
Builds Confidence and Pride
Along with self-esteem, gift making projects can also foster new abilities which add to student confidence. Whenever we, as humans, make something with our hands, hearts, and minds, we feel pride. Students will be proud to give their handmade gift to someone special.
When students feel success and pride, they are more willing to take future risks and have an overall positive experience. They will feel more capable when more challenging tasks come along.
Builds Kindness, Generosity, and Compassion
Students of all socioeconomic levels can create something to give to people they care about. This sends the message that important, caring, and thoughtful gifts do not have to cost a ton of money. Giving every student an opportunity to create something for others spreads kindness and fuels generosity.
Tips for Creating Authentic Experiences
Build into the Curriculum Through the Standards
There are many ways to use the arts standards. When we attach meaning and authenticity to these experiences we are sending a message that our classroom addresses more than just craft. Using the standards to guide our instruction makes these experiences authentic and educational.
Build Creativity and Individuality
Select gifts that are not cut and glue crafts that require all students to make the exact same thing with the exact same materials and processes. Use a known craft as a springboard for more creativity and opportunities for students to show individuality.
Do it on your own terms and in your own way. Do not do it because another teacher asks if you can have the kids make something in your class for Grandparents Day.
Build Empathy and Accessibility
Do not make it centered on a particular family member like Father’s or Mother’s day. People have different family structures and students might not have both parents at home. This could turn something positive into something negative. Keep the topic vague and applicable for any and all.
I believe that by following these simple guidelines and providing students with the opportunities to create handmade gifts in class, we can teach valuable art and life lessons. Create gift making opportunities for your students that do not cheapen the curriculum but enrich the soul.
Lauren Hodson is a middle school visual and computer art educator in Plymouth, Massachusetts. As a mentor teacher and professional development presenter, Lauren is passionate about creativity and making art accessible for everyone. Her passions in STEAM and Arts Integration are at the root of her goal to collaborate with classroom teachers everywhere.