Rethinking Arts and Crafts time

I've noticed that there's a common formula for doing crafts with toddlers and preschoolers. It goes something like this:

    1. Mom finds a neat crafts idea online or in some magazine.

    2. Mom compiles 10 materials, gets everybody set up, and explains to tot how to make said craft.

    3. Tot plays with crafts "all wrong," makes mess, gets bored, moves on.

    4. Mom gets stressed, frantically finishes tot's art herself. Mom gets covered in glue and while she's attaching 27 pom poms to abandoned art projects, the tots conduct unfortunate experiments with Barbie dresses, peanut butter and the cat.

    5. Mom throws out art project, wonders why "EVERYTHING HAS TO BE SO HARD!"

I've been guilty of it way too many times myself. I remember getting together with my friend Jeanne and her kids last summer. I brought flower pots and rubber bands so that we could all make twig pots. It was a grand idea. The kids searched happily for sticks while we snipped them into the correct lengths. We rubber banded and added twigs. The kids got bored at 10 sticks. Jeanne and I tried to finish 5 abandoned twig pots while the kids ran around hooting, working like Lucy and Ethel on the assembly line of chocolates treats.

Last month I found a bag of twigs, rubber bands and an abandoned stick of a geranium under the car seats. Boy, that was a great project!

And it looked so good in the pictures...

The problem with us parents is that we look for crafts with a finished product in mind. Kids rarely have the attention span to finish even the easiest projects, and they usually find way more creative ways to use any materials you assemble anyway.

Jeanne and I should have told them to find a pile of twigs, given them some rubber bands, and let them come up with their own games and crafts. Then we could have sat and talked. ;)

There will be years of lint clay necklaces and shell frames to look forward to. I'm finally abandoning my role as activities director and finding neat processes instead.

With that in mind, here are some fabulous arts and crafts ideas we've been doing lately.

Marshmallows and toothpicks
Thanks to magical mama Jackie for giving me this idea (in jest at the time). I gave Victoria some stale marshmallows and colored toothpicks and she created wonderful structures. She learned about how to reinforce them, got to be creative, got to munch her materials, and got to use the ever-important "poke reflex" (an innate need that small children are born with, I'm convinced). You could also use those annoying styrofoam peanuts for this too! Just keep an eye on any small fry with pokey things, obviously (like I need to say that).

For an easy craft project to fill up those winter days, go scoop up a bowl of snow and bring it inside. If you're one of those lucky folks without snow, maybe crushed ice would work. Being in the land of the frozen tundra I'm not going to feel too sorry for you.

Okay, now give the kids an assortment of materials like candy presses, cookie cutters/stampers, melon ballers, plastic utensils, funnels, etc. to press and poke and make designs with. You can also flatten the snow and give them an assortment of washable markers (since it can get messy and might get on clothes etc.). They can draw right on the snow and even experiment with color mixing. When the snow is melted, dump it and get more!

Bath painting
Yes, here I go with the bathtub parenting again but lately my CFS has been acting up and the bathtub saves me! While Annalee naps, Victoria and I get in the tub. I read a book and she finger paints with watercolor paints on sheets of paper I tape to the walls. There's no clean-up involved, we get to sit and yap while she paints, and I get to feel like a good mommy when I'm not feeling up to being upright. This is a good project for pregnant moms or anybody who's sick but can't call in sick from parenting.

You can all wear swim suits if you like. It adds to the fun. For more bathtub crafts, check out "Bath Time as a Parenting Tool" and "Spray Art" in the crafts and articles sections of the MC site. There are more lazy parenting ideas up there too.

Originally published in the Magical Childhood newsletter, issue 27 (December, 2001)

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All works on this site Alicia Bayer unless otherwise noted.
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