Is Crafting A Waste Of Time?


Asunción Tena Justice MS, Child Psychologist and expert in Play Therapy at SINEWS Multilingual Therapy Institute explains to the Madrid Metropolitan.

If you are a parent managing a household with one or more children during this Covid-19 quarantine, I am sure of at least two things: first, that you are a commendable human being with laudable strengths such as patience, perseverance and self-control; and second, that you have, no doubt, been bombarded with resources, videos, websites, etc., to help you keep your kids occupied or entertained throughout this “homey” ordeal.

As a child therapist, I have had some parents confess to me that, somewhere, in the back of their busy minds right now there is a voice whispering that all these crafts or activities are just “fillers”, nothing more than meaningless ways of keeping the kids busy… maybe even a waste of time.

Well, that may be true for some of these activities (and that is also fine… we are going through tough times in which we have to “good enough” our way through many things), but definitely not for all. Many of these time-fillers are helping your children foster one of the most important and valuable skills for everyday life: CREATIVITY.

Yup, let’s talk about creativity.


 Emotional health. Through creative work, children not only relieve their stress, but they also express what they’re feeling (many times without knowing that they are doing so). If they’ve had a tough day, if they are angry or frustrated and not quite sure why, better than having them express that anger through their refusal to eat their brussels sprouts at dinner time, or to transfer it onto their siblings, they can create a battlefield of Legos or an abstract painting (or sometimes a very specific drawing of exactly what is bothering them in which we are portrayed in a not-so-flattering light). And why do we want them to express their feelings? Because expression is one of the main ingredients in coping with those feelings. And, as I am sure you already know, this quarantine can bring out lots of different feelings.

Self-concept. Through the creative process and their end products, children learn a lot about themselves. What they’re good at and what they’re not, what they would really like to be better at, etc. Self-concept comes before self-esteem, and if they like what they are creating, then that will improve too.

Problem-solving, divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the ability to find different solutions to a problem, new ideas and possibilities (a very sought-after skill in most jobs out there). When kids try to build their first pillow-fort/castle or cardboard robot, they encounter different problems and setbacks. Through encouraged practice in creativity they seek out new ways of tackling these problems with what they have at hand. Convergent thinking is the ability to analyze, evaluate and come up with the best solution to the problem, like when they decide to ditch the rope and use Mommy’s stockings for the castle’s drawbridge (more bounce).

Perseverance, tolerance of uncertainty, and risk taking. Through goal-oriented creative projects that are fun yet challenging, kids find themselves trying harder, dealing with disappointment and continuing the search for solutions. Rarely do they put as much effort into projects that come from third parties and that are not self-motivating (such as many of the tasks and projects schools ask of them). Also, there is something “addictive” about the creative process, making us want to continue trying and allowing ourselves “safe” risks where otherwise we wouldn’t dare. And there are so many lessons to learn about taking risks.

Gains in knowledge and other skills. Learning new things is an essential part of the creative process. Depending on what kids are working on, they gain understanding through every part of the process, however far their interest or curiosity takes them, strengthening their attention and concentration on the way. Also, depending on the task and materials used, they can improve their fine or gross motor skills.

So there… as you can see, not a waste of time at all! And here are a few tips on how to nurture your children’s creativity.


  • Make materials available to them – not just the typical crayons, markers, colored pencils, paints and clay, but go further with natural dyes (from food and plants), cameras, voice-recorders, yarn, wood, a toolbox…
  • As is well known, the internet is packed with great ideas for creative projects your kids can do; but also encourage them to take greater charge of the creative process: Let’s make potato-people, what could we use as arms and legs?; We’ve run out of purple – what ingredient from the kitchen could we used to make purple paint? Let them come up with their own weird ideas.
  • Limitations are great for enhancing creativity, they push us to use our imagination to find different/not so obvious solutions. You could give them a specific amount of time to complete a project; or a number of words for a story/poem/song; or perhaps give them some specific words to include in a themed story. Maybe you could limit the colors they can use (can you make a picture of a sunset using only two colors?)
  • Take it a bit further and go beyond “the arts” in the search for the creativity upgrade: pose a problem that needs solving. For example, ask your kids to find something in your home that they think doesn’t work right or well enough. Ask them how they would go about fixing it, and help them with the implementation of their problem-solving. I know a kid who got tired of not having a light-switch by their bed and thought up a system to turn off the light at night involving toilet-paper rolls, a string and a large marble…
  • Another thing you can do is to encourage failure. Yup, it seems our old nemesis, failure, when seen by kids as “normal” or “not too bad”, actually spurs creativity, as well as its very important sibling, perseverance. So maybe you can ask your kids to think of two ways that will solve a problem you’ve posed, and two that won’t. Or, if it takes them several tries to come up with a solution or a specific piece of art, reinforce the fact they kept trying and take time to go over their first attempts, helping them notice what they learnt from each of them (focusing on the process and not just the end product).
  • And finally, what in my opinion is the best booster of creativity in children: PLAY. Just play. Free, unstructured and boundless. The type of play where they make their own rules, where their imagination breaks through reality and a room can become a kingdom, a pencil a scepter and siblings some not-so-loyal subjects. This type of play is linked to higher levels of creativity and innovation in adulthood. So, let them play, play, play!

Now all I have left to write is my hope that when this is all over (because it will be over), you will think about what has worked for your kids, what activities have sparked creativity, enthusiasm and joy, and plan to incorporate them in your quarantine-free life, not as time-fillers, but as a secure investment in their future.

Asunción Tena Justice is running along with Itxaso Cembrero a Parenting Group to support moms and dads in their challenging daily work of raising their kids





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