Question:
I want to be more tactile with my kids, meaning I want to be literally more hands-on with them in the day as well as figuratively, I want them to spend more time creating with their hands and feeling the joy of a project conceived and completed. I’m ready to bump it up a notch, and you have ideas and materials that never cross my mind. Your young daughter knits? Your little boy paints onto shirts? Sign me up! I know you’re crazy busy, but if you get a chance, I’d welcome advice. — Amanda

Answer:
Hi Amanda. What a great question. Thanks for submitting it. Last Saturday I taught a small class about this very topic. I’m going to include my handout notes here because I think they will answer your question fairly well.

Design Mom’s Tips for Doing Crafts or Art Projects with Your Kids

1) Admit to yourself it’s going to be messy. If that stresses you out, cover surfaces with newsprint or butcher paper to catch bits of paper and glitter and drops of glue. Use materials (adhesive, markers, etc.) that are washable. Then relax. If you get paint on your hands, it’s okay. If your child gets marker on her shirt, it will wash. When you’re finished, roll up the newsprint and discard the mess easily.

2) Don’t present one firm example of how the craft should turn out. Either don’t present an example at all, or present several options, so your child knows he can use his imagination. If he glues the eyes where the ears should be, good for him — think of it as an opportunity to introduce cubism (wink). Their idea is more important than how they execute it.

3) Look for crafts that are age appropriate and play to your child’s strengths. If the craft is complicated, break it into steps and figure out which ones your child can do. For a Harry Potter Celebration we made wands out of paper, hot glue and paint. My 6 year old could choose the paper, tape the rolled paper, plug in the glue gun, and paint it with craft paint. I did the hot-glueing, the rolling of the paper that required more dexterity than her little hands could muster and handled the metallic highlights we added with permanent marker. My older kids could do more. My younger kids were napping — this wasn’t a craft appropriate for 2 and under.

4) If you really enjoy crafting yourself, set aside a portion of the craft that is just for you to make. I find when I don’t do this, I hover and am tempted to control what my kids are making. If I know there are some craft materials reserved for me then it’s easier to allow the kids to do their thing. (For example, every year at Easter, I set aside a dozen eggs that are just for me to decorate.)

5) If you’re crafting on the kitchen table and the craft isn’t finished, but it’s time to use the table for dinner, it can be frustrating to clean it all up and start again later. If you don’t have a dedicated craft space, plan your craft to be done in an allotted time.

6) You don’t have to keep it forever. Crafts are often 3-D and can quickly accumulate and take up lots of space. Not everything your child makes is a masterpiece. Say goodbye to some old crafts when new crafts come into your life — before you start resenting crafts in general. Much of the value of crafts is in the making.

7) Remember Tim Gunn and “Make it Work.” It’s not worth running to the store to get the perfect paper/trim/detail. The enthusiasm for the project will evaporate if you have to break for errands. Use materials you have at home.

8) Not every child likes glue and glitter and cutting paper. Don’t force it.

If you’re looking for specific ideas, following is a list of crafts my kids have done in the last year or so and loved (including links to my sources or instructions). If you’ve been reading for awhile, you’ll recognize these from earlier posts.

Note: I especially love crafts that are practical. That can be used or worn or played with. If you’re looking for decorative crafts, this list won’t be helpful.

Also, the ages are just meant as a loose guide — if it says 4+, it means there are lots of steps in the project that a typical 4-year-old could do. It doesn’t mean you should leave your 4-year-old alone with a glue gun and sewing machine and sharp pair of scissors while you run to the grocery store.

painted shirt, age 4+
potholders, age 6+
recycled crayons, all ages
artwork calendar, all ages
sculpey beads, age 4+
bubblebath, age 4+
jello or kool-aid playdough, all ages
romper stompers, age 4+
round loom hats & scarves, age 7/8+
bean bags, age 4+
knot a quilt*, age 6+
magic wands, age 5+
barrettes, age 4+
ipod cover, age 7/8+
garlands, age 4+
decoupage eggs, all ages

*I don’t think I’ve posted on Knot-A-Quilt before but it’s a kit filled with fringed squares that your child can tie together to make a blanket. Great concept and a good quiet project — my daughter loved making it. But. The fabric it comes with is not the best. I’ve been experimenting with alternative fabrics that are better looking and higher-quality to see if we can make our own squares. I’ll let you know how it goes. . .