Sunday, November 30, 2014

Children's AUTHENTIC Art vs. Classroom Craftivities

Authentic Art: VERY Hungry Caterpillars via Debbie Clement at RainbowsWithinReach


WELCOME! Chances are good this is your first time here. WELCOME!

In my travels across the country wearing my author-illustrator hat, I see an entire continuum of children's work. Children's art. Children's crafted projects. Children's "craftivities." From soup-to-nuts hanging on bulletin boards in classrooms and hallways from sea to shining sea, I grade the building's 'teaching' by what I see on public display

I am typically making a one day visit. I have my camera ready. I take pictures. A TON of pictures. I share them here. The whole time my brain is going roughly 100 miles an hour. I have an interior commentary running the whole time. Keep in mind that I am a former elementary school art teacher. That is my degree. That is my training. That is my passion: children's art. I BELIEVE that children can be prepared for the future by NURTURING their innate creativity. I believe it is our responsibility to provide opportunities that TEACH them to develop their creativity while affording them time and resources to learn about collaboration in the process. 

Authentic Children's Art vs. Craftivities at RainbowsWithinReach

When I saw these AUTHENTIC drawings in Miss Young's Dallas preschool classroom earlier this month, I took a moment to R*E*J*O*I*C*E! See for yourself the evidence of an entire class set of AMAZING work! Celebrate the reality of what  FOUR YEAR old children are capable of drawing, capable of creating, capable of rendering! AUTHENTIC ART!!!

It can be done!!! With even the simplest of crayons and paper plus a LOT of observation, a whole ton of directed observation, with adult guidance and support, you've seen what can be accomplished. You've seen the proof from Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary's PreK: MASTERPIECE upon MASTERPIECE!

As a reminder, let me share the ORIGINAL one and only Eric Carle as he reads his classic gift to children of EVERY generation! Take a careful look at his art, because soon we are going to take a close up walk through the children's response to his work. I want it FRESH in your mind! 

So what exactly do I mean by the term "AUTHENTIC" as it relates to children's art? 
Let us turn to the dictionary for further clarification. 

Definition of "AUTHENTIC" as it relates to Children's Art Work via RainbowsWithinReach

I LUV the idea of 'GENUINE' being applied to the work {and ART work} of children. That which is 'real, bona fide, true and veritable' also resonate with me. 

We have ALL seen science fair projects that we know were created by at least one of the parents-in-residence. We have also ALL seen {art} projects that were created, or HEAVILY supervised by adults. What is the difference you ask, to those efforts created independently by children?

I have written about children being ALLOWED to be independent in their artwork before. Here's one of my favorite examples from a two year old classroom. Which student had 'supervision' from the classroom volunteer? WHY do adults feel the need to intercede? Adjust? Fix? Alter? Do you feel compelled to tweak your student/child's artwork? Why is that? 

Independent Artwork for Children vs. Adult Intervention: What Does it Teach? at RainbowsWithinReach

Let's take a look at the antonyms of the term authentic. We will consider bogus, counterfeit, fake, false, mock and phony as we continue our conversation together today. I will allow you to insert your favorite choice from this list at the times you feel appropriate, while viewing children's work in this article. 

The OPPOSITE of Authentic: as it relates to Children's Art Work {via RainbowsWithinReach}

This past Tuesday, I took the spotlight in our ongoing Teacher Twitter Chat. We were discussing the role of creativity in the classroom and how educators (and parents) can encourage creativity in the children of their world. Fascinating chat. Fascinating interaction. [Read the entire Storify archive to share in the conversation.] 

I tweeted this next example of an entire bulletin board's worth of 'CRAFTIVITY,' as observed during my travels. In my initial 'tweet' I asked what this type of activity teaches our students about creativity. {Insert your antonym of choice now:___________.}

Example of "Craftivity" included as the Antithesis of AUTHENTIC Art at RainbowsWithinReach

There were quite a few tweets in response to my question, including comments from other tweeps that weren't even participating in our chat experience. [The magic of Twitter is that the conversation expands through ripples beyond the initial audience.]

My favorite hashtags that got attached to the work above: #snark and #Pinterestfail. 
I felt directed to re-share my tweet that followed the initial question..... 
"What does this type of 'work' teach our students about creativity?" I didn't want there to be ANY doubt as to where I stood on the issue. 

Example of "Craftivity" included as the Antithesis of AUTHENTIC Art at RainbowsWithinReach

When I initially photographed the penguin bulletin board above, it compelled me to write this article over at our collaborative blog "PreK+K Sharing" on the differences between "Process + Product" as they relate to Art. That article is our number two read article of all time. The continued popularity of that article gives me encouragement. People are interested in the differences between the two. Interest implies consideration. 

Process vs. Product in Children's Art at RainbowsWithinReach

It is in that earlier article that I call the penguin march, 'the march of the Stepford penguins', but in all fairness I do say that there are some things learned about following directions and fine motor skills in a craftivity such as this. For example I mention that surgeons need to be good at following directions and honing their fine motor skills. Honest. I get that.

I conclude the Penguin example with this next comparison. 
Same materials: construction paper and glue.
Which classroom of children has the opportunity for some originality, some creativity, some uniqueness expressed? 
Which children are being asked to THINK? To CREATE?

[***While not necessarily TRULY process-driven, 
the examples at the top of this next image are considerably more "OPEN-ENDED" in their approach. Please don't get tied up in semantics and miss the point.]

Examples of open-ended vs. close-ended projects for children {process vs. product} at RainbowsWithinReach

You don't have to take my word for the value of authentic Art. 
Here's an excerpt from a FREE PDF Handout 
from this summer's ECE conference at ETSU. 
Take the word of Dr. Carol Russell. 
By ALL means download the entire handout and share liberally! 

Arts for ALL: AUTHENTIC Art for Children {via RainbowsWithinReach}

According to Dr. Russell?
Read for yourself. 
Craftivities can frustrate children, 
leading them to question their own creative abilities. 
Perhaps even MOST importantly, craftivities: 
I SECOND that observation!
Where's the AMEN-corner? 

THE Jack Hartmann, Moi, "Pete-the-Cat" ETSU 2014

*I was one of the keynotes at this same ETSU ECE conference last sumer. 
I wrote about their SWEET Reggio inspired conference display in this article
BTW: a Reggio approach and craftivities would be on opposite poles of a continuum on approaches for working with children.

"Reggio Style" Documentation Approach in Early Childhood

*I have had the great good fortune of touring across Reggio Emilia in Italy and performing for the Italian children. I have shared quite a few pieces from my first hand observations and travels in Reggio. 

Here's another FREE handout: 

Now back to our little hungry caterpillars. 
Let's take a close look at the work of these four year olds. 
There is indeed an entire continuum of 'capability' within the classroom, when it comes to rendering the subject matter at hand. This classroom is no different.
What do I LUV about these next 'emerging' drawings?
They are gen-u-ine! They are AUTHENTIC! 

AUTHENTIC Children's Art: Response to Eric Carle via RainbowsWithinReach

The three examples above are those LEAST like Carle's creeping protagonist.
Each drawing still makes complete sense to the observer in context of the assignment.
They are indeed in the style of Carle. 
Similar coloration. Similarity in shapes.
It is possible to identify legs and heads. 

What do these three examples above document? 
EVERY child was allowed to convey and yes, perhaps even 'struggle' with their skill set and the project presented. 
No one has interceded with a stencil. 
No one has been handed 5 green + one red construction paper circles. 
Every effort is valued and hangs with the class display! 
Miss Young proclaims that YOUR work matters.... 
whatever the approximation! 
And folks. That is what makes it AUTHENTIC!


From your own observations!!!
With the skills that you have today! 

Take a look at these next very hungries! 
They even have little hairs emanating from the body!
That's a lot of observation and quite probably originating from a meaningful discussion. 
Caterpillars = science. 
Now we're adding the A for Arts to the equation:

Did you remember the color of the antennae? 
I am just tickled purple at this detail! 

Look how each of the next artists deal with the coloration of the antennae. 

If I were the parent of a four year old and even if I had never ever seen Eric Carle's classic, I would be THRILLED to receive my child's drawing from the enthusiastic Miss Young, I would recognize that it deserves a frame!

I KNOW that it is my child's original, purposeful, AUTHENTIC work! 

What is not to LUV LUV LUV about these drawings...... 
Even if they are not from my own tribe!
They literally SING to me of what childhood entails.  

It is absolutely impossible to choose a favorite. 
Each drawing is entirely and incredibly UNIQUE! 

What a fantastic rendering. 

So innocent. 
So child-like. 

Four years old. 


Immediately after I returned from NAEYC and this incredible school visit, 
I shared some immediate observations on the writing 
my author visit ignited in the first graders. 

Elementary School Author-Illustrator School Visit with Debbie Clement

Now let's shift gears. 
Trade crayons for tissue paper.
Here's a glimpse at some more 'mature' artists. 
Also ironically from Texas. 
Also AUTHENTIC work. 

You know one way I can tell the work is authentic? 
The kids are THRILLED to share it with me!
They know that it is THEIR OWN! 
They are SO EXCITED! 

They know that their work is unique, genuine and original! 

Tissue Paper Art for "Very Hungry Caterpillar" via RainbowsWithinReach

Those toothless grins are the REAL DEAL! 
Want to see more of these tissue paper caterpillars? 
Go back in time to my earlier school visit. 


AUTHENTIC Art versus Craftivity: Examples, Opinion and Insight at RainbowsWithinReach

So what would a 'craftivity' of a caterpillar look like? 
Just go to google images and you will be bombarded. 
Do a search on Pinterest and be prepared.

We have all seen a project similar to this next one. 
The letter "C" forms a caterpillar created by circles.

I give you letter formation craftivity example #1.
BTW: This is also the work of a four year old. 

Don't get me wrong.
There is 'something' to be said for approaching letter recognition
from a 'physicality' stance.
This child is learning about shapes: circles to be exact. 
This child is learning about glue. 

Just don't confuse this type of activity with creative expression.
Finger dexterity, fine motor control, eye-hand coordination, exploration of materials: check.
People. Honestly. I get that. 

But when your every wall is covered in this type of work,
when there is absolutely NO 'evidence' of any original open-ended work, 
when there is no easel in the room, 
when there are NO examples of open-ended work on display, 
when there are no "loose parts" from which to create ephemeral experiences,
when every child's circle filled, letter C is interchangable with another's....

 I am SERIOUSLY concerned about the independent and authentic spirit of your students. 
What happens to that innate child-like, authentic creativity?   
I will also submit to you this image below, from one of my earlier Eric Carle RoundUPs, as craftivity example #2. 
I have seen this exercise replicated in numerous schools, 
in various states across the country.
Behold the power of Pinterest. 

Very Hungry Caterpillars from Eric Carle RoundUP via RainbowWithinReach

Compare this set of Buckeye caterpillars above, 
where the adults have pre-cut the facial features for the children,
to their northern {Michigan} counterparts below, 
where at least the facial features were child-directed.

*Two points for the students creating their 'own' faces.
See what a HUGE difference even that detail makes!
[I can applaud our MI counterparts this weekend, since the Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines this Saturday on the football field. I digress.] 

Construction Paper Crawling Caterpillars (via RainbowsWithinReach)

Here's my RoundUP of dozens and dozens of projects 
in response to Eric Carle's MANY books. 
I will warn you that they range across the spectrum of AUTHENTIC to "craftivity." 

Many of the projects pictured in the RoundUP are somewhere in the middle. 

Eric Carle Birthday Bonanza Bash: Children's Art Response to the Classics at RainbowsWithinReach

Here are two different MEGA over-sized caterpillars, 
where each young child has created a 'process' open-ended, finger-painting to add to the teacher crafted bulletin board's final presentation. 

This is a win-win in my book! 
Especially so for the toddlers.
Let's make HUGE, over-sized, participatory connections to books! 

Individual circles of 'open-ended' paint exploration converted into Very Hungry Caterpillar Bulletin Board (via RainbowsWithinReach)

Bulletin Board of Eric Carle's Hungry Caterpillar as Process Art for Early Childhood via RainbowsWithinReach

So WHY is it that 'some' teachers so FREQUENTLY veer more toward the craftivity end of the continuum over authenticity? 
Inquisitive minds want to know.
What do you think? 
Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

It must be something about penguins. 
I just had a mom leave this image on my FB fanpage. 

Children's AUTHENTIC Art vs. Classroom Crativities at RainbowsWithinReach

If you are going to go craftivity..... then by all means it is absolutely CRITICAL to give children the pieces and parts and allow them the freedom in assembly of the project. Here is a penguin craftivity where the students have obviously done the 'work' of constructing the puzzle on their own. 

Authentic Art vs. Classroom Crativities at RainbowsWithinReach 

I have another set of authentic examples that I will post NEXT Sunday, 

with my rambling thoughts on this CRITICAL question. 

If you're looking for AUTHENTIC art examples, 
pop over to this article for a tad more inspiration! If you want to see authentic drawings for Mother's Day, you'll want to go back to this collection. 
When I was the art teacher at Parkside Elementary in snow covered WI, my favorite way to direct authentic student work was to have them respond to the illustrations within picture books. Just as our Miss Young has directed at the outset of this article, I chose illustrators whose work was bold and inviting. 

One of my favorite 'cyber-Art teacher personalities' is Patty Palmer of "Deep Space Sparkle." By following her blog, you will have immeasurable continuing education on this issue. I would direct you specifically to start with her article where she has organized 60+ Art Projects in response to Children's Literature! BRAVO!! BRAVO!! 

About Patty Palmer and Deep Space Sparkle

It is my dream to collaborate with Patty {and Art + classroom teachers of this caliber} in directing children to respond to the graphic fabric illustrations that I designed and created for my own three picture books! I have been on both sides of the busy teacher's desk. It is an absolute joy to work together!

Three Picture Books by Debbie Clement of Rainbows Within Reach

As an illustrator, I LUV LUV LUV to see how teachers direct their students to create 
AUTHENTIC work in response to my illustrations. 

Here's THE LARGEST collaboration ever! 

When all 330 NY Kinder-kids had created their unique quilt square, the finished collaboration stretched edge to edge across the school's entire gymnasium!!!

Imagine walking in to this "GREETING" from a downpour outside! 

Want to 'see' what that backdrop looks like 'in action'? 
Take a quick peak as I open our morning Author's presentation!

Yes! The song that you just heard is one of my original "Debbie's Ditties." 
"Glad I'm at School Today!"
I am best described as a multi-disciplined artist!   

Now. Look at the beauty and the graphic integrity of these Tennessee 'quilt' squares in anticipation of my arrival! 
What a great study by Kinder-kids in both geometry and design! 

AUTHENTIC Kindergarten Art in Response to Debbie Clement's picture book, "You're Wonderful"

Here's an amazing project back again in Texas. 
Yes. It seems that my friends in Texas are doing an outstanding job at supporting original and unique, authentic Art in their youngest students! 

AUTHENTIC Kindergarten Art in Response to Debbie Clement's picture book, "You're Wonderful"

Now let's shift to my newest book, "Red, White and Blue". Here's the largest 'patriotic' collaboration created in response to my patchwork pieces. This is the incredible work of Kinders in central Illinois, under the direction of their US Army Veteran teacher, Carie Ramirez. Their construction paper quilt was created by MARBLE painting the individual papers prior to construction. You seriously need to go see how she pulled that off! 

Every blue moon, my time in a school allows me to create more of a 'residency' where I get to direct the students myself in response to my work. This article documents the student directed work in an Arts magnet school in South Carolina. Oh HAPPY Day! 

Here's the greeting created by mature second graders in Indiana! 
LUV me some fellow bloggers that share my work!! 
Thanks to Hilary for hosting this visit! 

I am always THRILLED to speak at conferences and 
give staff development seminars. 
Sharing my insight with other teachers is a gift. 

BUT when I get to walk into a school that has focused on my work before my arrival? 
That is a gift from heaven! 

Debbie Clement Searches for School Visits as Author-Illustrator (ESPECIALLY in handy Florida!)

During the school year we live in Florida! 
I have oodles of time available to come to your school!
Especially if I don't have to go through airport security to get to you!  
Let's hug in person and continue this conversation up close!! 


Would you be an ADVOCATE for the Arts? 
Would you pin this image?
Would you bring others to the discussion?
Would you share in your circles of influence? 
Your pin helps! 
As does your tweet and shout out on Google +!!!

A HUGE thanks to +Deborah Stewart for sharing this article from her FB Fanpage with over a million followers! As a result I have had an enormous number of new visitors and I am grateful! 
Will you send out your ripple? 

AUTHENTIC ART versus Craftivity: The Conversation at RainbowsWithinReach

I am truly interested in your thoughts! 
Please share your insight! 
Please leave your comments below. 

Here's a parallel article from one of my blogging buddies: 
Go over and read 
"My Child's Art is a Pinterest Fail and Why that makes me Happy" 
*Thanks Jamie. 

Collaborative Pinterest Board for Children's Art (Process over Product) hosted by Debbie Clement

Speaking of Pinterest...... 
{You remember I do LUV Pinterest, right?}
Just because an image is cute and easy to replicate,
doesn't mean it deserves your time and materials!  

I host a collaborative board for Children's Art
I've asked the contributors to pin their PROCESS, open-ended, AUTHENTIC posts. 
I can see that folks deviate from that directive at the holidays. ALAS. 
You will have to sort back through the 8,000+ links to find the best of AUTHENTIC Art. 

I've already done the window shopping for your ease. I am an affiliate at Amazon. When you click from here to do your shopping, I am rewarded financially and it costs you NOTHING! Win-win-win! Thanks for clicking through! 

There is an entire industry of creations to support this amazing work. Maybe just a few more?
These next ones are included for the 'serious' new grandmothers included in my readers. 


  1. I teach pre-k in a public school in Ga and we are not encouraged to do craftivities and to tell the truth I can't stand them anyways. It is way more work for the teacher than the student. The closest we come to a craftivity is me giving them construction paper, scraps of paper, and glue and have them to make something from these materials. For example we studied turkeys and a small group lesson was to use shapes to create a new object, so they made turkeys from paper shapes. All were different and all were perfect.

    1. Carrie!!!! It is a thrill and a pleasure to HEAR that others are also on the wavelength of allowing children the freedom to explore with materials as their interest dictates. Your example of the turkey is PERFECT! Yes, we expose children to the same materials at the same time. Yes. We often are using those materials to respond to a specific artist, theme or holiday. YES!!!!! In the end, if done 'well' each child has a unique and original piece of creativity that reflects their OWN effort, inspiration and insight. YEAH! I'd LUV to come to your school and see for myself!


  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I've been saying the exact same thing for the last 20+ years. I'm an Early Childhood teacher and only display authentic art (we still have craftivity for a variety of reasons/outcomes but I usually send those home). I too shake my head when I walk into a classroom that has 20+ examples of the same craft rather than 20+ examples of creative, imaginative, independent, individual, authentic art. I definitely be sharing this with my colleagues at school. Thanks again .... one very happy teacher here!!!! :)

    1. It is great to see that I am "preaching-to-the-choir" (as my dad would say.) I'm glad that I can support your efforts to give children their own individual, independent and authentic art. Those of us that 'get' this need to speak louder and stronger into our advocacy bull horns, because if my travels are any indication, I am afraid that we are in an ever shrinking minority opinion on this matter. I am so grateful for your sharing this article with and and all who will take the time to read, consider and evaluate what they are doing on behalf of children -- when it comes to the creative process..... which I believe is the foundation of all that is to follow!


  3. I absolutely agree, except that I would say that often "craftivities" may be about fine motor skills and learning to follow directions, than about an artistic response. Many grown up projects projects such as patchwork quilting or cabinetry require skill in following directions and a pattern, whilst still being able to be original and creative. I would say that the caterpillar chains where the children were able to cut the facial features themselves was a good opportunity to practise some tricky fine motor skills, follow some complex instructions and throw in a little dash of creativity. There absolutely needs to be a good balance, though- or perhaps even a slight imbalance, leaning in favor of opportunities for the authentic artistic response.

    1. So glad to hear your rationale behind choosing the occasional 'craftivity' to present to young children. As a quilter myself, I certainly nod in agreement about craftsmanship arising from the ability to follow directions with a finely discerning sense of skill development. My concern arises when we only allow children that 'small dash of creativity' within an ever increasing amount of teacher-directed activities, and calling those ART. By all means, children NEED to have ample opportunities with scissors and glue and all of the rest of the pieces and parts that allow ultimately for creative expression. Knowing when to chose what and having that imbalance toward the AUTHENTIC is what I advocate as well. Let's allow their innate creativity an opportunity to shine, grow and flourish!


  4. This is so "spot-on" for kindergarten students! I would hope that pre-k students may have already been exposed to many materials for creating their own expressive art. However, most of the students I see have not been exposed to crayons or other tools of the "trade". I take the job of introducing them to the world of art-related media very seriously. Craftivities have their place during the beginning of the year because they can assess pattern awareness or following multi-step directions, but after first quarter, it's ON! It is not a stretch to think kids can create with a variety of materials on their own, especially because they have been practicing this with their illustrations during writer's workshop. I love this article, and the NUMEROUS references to resources and other ideas to help teachers implement "real" art in the classroom. The best laid plans are no plans as far as expressive art is concerned. Just give kids papers, glue, scissors, markers, twistables, wiggle eyes and other chachkies and see what happens! I plan to do this with our first project this Friday! Our general theme will be holidays, and first up is Santa. This can be repeated with dreidels or menorahs, Kwanzaa symbols and more. Snow people are especially fun because every child's interpretation is very unique, and just watch the writing explode as they begin to write and tell about their creation! Thank you for bringing this to our attention again Debbie! It needs to be a conversation on the national level. I worry that children are just falling into that "standardized" mode with artistic expression, and we cannot afford to lose that in our nation's children.
    Maggie (Maggie's Kinder Corner)

    1. Maggie! Maggie!! Maggie!!! Of course I already know that we are two-birds-of-a-feather. Other readers here may not realize our numerous collaborations over the years. BRAVO! BRAVO! BRAVO! Thank you so much for taking the time to articulate -- from the front lines of kindergarten -- your own observations and approach to the creative process. It is so encouraging to know that there are those providing the very best to nurture the creative spirit.

      Yes. My concerns also arise from this national pendulum swing toward ever increasing academia (standardization) being foisted upon younger and younger children. It is heartbreaking to visit schools where recess has been eliminated in an ever pressing 'need' to get in more paper and pencil work. AKKKKK. It is frightening to see classrooms for those four years old, set up to look like first grade of yore. Let them be little. Let them play. Let them explore. Let them create. Let me be authentic. Let them learn in the process!

      Thanks again for your chiming in. I truly *W*I*S*H* this was a conversation at the national level. The way to get it into the spotlight is for those of us who "understand' to speak up. Thank you for doing so!


  5. I absolutely love this post! I'm always happy to see children's authentic art - totally unique, totally "them". When I was a kid in school we were painting ceramics and I remember the teacher came around and "fixed" mine at the end, making it look "right". I still have it, and it's a reminder of what I don't want to do with my daughter!

    1. Wow! Emma! That was quite an impression. Isn't it amazing what lengths adults go to..... in the name of helping/supporting and yet with an outcome completely in opposition to their intention. Let's let the kids be kids: draw, paint, muck-about, build, experiment, make a mess and be genuine in the process!

      Thanks for taking the time to add your insight and experience to the conversation.

      ~~ Debbie

  6. This is a brilliant piece. I am sharing it everywhere I can think of. I have three elementary-aged kids of my own and I throw away everything they bring home that isn't uniquely "them." It's disappointing how many things end up in the recycling bin -- I'd guess only about 5 percent is authentic in any way. Thank you for putting this together, and with so many great examples!

    One more thought: I do think many teachers have fallen into the Pinterest trap of wanting things to look "cute," which for them equals uniform and color-coordinated. I think with some of the examples you've shown here, these same teachers will be able to see that it's possible to allow students a lot of personal freedom but still end up with a product that's aesthetically pleasing -- these are just beautiful!

    1. Five percent. What does that tell our students about their innate skills of creativity? Five percent. Ugggggh. Did you just hear my heart sink a bit? I absolutely ADORE Pinterest for the capability to share ideas, save them, store them, glean from others. I do hear from many that they somehow feel a new 'pressure' to "Keep Up with the Jonses" as a result of the Pinterest perspective. I am so VERY grateful for the additional readership as a result of your sharing my article, Jennifer. P.S. I am humbled by your use of the word 'brilliant.' I will keep my eyes out for additional examples.

      ~~ Debbie


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