Christmas Crackers?

This week we have a guest post from Hilary Welland, a lecturer in early childhood and Early Years Professional who has recently completed her MA in Early Childhood Education. She’s sharing her views on Christmas craft activities in early years settings.

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Well it’s that time of year again… the run up to Christmas. For all those working with young children in the UK this generally means masses of tinsel, glitter, nativity plays and a lot of ‘ho, ho, hoeing’!  However much fun these activities may be, this can also become a forced festive frenzy!

Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a ‘Bah-humbug’ blog post. Christmas traditions are wonderful, and alongside other winter festivals offer fun to children and adults alike.

Nonetheless, in nurseries and schools around the country, many well-meaning adults are progressing children through the Christmas creation ‘production line’.  The Christmas crafts checklist, ticking off whether little ‘Jemima’ and ‘Josh’ have made their snowflake, robin, cracker and of course the obligatory hand-print Christmas card. Sound familiar?  It certainly does to me, having been in that place, compelled by this festive fervour to dutifully comply to fulfill expectations… but whose expectations are they? Is this for the children or adults – parents, teachers or even Ofsted?

The irony is that these Christmas craft activities are intended to be fun for the children. However, all too often the assumed pressure to produce these ubiquitous offerings in a timely manner for the festive season result in some children being minimally involved in any individualistic artistic freedom.

So where here is the child’s voice? Where is their contribution to what after all is their creation? By not facilitating children’s imaginative possibilities and really ‘listening to children’, children’s creativity may be suppressed. The importance of fostering children’s creativity at an early age has long been noted (Vygotsky, 1930, 2004; Bruce, 2004; Indeed, there are strong suggestions of a gradual decline in children’s creativity as they progress through their school years. So maybe it’s worth considering what concept young children may form of creativity when they are processed through performing too many prescriptive crafts, rather than offered freedom to creatively explore.

Illustrative of this is the anecdote of the ‘Dinosaur Christmas Card’. The request from a dinosaur-obsessed three-year-old to adapt his Christmas card creation into a dinosaur was rebuffed by the practitioner, saying; “Mummy wouldn’t like that… She wants a lovely Christmas tree”, as the child’s hand was gently, but ever so purposefully, held down onto the paper, and repositioned several times, before he was ceremoniously dismissed to play elsewhere now that he’d finished ‘doing his card’.

This is not to say there isn’t a place for some adult-led activities to inspire creativity in young children.  The use of provocations for creativity often stimulates imaginative design and deeper exploration. However, this may be dependent on whether sufficient time and space are facilitated for children’s creativity to truly flourish, and for full immersion in their creative flow.

But there are alternatives. Creativity could be more authentically realised by nurturing young children’s intuitive imagination and possibility thinking immersed in the process, rather than focused on product. On a practical front, allowing children time to make their own creations, limiting the amount of crafts to create time for creative depth, and experimenting with different sensory mediums all contribute to sparking creativity. In the Reggio Emilia tradition, value is placed on what children have made independently. Mount it onto card or put in in a frame – it’s amazing how good these little Picassos can look! And finally, if a child does not want to participate in the Christmas card production line, why not just take a photo of them happily playing, stick it on some silver or red card, and present that to their parents – I’m sure most families would far rather see their child’s true creativity, be it their own artistic explorations or during play!

What are your experiences of Christmas crafts? And what types of activities and experiences do you think children should be offered to promote their creativity?

Happy Christmas all!

Hilary Welland

2 thoughts on “Christmas Crackers?

  1. What an inspirational article, thank you Hilary. I couldn’t agree more. I’d be happy to share our Christmas creativity that was nurtured this week. Im a childminder. As the children arrived at my house, on the front door was the usually homemade Christmas wreath, positioned at low level for the children to explore. One of the 3 year olds wanted to make their own wreath. So, on our frosty morning walk we gathered natural resources to make a Christmas wreath for her front door. She found ivy, holy, pine cones, feathers and leaves. When we returned to the setting, there was plenty of child led creativity and critical thinking going on, for this child worked out how to bend the ivy into a wreath shape. Then, with a little support from me, she positioned her greenery and pine cones where she wanted them. To finish she did ask for some glitter “ to make it frosty” she said. So here’s a photo of her Christmas or should I say frosty creation. The photo is cropped to protect the child’s identity 😊❤️

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  2. We were told in the nursery I worked in – it was a Montessori Nursery – that we shouldn’t be making ‘templates’. It needed to be the children’s own ideas and it should continue after Christmas (or any festival) because that’s when the children really know what practitioners are trying to do with them! So some of the older (that remember from previous years) children were creating lovely glittery pieces of art work in their own style. Others were not really interested and had no art work to show. I had a parent of one of these children complaining because he didn’t have any christmas pictures. You can’t win can you? I also had pressure from my colleagues who had folders packed full of art work that the ‘children had made’ and they had made me feel that I wasn’t doing enough. ‘Christmas crackers’ have become as routine as putting the tree up and if it’s not done, christmas can’t happen… Apparently.

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