Back in September I signed up to volunteer at T.'s preschool Valentine's Day party and, when the "assignments" were doled out a couple weeks ago, I volunteered to lead the craft. I like to bake and decorate cookies and cupcakes, but I also enjoy doing crafty things as well and would far rather spend my precious time putting together craft items then baking and frosting a dozen cupcakes.
Food is generally under-appreciated by preschoolers; they may ooh and ahh over the frosting but, in the end, they don't truly appreciate the time it took to pipe frosting into intricate designs. I learned this the hard way: one year, when L. was three, and I was only teaching part-time at that point, I volunteered to put together the lunches for his preschool Halloween party and I spent an excruciating amount of time cutting out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a pumpkin cookie cutter and decorating the brown paper bags with ghosts and witches. Then I stapled each bag shut and sealed it with a wooden Halloween ornament. The kids tore through those bags in seconds, ripping them apart and hardly noticing the ornaments. The peanut butter sandwiches didn't look much like pumpkins by the time they had made the trip from my car to the classroom and out of their baggies into the little hands of all the hungry kids, leaving me to wonder why I had devoted an entire morning to preparing all of that in the first place.
But crafts are different. In the process of creation, of getting fingers sticky with glue, and colored with paints and glitter, kids--and adults--seem to truly, literally and figuratively, transform themselves. Even the most un-crafty kid in the class (in this case it was chunky, serious boy in T.'s class who likes to spend his time running in circles around the room) can be enticed into spending a few minutes pasting and sticking and cutting until they've created something to call their own.
On Thursday last week, the kids made "Hands of Love" by tracing their hands on pink foam sheets, cutting them out (well, we grown-ups did that part, otherwise the hands might have ended up with a few lopped-off fingers), then connecting them with a metal brad. I had bought sticker-backed "jewels" to decorate the fingers with, and Valentine's stickers and pom-poms and glitter glue. Most of the kids in T.'s class can't write their names yet, but they did have fun scribbling meaningful messages and pretending they were writing to their loved ones. I always feel a swelling of pride and satisfaction when I see the small heads bent over something artsy like that, the way they push the stickers into place with earnest fingers and they sit back and admire their handiwork, even the messiest creations seeming to them at once the most beautiful and breathtaking of masterpieces ever.
And the true wonder of it all is, of course, that the results of any crafty, artistic explosion can endure a long, long time after the last cookie crumbs or icing smears are wiped away and the kids race out of the classroom, tumbling out of the door and into the arms of waiting moms and dads, their artwork held high for all to see.