Experts say arts and craft activities are central to child development, but why? What skills are children actively improving and building on? What are the benefits of family learning? And how can parents make the most of it?

At The Lightbox we believe that family-friendly activities and workshops encourage children and young people to build self-esteem and communication skills, while introducing new areas of interest for the whole family. We run regular workshops tailored for specific age groups which can offer opportunities for sensory fun, exploration, discovery and creative experimentation.

That’s why we’ve put together five top tips for parents and guardians that expand on some of the important areas of a child’s development that can be positively influenced by arts and craft activities.

1. Literacy – is the basis of a child's ability to communicate, socialise and later, read and write. It involves learning about sounds, words and language and can be developed during early childhood by speaking and listening, reading and rhyming. Encouraging children to develop their literacy skills should be done by taking part in engaging activities, both enjoyable and playful, where children are actively involved.

Our recommendation: Once every two weeks, on a Tuesday, we have Storytelling for Under 5s happening in the Education Studio or around the galleries, with themes changing every session. The session is volunteer-led and free for all. Previous themes have included jungle animals, dinosaurs and learning about body parts.

Painting for Under 5s session © The Lightbox

2. Motor skills – Fine motor skills are necessary to engage in smaller, more precise movements, normally using the hands and fingers. They differ from gross motor skills because they require more precision to perform. This is a skill that children will continue to improve in their formative years and arts and craft activities can help them develop their bilateral co-ordination skills as they learn to use both hands at the same time.

Our recommendation: Different types of painting can help strengthen children’s hand-to-eye co-ordination and manual dexterity. Finger painting gives kids an opportunity to use their hands—and to get messy, while using brushes helps them learn how to hold the tool and gain greater control over their movement. We run regular Painting for Under 5s workshops every month in our Education Studio. Check our workshops for dates and details.

3. Quality Time Family learning enables adults and children to learn together and involves explicit learning outcomes for both. 'It develops self-efficacy, inspires children and their parents to aim higher, and gives them the resources they need to change their lives for the better.'

Adults are central in helping children find out how to explore their creativity through the arts. By sharing their work with an adult, they can celebrate a child’s achievement together, making them feel valued and recognised. This, in turn, builds on self-esteem in children in the years to come.

Our recommendation: Our brand new Studio Sundays are designed with the whole family in mind. Each month we have a different theme and adults and children can pop in anytime during the workshop run. The session runs from 11.30pm – 3.30pm on the first Sunday of the month. Check the dates here.

Tie-dyeing workshop for 5-8 year olds © The Lightbox

4. Creativity – it is important to remember that creativity is a characteristic that can define anyone, not just the "talented", and that it is equally something that can be taught and encouraged, especially when done from an early age. Creativity makes space for self-expression and lets children articulate their own thoughts and feelings, while also boosting their problem-solving skills.

Our recommendation: During our free drop-in sessions you and your little ones can spend time crafting some amazing creations by exploring different materials and techniques. Join us this February half term to make some decorative weaved pots or have a hand at creating a Big Art Landscape, inspired by our David Hockney exhibition. There's always loads to get involved with, with themed drop-in workshops every school holiday.

Wiggly Caterpillars free drop-in session © The Lightbox

5. Self-esteem – a recent study from University College London around children's engagement in the arts has found that taking part in creative sessions can boost a young person's self-esteem, regardless of their ability or inclination for artistic expression. The research also found that 'the arts have been shown to support a sense of social identity' and can 'encourage goal-directed behaviour, and enhance social resilience'.

Our recommendation: Art can certainly help young people navigate those murky teenage waters a bit more easily, regardless of what medium of expression they choose to undertake. Our Young Creatives programme provides them with a chance to explore art in various forms whilst also meeting peers and creative professionals.

Whether your child prefers to sing, draw, paint or do something different all together, there’s plenty of exciting workshops and learning opportunities happening at The Lightbox to keep them hands-on, creative and engaged all year round.