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Oh Thank God, Science Says It's OK I'm Not a Crafty Parent

Photograph by Twenty20

Emily has a box of crayons. Some blank notebooks with one page containing a Jackson Pollock-like mish-mash of greens and blues and yellows. The orange crayon has been snapped in half. The red crayon is gone. I had to throw it away after I found her gnawing on it, bits of flaming burgundy around her mouth that at first I thought was blood. The only signs it ever existed are the marks on the fabric arms of Em's reading chair.

If left to her own devices, Em will eventually begin scribbling on the hardwood floor instead of in her pad of paper, until I am forced to take her crayons away. I don't provide much guidance beyond that. After all, my nursery school report card proclaimed that I am "bad with scissors" and, since then, not much has changed.

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I am artistically-challenged, and dread the day when I will one day be expected to create a Halloween costume or help out with a science class diorama. Luckily, I no longer have to hate-scroll through endless pages of Pinterest-worthy craft projects for toddlers. Science has absolved me of the need to engage in such things.

Early-childhood educator Erika Christakis recently explained to Science of Us that toddlers "gain little" from assembling craft projects that are all about the final product. In her recent book—The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups—Christakis combines research, professional experience, and anecdotal evidence to challenge the conventional wisdom about how children learn.

In other words: let's all take a giant step back and let kids be kids.

She's an artist and she doesn't need an art table or pre-cut construction paper shapes or any of that other stuff.

So what does Em do instead, now that I've deprived her of the magic of Pinterest-sanctioned arts and crafts projects?

She wanders around with old paper towel tubes, making believe that they are trumpets and telescopes and guitars. She climbs into empty cardboard boxes, imagining (I suppose) that they are cars or thrones or... or litter boxes? She dances about with blank pages of sheet music making up songs on the spot. She's an artist and she doesn't need an art table or pre-cut construction paper shapes or any of that other stuff.

Once, I left her in the kitchen with a Tupperware of couscous so she could play around with texture. When I wandered back into the room 15 minutes later, the couscous was scattered across the entire expanse of hardwood floor, and there were tiny pebbles of couscous stuck around the slick of her spit-surrounded mouth.

From there, she will graduate to sand art, I suppose, but I figured it was best to start with something more... edible.

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Later, when I am done with this post, we will go out into the sunshine and sit barefoot in our driveway, scrawling out lines and circles and jagged loops and doodles with sidewalk chalk. She might begin to learn how to distinguish between different colors. Or she might not (she thinks everything is blue.)

But, beyond that, our drawings will look like nothing. And it won't matter. Because we'll be making something together and, if nothing else, she'll be learning the tools of creation.

So take that, Pinterest!

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