Benefits of Craft Programs,
Funding Ideas & A Success Story

Benefits For Young People

Craft programs may be regarded as the fun side of your job, and while that is certainly a driving force behind these activities, it's far from the whole story.  You're also helping young patrons to develop mentally and physically, and in many cases you are helping to pick up the slack when school arts programs take another budget hit.

The simple physical benefits of craft activities should not be overlooked.  In her article "Toy Alternatives: Crafts and Fine Motor Development", Carolyn Cantu
explains that children continue to develop and refine their motor skills as they grow, and each age group benefits from appropriate activities to encourage these skills.  Children at the preschool level develop motor skills such as grasp, manipulation and coordination while participating in activities like drawing, free-form cutting and pasting.  Older children hone their motor skills with more complicated techniques such as precise cutting of shapes, drawing and writing and other crafty activities.  This stage of fine motor development involves coordination, speed and accuracy.  Cantu adds that crafts do not simply enhance motor skills; cognitive skills, social skills and organizational abilities are also given a boost from these activities.

The mental benefits of craft programs are also meaningful.  Research conducted by Champions of Change (in cooperation with ArtsEdge, the National Arts and Education Network and a program of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts) and published in 1999 found significant links between arts education and personal achievement in other areas.  The group studied over 2000 public school students in grades 4-8 and discovered compelling relationships between "high-arts" (i.e. extensive) in-school programs and cognitive and personal competencies needed to succeed in (and out of) school.

The researchers found that students in "high-arts" groups performed better than their "low-arts" peers in measures of creativity, originality and elaboration, all skills that are central tenets of arts education.  They proved to be stronger in their abilities to express ideas and use their imaginations.  Teachers noted that they were more cooperative and open to "displaying" their learning to others. 

However, the benefits of high-arts programs were not limited to the skills necessary for artistic success: teachers in schools with high-arts programs stated that their students extended their lessons beyond the art classroom and showed evidence of the high-arts benefits in classes like science and language.  The teachers noticed that the students had the ability to be creative and flexible in their thoughts, with better problem-solving skills and a talent for looking at situations from different perspectives.  They were more able to understand layered, complex thoughts in order to come to solutions and were seen by their teachers as curious and less afraid of individuality and expressing their learning in front of teachers and peers.  Students in high-arts programs were also much more likely than their low-arts peers to perceive themselves as academically-competent.  Art education, the study found, added a richness and confidence to the students' lives that they were able to take with them wherever they went. 

"Imaginative Actuality: Learning During the Nonschool Hours" is another study from Champions of Change, conducted from 1987 through 1997.  This study, conducted by an anthropologists and policy analysts, attempted to understand the components of effective nonschool learning sites for young people.  One of the myths addressed by this study was the notion that young people only want to "hang out".  Contrary to popular belief, the study found, the youths that frequented nonschool learning sites were actually quite desperate for "something to do", desiring productivity. 

What does all this research mean for you?  It means that you aren't merely folding paper when you undertake a program like this.   Children need art, but arts funding is always in jeopardy.   Meaningful arts education in schools is not a guarantee, and as someone who works with children, you may need to shoulder some of this responsibility.  As the "Imaginative Actuality" study shows, young people want to be busy when they're not in school.  You can create a wonderful opportunity for your young patrons to stay busy while developing skills that will serve them in school and in life.  Plus, you'll get to have a great deal of fun.

Additional reading material:

If you are interested in further information on the subject of arts and benefits for children, please take a look at the following:

"Art Education and Contemporary Culture." Australian Institute of Art Education .
"The visual has become increasingly important forming a dominant aspect of economic growth, communication, knowledge acquisition, entertainment, work practices, cultural identity and creative development."  This article relates the importance of art to the 21st century today.

Carger, Chris Liska. (2004).  "Art and Literacy with Bilingual Children."  Language Arts: 81(4).
This research presents art as the means of response to literature for elementary (1st through 3rd grade) bilingual students.  The art experience—painting, working with clay, drawing/sketching)—paired with discussion on the art in picture books was the method used to transition urban, Latino children (subject of the research) into English language classrooms.  The children’s responses in the discussions reflected their integration of cultures and family knowledge.

Dewey, J. (1934).  Arts as experience. New York: Minton, Balch & Co.
Written by John Dewey, this book goes into the importance of art from a theoretical standpoint.  This is more of a foundational read, for those interested in support behind the aesthetics of art. 

Gallas, K. (1994). The languages of learning: How children talk, write, dance, draw, and sing their understanding of the world. New York: Teachers College Press. 

This book is an account of Gallas’ experiences in an elementary setting.  This book focuses on elementary aged schoolchildren, stressing the importance of reading beyond classroom walls and valuing the community as a child’s learning place. The chapters on arts education will be most useful. 

Gardner, H. (1990). Art education and human development. Los Angeles: Getty Education Institute for the Arts. 
A text resource for art and human development.  This books gives the definitions of terms related to art education and human development.  It explores the place of art in human development and the process of art (constructing images) by children.  It also discusses the  relationships (and value) between culture and art.

Goldberg, M. (1997). Arts and learning. New York: Longman. 
The importance of art in young peoples’ education is still debated today amongst educators.  Many believe it is vital, while others see it as an extracurricular subject.  Existing art program in schools often receive low priority, especially when it come to budget discussions.  This books argues the case for art and learning.  It can be particularly helpful as school districts cut the funding, and libraries potentially become a secondary source to provide services related to art, learning and literacy.

Koopman, Constantijn.  (2005) “Art as Fulfillment: on the Justification of Education in the Arts.” Journal of Philosophy of Education 39(1): 85-97.
Where is art’s place in education?  This article justifies art through presenting positive outcomes of art education (as well as discussing its problems).  Koopman also suggests and develops the value art based on the concept of fulfillment.

Kress, G. (1997). Before writing: Rethinking paths to literacy. New York: Routledge.
Kress looks at what children do(draw, ‘write’)  and make, and presents the idea for rethinking about literacy and educational practice with children.  Children are language makers, as opposed to users.  From this, he proposes interesting new concepts and principles for educators.

Oreck, Barry.  (2004).  "The Artistic and Professional Development of Teachers: A Study of Teachers' Attitudes toward and use of the Arts in Teaching."  Journal of Teacher Education, 55(1): 55-69. 
This study explores teachers' attitudes towards art in education.  Some findings include: the most cited motivation for using art was student diversity, need for improving student motivation, and enjoyment in learning.  Formal training in art nor experience were not significant predictors of using art in the classroom.  Although this research takes place in a school setting, children’s librarians might still find this study helpful and useful in understanding the reality of this issue from the program provider’s side.

Sockwell, Kenneth.  (2003).  "The importance of art in education."  Lewis Center for Educational Research.
Arts programs are the first to be cut when the school budget is being revised.  This article talks about the importance and relevance of arts programs.


When funding is an issue, what better material to use than paper?  It's easily available, purchasable in bulk and very affordable -- in some cases even free, particularly if you use your library's discarded materials.  You might also speak to local businesses and schools to see if they have materials bound for the recycling center. 

Having said that, there's always a need for more money for your programs.  The following are possible sources of funding for your craft programming.


American Library Association

The American Library Association offers a host of grants, depending on your programs and services offered.  Possible grants of interest may include: World Book Award, Sagebrush/YALSA Award, and the Fyan (Loleta D.) Grant. 

Illinois State Library

 This grant is available only to libraries in Illinois.  Grants of interest include:

Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is an independent federal agency that fosters leadership, innovation, and learning.  IMLS supports all types of museums, from art and history to science and zoos, and all types of libraries and archives, from public and academic to research and school.  Grant of interest: National Leadership Grant.

Keats Foundation (Ezra Jack), Mini-Grants to Libraries

The Foundation offers Minigrants of $350 to School and Public Libraries for programs that encourage literacy and creativity in children.  Programs that will be considered include workshops, lectures, festivals, and programs targeted at parents and pre-school children.  Funds will not be granted for the purchase of books, tapes, software and equipment unrelated to the specific project or for the general operations, administrative costs, or transportation of the audience. 

National Education Association: Youth Leaders for Literacy

Youth Leaders for Literacy, an initiative of the National Education Association (NEA) and Youth Service America (YSA), was developed to encourage the literacy service of the nation's young people and to provide them with resources to conduct reading-related activities that benefit others.   Interested applicants must develop a literacy service project that begins on NEA's Read Across America Day in March and culminates on YSA's National Youth Service Day in April.   To be eligible for grant funds, service projects must have some kind of activity scheduled (read aloud session, trip to the library, book making, etc.) each week of the project period.

National Endowment for  the Humanities

Public humanities programs promote lifelong learning in history, literature, comparative religion, philosophy, and other fields of the humanities for broad public audiences.  They go beyond the presentation of factual information and encourage thought and conversation about humanities ideas and questions.  NEH offers grants to museums, libraries, and special projects.

Thomson Gale Giant Step Award 

What are you and your library doing that makes you indispensable to your school or your community?  If you are doing the type of innovative work that is having a significant impact on the children you serve and you can show it, then perhaps you are a candidate for the Giant Step Award. 

U.S. Department of Education: Improving Literacy Through School Libraries 

The web site includes a list of all school districts that are eligible to receive Department of Education grants (about 5,600) but does not list eligible charter schools as previously reported.   (Charter schools must contact states directly for grant information.)

Print sources:

Aalto, Madeleine. Fundraising: Alternative Financial Support for Public Library Services. Lantham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1999. 

Corson-Finnerty, Adam Daniel. Fundraising and Friend-Raising on the Web. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 1998. 

Hall-Ellis, Sylvia D. Grantsmanship for Small Libraries and School Library Media Centers. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1999.

Herring, Mark Youngblood. Raising Funds with Friends Groups. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2004 

Reed, Sally Gardner. Making the Case for Your Library: A How-to-do-it Manual. New York, NY: Neal–Schuman Publishers, 2001.  

Short, Jack. Library Fundraising Guidelines. Avon, CT: Consultant Publications, 1998.

Swan, James. Fundraising for Libraries: 25 Proven Ways to Get More Money for Your Library. New York : Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2002. 

Grant directories:

The Big Book of Library Grant Money. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 2004-2005. 

Federal Grants and Services For Libraries : A Guide To Selected Programs. Mary R. Costabile and Frederick D. King. Washington, D.C. : American Library Association Washington Office, 1993.

Grant$ for Libraries and Information Services. New York, NY: The Foundation Center, 2002-2003. 

Grants for Libraries Hotline (periodical). Boston, MA: Quinlan Publishing Group, Monthly. (Non-Circulating) 

National Guide to Funding for Libraries & Information Services. New York, N.Y. : Foundation Center, 2005. 8th edition.

Success Story
Sometimes all the research can make these ideas seem rather abstract, so we offer, for your inspiration, the tale of the Irving Public Library Origami Club.

The Origami Club met every Thursday afternoon for nearly three years.  (It did not end because of a lack of interest, but rather because librarian and club-leader Deborah Vaden "kept getting pulled into meetings", a problem many of you can probably relate to!) 

During an average meeting, there were anywhere from 10-15 children participating.  Vaden had assistance from another adult, an Irving Public Library patron with a passion for origami who rarely missed a meeting during those three years. 

One of the best things about an origami club, according to Vaden, was the way that people inevitably got stuck at different places, so when one person got confused there was always someone to help out.  "I see something one way and other people see it another way and that is where the idea of the Club came from," she said.  Some of her young patrons had tried origami in the past through the use of kits and found the directions unsatisfying, but "with lots of people working on a figure, we could do it together." 

Eventually some members of the club became more advanced than others, so Vaden offered them more complex origami designs and they worked as a group or alone, asking for help when they got hung up.  While this was happening, Vaden lead the less experienced crafters with easier models.  The Irving Public Library had videos and instructional CD-ROMs about origami, so sometimes the children watched these while working.

Another great thing about the program was the low cost.  Vaden's group eschewed fancy origami paper in favor of everyday scrap paper.  The club was also very appealing to the boys in Vaden's community, and was cited as a "Successful Library Program For Boys" by the American Library Association.  Special touches, like issuing a "Membership Card" to each participant, made this a memorable experience for all involved.  Vaden's best advice?  "Have fun!"

(Thanks to the wonderful Deborah Vaden for taking time out of her schedule to talk to us and share her knowledge!)