Craft Activities With Children
Many parents dread the idea of doing craft activities with young children or toddlers because of the mess and the serious parental input that is absolutely essential.
Craft activities are, however, very good for children: they develop fine motor skills and creativity, and encourage exploration of textures.
Some children may need encouragement to get their hands dirty, and painting and gluing can overcome that concern, especially if you demonstrate that dirty hands are just fine during the activity.
This page will help you to get to grips with craft activities with children.
Tips for Crafting With Children
Prior Preparation and Planning
Just like cooking with children, preparation is key to enjoyable craft sessions with children. Make sure that you have thought about it in advance and have an activity ready to go, otherwise the child will lose interest while you get things ready.
Think like a pre-school provider: everything needs to be out and ready when the children arrive to play.
One Thing at a Time
Don’t be tempted to offer several options and expect your child to make up their mind. Get one activity organised, whether that is play-dough, painting, or making something, and then help your child to complete it.
If you are offering your attention, and something fun to do, you are unlikely to get complaints that an alternative activity is not available.
A bit of thought about what you can expect your child to do will pay off, especially if you have more than one.
Age-appropriate activities are much more enjoyable. For example, a two-year old may be happy to cut up a few pieces of coloured paper and stick them randomly onto a card. A four-year old will probably want to make a picture out of the bits.
Use the Resources Available
If you are like most people, and struggle to come up with new ideas for craft activities, then you need to use the resources available.
Children’s libraries often have books of craft ideas and you can look at them together with your child to decide on possible activities. Alternatively, the internet is full of ideas.
You can also buy craft sets to avoid having to do any preparation yourself apart from finding the glue.
Cover yourself, your child, and any surface on which you plan to do crafts, it's going to get messy!
It is worth investing in some plastic-covered tablecloths in case your child decides to do a bit of painting on their own account while you are not available. Long-sleeved overalls are recommended for children; you can buy plastic-covered ones, or make your own from an old shirt.
Specific Craft Activities
Painting and Drawing
Painting and drawing includes any kind of mark-making: it might be on paper, or board, or on paving outside in chalk.
Mark-making is very good preparation for school so it is a good thing to encourage from an early age, but it can be very messy.
You need to provide:
- Drawing surface (for example, large sheets of paper, blackboard or floor space outside); and
- Mark-making material (for example, paint and brushes, or chalks).
If you are bothered by mess, control is key:
- Limit the number of colours of paint to avoid spillages;
- Have one brush per paint pot and leave it in the pot during painting;
- Invest in paint pots with lids that can be stored with the paint in them to reduce washing;
- Use an old sheet to catch drips and spread it out on the floor (preferably on a wipe-clean floor) to save your carpets;
- Paint outside whenever possible so that you can just hose down any spillages.
It is useful to have a stock of large sheets of paper for painting. Lining paper (available in the wallpaper section of DIY stores) is a cheap option as it is available in large rolls and can be cut to size.
For maximum encouragement of young artists, don’t ask ‘What is it?’.
Young children very often don’t paint ‘things’, they just make marks on the paper, and it may not even occur to them that they ‘should’ paint things.
Instead, comment enthusiastically about the colours, or say ‘Tell me all about it’ when they show you their works of art. Allow them to tell you, rather than guide them.
As an alternative to paint brushes, use plastic cutters or shapes to dip into paint and make marks. Sponges are good as they soak up paint, but leaves provide a cheap alternative.
Cutting and Sticking
Cutting and sticking is a good way to help children learn to use scissors, and also to make pictures.
Boys, whose fine motor skills tend to develop later, may be discouraged from painting and drawing by being unable to produce the same kind of pictures as their female peers. Cutting and sticking offers an alternative way to create. It is also rather less messy, so a gentler start for parents worried about paint spillages.
You need to provide:
- A piece of paper suitable for sticking things on;
- Scissors and instructions on how to use them safely;
- Glue (glue sticks are less messy than PVA and often easier to use); and
- Coloured or textured paper for cutting up and sticking on. Old magazines or cards are perfectly acceptable.
As children grow older, they may like to make specific things by cutting and sticking. A stock of suitable pictures for collaging can be a useful wet-weather tool. A scrap book is also a good option as a place to stick interesting pictures.
Modelling in Clay or Play-Dough
Parents worried about mess should embrace play-dough whole-heartedly because it washes out of clothes easily and can be cleaned off carpet with a vacuum cleaner, even if it has been trodden in.
Clay is a more advanced option that should only be introduced once you are confident that your children will notice when it is on the floor and can be trusted to keep it reasonably tidy.
You will need:
- Play-dough, either bought or home-made;
- A plastic tablecloth or plastic-topped table;
- Lots of cutters, rolling pins, shapers and pushers (buy these at charity shops or ask for them for birthdays as having plenty makes a big difference to the enjoyment levels).
Encourage plenty of experimenting with mark-making, cutting, shaping, and the like. Suggest suitable shapes or models that could be made.
Encourage children to put play-dough away after use to avoid it going hard.
Junk modelling is making things out of old cardboard boxes or bits of plastic that would otherwise be thrown away. It is a great start to 3D modelling.
As an activity, this requires a bit of forethought and planning as you will need to save up old boxes, egg-boxes, toilet rolls and other interesting bits of junk. You can join things together using glue or sellotape. Sellotape is usually quicker and more reliable.
You will need to provide:
- A selection of interesting boxes and other junk;
- Scissors (together with adult hands to help cut through cardboard);
- Glue or sellotape
You may need to provide ideas: suitable options include robots, space rockets, armour, and houses for toys.
As children grow older, the craft activities can get more specific and more interesting. You can also get them to suggest ideas ahead of time, giving you a chance to find a way of delivering them (whether through a kit, or by putting something together yourself).
It is always a good idea to have some kits or ready-prepared ideas put away in a cupboard for wet days or unexpected demands as this will make your life much easier.
But beware: a new and interesting activity is likely to be grabbed with glee and may not last nearly as long as you had hoped…