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Research Shows Parent/Child Craft Time Has Lifelong Benefits

It is no secret that parents are some of the busiest people on earth. The phrase "There are not enough hours in the day" doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. A parent's busy schedule can quickly become a vicious cycle of preparing breakfast, packing lunches, getting the kids to school, heading to soccer practice or dance class, making dinner, helping kids finish homework and going to bed at an early hour ... then, waking up and doing it all again the next day.

So, it may seem impossible to take a few moments to connect with your children through activities like arts and crafts. Recently, I teamed up with Elmer's Products to explore the impact creative time with your kids has on children's long-term success. In this new research, we spoke with 50 experts in the fields of child development and pediatrics as well as nearly 300 moms across the United States.

The purpose of the research was not only to understand the impact of arts and crafts on children's lives but also to understand the obstacles parents face in order to help them find time to be creative with their children even if it's only for a few minutes a day or week.

Ninety percent of moms surveyed wished they had more time to engage in arts and crafts with their children. Moms said things like extracurricular activities and family chores get in the way of creative time, and even just clearing the kitchen table to do arts and crafts sucks up all the free time they have. Nearly 78 percent of moms said they hadn't heard enough about the academic perks of arts and crafts and they would like more information about nontechnology-based activities to further a child's academic development.

The Benefits

While developmental benefits of arts and crafts have always been recognized, this research speaks to a deeper understanding of the critically important impact on social, cognitive and emotional development. Without this creative time, our new data suggests that children could be missing important benefits that are directly related to school prep and long-term success in subjects like math, reading and writing.

  • Crafting encourages key visual-processing skills, such as pattern recognition, detecting of sequences and spatial rotation. Other content areas, like math and reading, share these exact skills. Some experts we interviewed suggested that manipulating materials during arts and crafts may enhance a child's visual-spatial skills. Geometry pulls heavily from spatial processing.
  • Hands-on arts and crafts accelerate the development of muscles in the hands and fingers, improving fine motor skills essential for school success in the earliest formal years. For toddlers, this could be as simple as asking your child to copy a circle, which is fun for that age range and merges cognitive and fine motor skills into one activity.
  • Executive function is critical in guiding your child's planned behavior. It will not only impact your child's success in school but also later in a professional setting. When encouraged to engage more independently during creative time, children will be motivated to pay close attention, which improves focus and working memory skills.

Finding a Balance

Our research suggested a growing need for quick and easy project ideas that will engage kids and take the time pressure off parents. Elmer's has created a few projects that allow families to complete simple crafts in 20 minutes or less. And families can try a few additional tactics to save little bits of time that allow more creative time, such as brewing coffee at home instead of going to a local coffee shop and waiting in line for a latte, skipping social media status updates just one day a week and designating a TV- or tablet-free night. (I like to think that's why they invented DVR systems.) Doing just these three things can save anywhere from 2 to 4 hours per week – time that could be spent bonding with children.

We want to enable parents to create, laugh, learn and bond with their children. Ninety-five percent of moms surveyed agreed that perhaps one of the most important benefits families reap from arts and crafts is quality time bonding together. Years from now, it won't matter what you created, just that you did it together.

Richard Rende, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist, researcher, educator and author. His research portfolio includes scientific projects that focus on the link between parenting practices, family interaction and emotional and behavioral development. Rende has authored more than 100 academic publications and presentations and serves on the editorial board of four academic journals.