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How can we get the most out of craft activities?

Craft activities are well appreciated as a valuable opportunity for children to develop fine-motor skills important for learning to write as well as school readiness in general. They also connect children and caregivers during and after storytime sessions. After a session, for example, the object created during craft and taken home could prompt a child to tell family members and friends who did not attend storytime about that experience. This helps the child develop important literacy-related oral language skills and establishes a stronger connection between families, storytime and the library. Craft offers an opportunity to incorporate mark-making and writing into children’s storytime (e.g. children writing their names), too.

To encourage children to complete the craft activity, it is important to keep craft simple and engaging, ideally open-ended, and to give children and caregivers very brief and clear instructions. When introducing the craft activity, clear instructions that focus on the most important aspects/steps in the activity and presented in a child-friendly language are not only likely to increase children’s confidence in completing the activity independently, but also expose children to an important type of language – giving instructions (this is of course as much about literacy as it is about school readiness).

To encourage interaction between children and their caregivers, the activity should be as openended as possible. In one multi-age storytime that included the picture book What’s in My Lunchbox (written by Peter Carnavas and illustrated by Kat Chadwick), children were given an A3 sheet with the outline of an open lunchbox drawn on it, glue, scissors and discontinued magazines and asked to work with their parents/caregivers to find/select and cut out anything they would like to take to school in their lunchbox. This generated a lot of talk between the children and their caregivers about what a child likes/doesn’t like to eat, healthy vs. unhealthy food, why they would like to take a toy car in their lunchbox/to school, etc.

As suggested above, craft activities can also be designed to support the growth of oral language skills that are essential for later literacy and academic achievement. These include having a rich vocabulary, which allows a child to be precise in referring to various objects and aspects of their experiences (in some cases using abstract words such as ‘animals’ or ‘love’). A rich vocabulary combined with other language resources (e.g. grammatical resources such as past or future tense, number, etc.) also allow children to interact effectively with different people in different contexts (e.g. with close family members and friends but later also teachers at school, participate in one-to-one or one-to-many interactions), especially to share information that others don’t already know and is not easily available in the immediate physical context (e.g. tell a parent what happened at preschool or at library storytime that day when the parent was at work).

When writing, unlike in face-to-face interactions, we cannot point to objects in the immediate physical context, or rely on gestures and facial expressions, and so we need to be clear about what reference words such as ‘here’, ‘there’, ‘it’, ‘she’, ‘he’, etc. mean. To become effective writers, children also need to learn to think about and anticipate what their readers know or don’t know and what their reaction to something would be.

Craft activities can also be designed to incorporate actual mark-making and writing into storytime. For instance, for ‘Library lovers day’, children and caregivers can be encouraged to complete the sentence ‘I love storytime because…’ written on a piece of paper inside a heart-shaped frame. A similar prompt could be used on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. You could also formulate some simple dialogic questions that prompt children to think of their own story, which they tell their caregiver during craft time, who writes it down and reads it back to them. Some children are fascinated that words from their mouths can be recorded on paper and read aloud.