Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates

Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.

Jeanne de Clisson and the Human Stamp


The Facebookiverse is filled with images of hand prints and foot prints. It started way back in early November 2014 and continued all the way up until Christmas. 2 months, 8 weeks of hand and foot craft disease.

I have seen this first hand: the production line of seasonal craft. The adult sits at the table with a child’s hand in theirs. They dip the child’s hand onto the sponge soaked with festive appropriate coloured paint in the tray. The adult then stamps the child’s hand onto the paper or whatever surface is to be decorated. The child is passed to another adult, who holds their wrist in their hand, and they more or less drag the child to the bathroom, being careful not to contaminate the learning environment with wayward handprints or drips. The adult then washes the painted hands clean, being careful not to leave paint on the tiles, the tap ware or the sink. The adults repeat the process over and over with each child in the group. Paint, stamp, wash. Paint, stamp, wash. Paint, stamp, wash. Paint, stamp, wash….

Usually the adults add to the hand prints to create a product other than a hand print. A few adult painted lines for antlers or a circle stamp for a nose to create a reindeer or the some other Pinterest sourced favourite. Then there were the foot print stamps to make an adult abstract product of a North American tradition using mistletoe, which looks to me like a child has been strung up by their ankles with string tied in a sweet little bow. To be honest, I think it is more than a little bit creepy.

I just don’t think using children as human stamps so that educators can adulterate them by cutting them out and adding bits and pieces to them is a worthwhile venture. It is not craft for children. The adult is the one doing the crafting not the child, certainly not the children in the nursery rooms. And there have been plenty of shares of nursery craft.

What do we do ourselves at home? Do we paint our family members and stamp them on paper? Well I certainly don’t. We may decorate our entire homes or we may not. When celebrating, we generally share food and spend time together with those people who matter the most to us: family and/or friends. There may or may not be gift giving. Each family’s unique way of celebrating may not look like their neighbours. Why not do what we do at home? Why not celebrate any significant day as we would with our family and friends? Why do we feel obligated to cutesy it up and create a product to give to parents?

Children are not tools to be used for adult pursuits, and structured craft is an adult pursuit.

Just because a child says ‘yes’ doesn’t make it right.

Would you paint the hands of your colleagues and use them for craft activities? Would you use the parents? Can you picture yourself taking off a parent’s shoes (even with permission), painting those feet and then using them to stamp onto paper? No? Then why are you doing it to children? Children are people – vulnerable people who need us to be strong advocates for their rights and their bodies. Using their bodies as a tool that is manipulated by an adult (which let’s face it, is what is being done) isn’t respectful.

Would you paint the child’s bottom and stamp that upon some paper? Their face? Their genitals. Yes, I am getting extreme. But a child’s body, is a child’s body regardless of which part you are using. If we are using a child – for ANYTHING – we are using them. Children should not be used.

There is some argument that this is educational. That the child is learning about art, the texture of the paint, following directions, developing their sensory awareness, participating in a cultural event, learning about gift giving etc. But honestly, I don’t see it. I see more learning in a child doing a painting or drawing without any adult involvement whatsoever.

In regards to the argument that this supports children to feel like they belong to the community: the impression that their body part leaves is not who they are as a person. I have a shadow. We all do. The shadow my body leaves upon the ground is not me. It doesn’t help me to feel a sense of belonging to the footpath, the road or the earth. Casting my shadow in Richmond doesn’t mean I feel a sense of belonging in Richmond. It is simply an impression of my physical body in space and time. I am not my shadow. I am not my fingerprint. I am a complex being made up of many moments, elements, thoughts, feelings, and parts, as are children.

We should acknowledge children for the unique young person they are, not the impression that their body part leaves when slathered in paint and stamped upon a surface.

I beg you, remove the child’s body parts from the paint and walk away …

I don’t see art. I don’t see craft. I merely see an adult using a child to create a product that the adult then further manipulates into something to be given to parents. They are a parent pleaser, nothing more.

Decades ago I once used children as human stamps. I won’t lie to you. I used their handprints to decorate magazine boxes to display information. I haven’t since felt the desire to use children as stamps.

Cultural events and days of significance are becoming ridiculous. I feel this way when I see any day celebrated with ‘cute’ adult designed and adult created craft. I feel very uncomfortable with these handprints. Why?

It feels to me that we are teaching children that it is ok for them, for their bodies to be used by adults. And that honestly makes me feel sick to my stomach. Just because a child consents does not make it acceptable. We have power over children and we should exercise that power with the utmost respect at all times.

© Jeanne de Clisson 2015

Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates

Refuse, Resist, Rebuild

24 comments on “Jeanne de Clisson and the Human Stamp

  1. Lucy Shepherd
    January 30, 2015

    I get what you’re saying but for this activity I think it’s a case of ‘not what you do but how you do it’. Any activity in a children’s centre which is treated as a production line is obviously not in the child’s interests but if this activity is conducted in a way so as to engage the child’s imagination and interest and involves her/him in the setting up, etc, then I see it as a valid activity. All craft activities have the potential to encourage discussion and experimentation with colour, texture, form, etc as well as involving physical skills. There is also an opportunity for sharing ideas about the cultural significance of the project as opposed to the end product being the ‘raison d’etre’. As a parent, I always loved these handprint gifts and have kept them over the years, especially as they mostly were accompanied by a photo. I would like to think that my children participated in the creation of these ‘artworks’ but if they didn’t, I don’t think they were traumatised or abused in any way. Maybe you could approach similar areas of concern by providing positive ideas about how to make an activity worthwhile and valuable to a child rather than just slamming the whole idea, or even providing alternative ideas that are more specific than just ‘spending time together’. As a crafty person, I love spending time with my friends and family making things and these are some of my happiest memories as both a child and a mother. As a child care educator, I also love utilising my crafty skills to help children create their own artworks and I am always mindful of the significance of the ‘doing’ over the end product; the journey being more important than the destination! Looking forward to more of your thought provoking writing!

    Date: Fri, 30 Jan 2015 08:50:35 +0000 To:

  2. L Webb
    January 30, 2015

    Would I use an adult’s hands or feet to do printing with? Yes. And have had it done with mine. And without a single feeling of being abused.
    How do children feel about it? Most love it. At a craft day where children of all ages could choose from a dozen or more crafts, the hand and foot painting activity area was the one with the longest queues and the most laughter, with children running round to rejoin the queue once they’d finished. Any child who didn’t want to do it simply didn’t – but that was only one or two.
    Painting hands and printing with them is an art form which goes right back to the earliest part of art history. As long as the child is comfortable with the activity (and they’ll soon let you know if they are not), then i don’t see why adult support in doing it so that a) they get a clear imprint and b) they are enabled to wash their hands in the same way as you’d help them to wash their hands for any mess, I don’t see why that should be viewed as abusive, any more than me holding my child’s hands to control the string of a kite or my archery teacher holding my arms in the right position to shoot an arrow while I am learning.

  3. angela upward
    January 31, 2015

    I actually found myself laughing out loud when I read your post. It’s so true! I think the laugh came from embarrassment, reflecting on the number on times both myself and other teachers in my setting have done these stupid crafts. And yes it’s an all too familiar sight, seeing children being shuffled from one educator to the other, directed towards the bathroom with hands in the air, looking a bit confused as the educators are stress about them touching anything along the way. I am fortunate to now be in a position to make changes in my settings. It has been a very slow process but trying to get through the mantra , ‘process not product’ and ignoring the excuses ‘but the parents expect it’. I should mention that I am working as an expat in an Arabic country where handprint crafts are the norm and don’t get me started on templates and googly eyes!
    Thank you for sharing your ideas & thoughts. I look forward to reading your posts. It gives me encouragement to keep on questioning what we do and why we do it!

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  5. Nora
    February 1, 2015

    I like your pirate boat hand-print!

  6. Holly
    February 2, 2015

    I must say that I concur with Jeanne and applaud her for standing up for children. Handprints, footprints, and other body parts are not art and should not be used for a teacher-directed activity! Too often early childhood teachers follow a Hallmark curriculum, feeling a need to do a directed project with children to send home or line the walls of their classroom or school hallway. Each family has their own holidays, traditions and ways to celebrate or choose to not celebrate at all. Celebrating the Hallmark holidays, other “marked” holidays or Pinterest are not the basis for curriculum, nor should they be the basis for art.
    In addition, too often teachers rearrange, mark-up, add to, or write on children’s work. This is their work and teachers need to respect children and their work. Adding to a child’s handprint to make it into “something” makes it the teacher’s work, using the child’s start. Writing on children’s work again shows a disrespect for children’s work. To support emergent writing, write what the child says about their work on a separate strip of paper and hang with or tape to the back on their work. Artists sign their own work. Even when illegible, no one signs the work for them. Instead, take a cue from art galleries that have the artist’s name on a plaque (or paper) underneath or near the work along with the title or what the artist’s says about the painting. Let children sign their own work in however they are able. If you must write the child’s name to identify it to go home, then write their name on the back.
    Children need to be allowed to explore and experiment. Their voices should be heard and respected. An effective curriculum is research based and grounded in respect for the child and family. Art is a process not a body part stamp or pre-determined product.

  7. Dagmar
    February 2, 2015

    My children are teens now and both love the occasional nostalgia with small hand prints, so I think the process and outcome are pretty worthwhile …. however, I’ve never seen the ‘value added’ product you have depicted and think that may be a little bit more creepy. Great thought provoking article and thanks for giving me food for thought on this one. (The hand prints were done by me at home and mess was hilarious – but I can’t imagine doing that in a kinda setting without the creepy production line that you reference).

    • Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates
      October 11, 2015

      I think hand prints as hand prints are hand prints. Hand prints as stamps created by adults to create a product are an entirely different beast. I was observing some 2 year olds painting their hands and creating hand prints upon a page. It was a beautiful thing to watch. It was of their own making, of their own direction and went on page after page of A3 size … I think they are fabulous … and I think a hand print as a reminder of the size we are once upon a time is a sweet reminder of our growing. I imagine those keepsakes would be very precious. -JdC

  8. Heather nicholson
    February 7, 2015

    I don’t see a problem with children creating by using hand prints or thumb prints or foot prints it is an age old art of telling a story if the children do all the creating I believe you can really over think things and may just realise children enjoy it!

    • Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates
      October 11, 2015

      I think hand prints as hand prints are hand prints. Hand prints as stamps created by adults to create a product are an entirely different beast. I was observing some 2 year olds painting their hands and creating hand prints upon a page. It was a beautiful thing to watch. It was of their own making, of their own direction and went on page after page of A3 size … I think they are fabulous. They were not adult directed or forced.

      Children crafting is not the issue.

      Adults using children to craft is the issue. There is a very big difference.

  9. Julie
    February 7, 2015

    This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read no child in my care is dragged anywhere and they love painting their hands and yes their feet. Would I paint their parents, yes if they were joining in the fun of the experience. I have painted my own hands joining in during play. To many adult hang ups are put on to children they are not adults they are uninhibited joyful adventures. Stop ruining childhood with all this would you do it to an adult. I wouldn’t pick up their parents for a cuddle either should I stop this.

    • Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates
      October 11, 2015

      I’ve witnessed this at many a centre and I’ve seen photos of this shared upon facebook as well … While it may not occur in your space it doesnt mean it does not occur.

      My point about ‘would you do this to an adult’ is about respect. A child is not to be used by an adult for an adult purpose. That was the point.


  10. Carthy
    February 7, 2015

    Wow! Negative much?

  11. me
    February 7, 2015

    parents give their children everything, and as a child, i always felt so good when i got to give my parents something they liked. i loved having something that was a reflection of me hanging up on the refrigerator or on the wall. if a child were expressing that they didn’t want to do it, then i don’t think they should be made to. but to make a blanket statement that this is bad for all children is just silly.

    and yes, i used my own hand to make imprints for christmas ornaments last year, along with the hands of the rest of my family. now they are some of our most treasured ornaments (and yes, by the kids, too), because they give a physical representation of our relationships to each other. and i promise, my kids do not need therapy as a result.

  12. Wonderwoman
    February 8, 2015

    So many issues in the world and you chose to talk about this. Not all providers are the same or do as you say. But if you’re happy to spend your time writing this rubbish thats up to you.

  13. Patricia Agacki
    May 10, 2015

    I think I love you, i have been saying this and get the response,the parents like it, it wont hurt them, but it is so cute. I agree that it is not respectful, small children do not keep their hand where YOU want them with out applying pressure, they can’t opt out if they are uncomfortable. If parents want to see art work that i created, i will show them what I do in my spare time, not some craft I force their child to do….rant over.

  14. charlotte
    November 28, 2015

    After reading this I was in two minds. I totally agree in the fact that adults should not paint children’s hands and feet, however, I feel that if you supervise the activity and let the children do as they wish with the paint and the children choose to paint there own hands or feet and make their pictures themselves then we as educators should allow the children to have their freedom to do so. I did an activity the other day and I gave the children the pot of paint and I supervised them as they made their hand print trees. The children also explored painting there finger tips to be used as a different effect maker. I agree that children should a explore paint in the own accord and at their own pace they were supervised when washing hands. We got paint everywhere however as a good practitioner I did not care and stayed late to clean up the mess.

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