I think that few people outside of education realize how important arts and crafts activities for kids are. You see, education isn't just about teaching a collection of facts. Education is about teaching an attitude towards the world. You need to teach kids to investigate, to create, and to synthesize their knowledge with previous knowledge and ideas. Arts and crafts ideas allow kids to interact with their learning environment, creating something more true and real than just a selection of facts.
Of course, arts and crafts activities are useful for internalizing information – particularly with younger students. The human mind is a complex thing, and if you want to use it you need to understand how it works. The more connections in the brain makes, the more firmly it cements its knowledge. If a particular art and craft activity inspires a student, he will remember everything about it including the lesson plan that led up to it. It will become a vivid part of his memory, not just an incidental lesson that slowly gets forgotten over years.
One of my favorite uses of arts and crafts activities is to teach problem-solving skills. When I teach my students about history, I teach them about the attempts of great thinkers to solve various problems that civilization runs into. Engineering, urban planning, design, invention, and many other problems have to be overcome at various points. Although I obviously can't show my students all of the complexities of historical problem solving, I can let them try their hands at constructing a siege proof castle, a stable bridge, or designing an ideal city. These art and craft activities make them not take the world around them for granted. They begin to realize that everything we have was a struggle to obtain, and they begin to dream about how much better things could get in the future.
You also can't forget about the creative aspect of arts and crafts activities. When it comes down to it, art is all about being imaginative and creative. One of the main things that these activities accomplish is allowing students to interact in a more active way with the world around them. Through arts and crafts activities, They can imagine a world that makes different decisions than ours does. They can try to come up with solutions better than the ones used by our leaders. Not every arts and crafts activity leads to profound conclusions or big changes in the way students think, but if even one does I think I've done my job. For me, teaching is all about building independent, creative thinkers for tomorrow. There is nothing more importance in a classroom than making students think for themselves.