A Thematic Approach
I love planning my curriculum in themes. When following a thematic approach, look at all aspects of your program. Look at the various centres and see what activities can be incorportated and what areas can be changed to reflect the theme being discussed. The dramatic centre, block area, watertable and sandtable, outdoor activities, special days, and circle time can all be adapted to hands on learning experiences to provide the children with a better understanding of the theme of the week/month.
The craft centre is another area in which the theme can be reflected. There is sometimes a misconception that "Thematic planning = stifled creativity" which does not have to be the case. It is too easy to get caught up in the "make something" aspect of theme planning and providing the children with precut shapes and colouring pages, but theme planning can be so much more if you let your mind go and explore each theme and the possibilities. The rewards will be that much more too! For craft time, factor in totally unstructured theme crafts such as cut (or tear) and paste different textures/papers/colours that go with your theme. Provide yellow, brown, orange, red construction paper when discussing Fall and let the children create. Some, especially the older ones, may cut tree trunks and leaves. Others may simply rip the paper and make a beautiful fall coloured collage. Paint is another medium that you can change the colours to go with your theme and leave the creative expression up to each individual child.
Provide the materials, let the children provide the imagination and the end result. Art is an expression of oneself so there shouldn't be 3 or 4 or 10 pictures/items exactly the same sitting on the table. I call this type of project a 'cookie cutter craft' - each one exactly the same as the one beside it. There will be times when we do this type of craft or activity, I'm sure that most of us have at one time or another done this. I know I have. I try not to do it very often. There are people that say this type of craft should NEVER be done with children, there are others who say that it is necessary to develop certain skills such as listening and following directions. I tend to avoid extremes like never and always when planning my themes. If there is a particular task or skill that you are working on with an individual child then yes, a structured activity that teaches following directions will let you know if the child has developed and mastered that particular skill. Should every theme craft that comes out of your program be a cookie cutter craft - I personally think not. In fact, the vast majority should not be.
Look at your crafting area - if you are lucky enough to have a craft shelf, take stock of what is on there for the children to use at their leisure. I have a theme related craft each day, but the craft table is open for children to go to during freeplay. I do not have a craft shelf, but have a stack of plastic bins each holding a different treasure just waiting to be created. Children need to experiment with and experience the different mediums and tools in art in order to develop fine motor skills and most importantly a love of creating and a passion for art.