Here’s the scoop on crafts versus art in preschool

I just finished listening to the Bam Radio Show titled, “Arts versus Crafts in ECE: Which Matters Most?” The guest speaker was author MaryAnn Kohl who has written a whole collection of books all dedicated to promoting process focused art in the preschool classroom. The interview explored the differences between arts and crafts and touched on what is considered developmentally appropriate for young children.

The Scoop: Arts vs Crafts

Let me begin by inviting you to hop on over to Bam Radio and hear for yourself what MaryAnn Kohl and Rae Pica have to say. You will hear what MaryAnn recommends as her pick for the top two process art materials you can offer your students (which I think will surprise you).  Then head back here to read my take-aways on the topic below…

MaryAnn Kohl

MaryAnn Kohl

Here are a few take-aways I pulled out from the Bam Radio show…

What are crafts?

MaryAnn uses words such as “following directions, following steps, closed-ended, preplanned, and product” to define the word crafts.

What is art?

MaryAnn uses words such as “spontaneous, open-ended, no focused-product, process, discovery, exploration, and experience” to define the word art.

Which matters most?

MaryAnn explains that young children need process over product when it comes to creative experiences. If you like to do both crafts and arts with your students, then keep the focus on process art at least 90% and the focus on crafting to 10% of time throughout your school year. In other words, there is room and even some value in crafting but the bigger value in terms of overall growth and development comes through time spent in process oriented art.

Craft versus Art

Deborah’s Thoughts

Now let me share with you a few of my own thoughts on this topic which, by the way, has been a controversial issue in early childhood education for as long as I can remember.

The Process Scale

When it comes to early childhood, there is a scale (so to speak) that shows art is far more complex than the terms craft or art. I will call this The Process Scale.  On one end of the process scale is pure craft while on the other end of the scale is pure art. Most of us, whether we like to think so or not, fall somewhere in the middle of that scale. Take a look at the chart below…

The Process Scale by Deborah Stewart, M.Ed.


This is by no means a scientific scale but I think it can help you gage for yourself where you are in terms of providing pure art versus pure craft experiences.

Craft versus Art

As for right verses wrong. I can tell you that I slide back and forth between #4 and #5. On a rare occasion, we throw in a #3 day like on holidays but I am working my way up the scale on those occasions too. You see, I know that what matters most to young children is the experience and the freedom to explore – I know because I see it every single day. I also know that through experience and exploration young children build confidence, new skills, and a joy for art. I am proud of what we do in our classroom and the experiences we provide but I recognize that I still have room to grow in my own teaching practice so I will continue to expand my way of doing things – one day at a time.

Craft versus Art

For those of you who would like to see some of MaryAnn’s books, check the Amazon Links out below!

By |2016-12-03T21:15:17+00:00November 30th, 2016|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Kristy Pulcher December 4, 2016 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    Yeah! I have both of the top two products in my classroom! I loved listening to MaryAnn Kohl and have several of her books. Thanks for sharing! Oh, and I just made some table top easels from the Home Depot boxes. They were only 78 cents! I can break them down to save space in my small classroom.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. December 4, 2016 at 8:01 pm - Reply

      I love that you made your own easels!! Thank you for stopping by today:)

  2. Genevieve December 8, 2016 at 11:08 am - Reply

    It is so reassuring to read about free exploration vs. cookie cutter activities. Too often I see craft projects showcased in classrooms where all projects look alike and were clearly teacher directed. Teachers often say that they want their students to learn to follow directions. They also do not like the mess art creates.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. December 9, 2016 at 3:33 am - Reply

      I would rather work hard at cleaning up after happy kids engaged in a morning of making creative messes than work hard keeping kids on track while they wait for me to tell them what to do:)

  3. Kiki December 13, 2016 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    I love the Process Scale! It really helps to explain the difference between crafts and true art experiences. I have always been more focused on process instead of product. I love when the children are in full out creation mode and are excited by what they are doing. I even love the mess! I try to keep my art center stocked with as many random things as possible and make sure that it is accessible all day.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. December 13, 2016 at 4:59 pm - Reply

      We had quite the exploration in art going on here too! I’m not sure what exactly the children ended up with but they sure were busy!

  4. Rachel Silverstein December 16, 2016 at 8:30 am - Reply

    I would like to subscribe to the newsletter

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. December 16, 2016 at 5:05 pm - Reply

      Hi Rachel,
      There is a form on the side panel of my blog. You can sign up for my newsletter there!

  5. Penny June 3, 2017 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    I’d like to know how you guys set up your art center? We don’t have alot of space(basically a few small shelves) and we share the space with our after school program. Any ideas are much appreciated!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 3, 2017 at 4:13 pm - Reply

      Hi Penny,
      For a shared environment, consider putting basic items like a tray with watercolor paints and brushes; a jar of beads with string and scissors, a tub of clay with tools, and so on. Simple sets that are open ended and useable everyday by a broad ranges of ages. Rotate sets of items rather than having too much out at once. Display so it makes sense and is inviting to use. Always add paper and drawing tools too.

  6. Michele Quigley November 21, 2017 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    Great article and episode to listen to. Now to spread this knowledge….still too much cookie cutter “art” out there. This is great for new teachers.

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