“OH-kaay, I think you have enough glue on there, buddy!” I say as I stare at the Elmer’s puddle before me. The singsong pitch of my voice makes the controlling craft commentary ok, right?!
So, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. A rule- and instruction- follower. Crafting involves the creative license of toddlers putting googly eyes on a snowman’s toes, sticky fingers grazing all nearby surfaces, and paint-streaked hair… when it is NOT bath night.
I like tidiness, order and, if I’m being honest, creative control.
And yet, I want my kids to enjoy crafting with abandon. To come up with an idea, gather materials around the house, and turn a pile of construction paper, paper clips, foil and milk caps into a freight train (to give a recent example). To get a little messy and have mom mean it when she says it’s ok.
You won’t find step-by-step photos of our creations on Pinterest. I’m often otherwise engaged with fulfilling my 5- and 2-year-old boys’ constant requests (More colors! More glue!) and wiping their dripping paint. Or I’m hiding in another room, enjoying a moment of peace at the price of a major cleanup.
I’ve learned – and continue to reassess and refine – kid crafting strategies that allow them to have fun while also maintaining (some of) my sanity. If you’re able to handle this with ease, you’re my hero. For the rest of us, here are a few tips for enduring and even enjoying craft time.
I’ve been burned too many times when I come up with a craft for the kids (a.k.a. I find it on Busy Toddler’s IG page), and they’re begging at my heels when I haven’t even dug up the materials. Now, I pull it all together and set up their little stations before getting their hopes up.
Sit down and craft alongside them.
Once they’re settled, I often run through my mental to-do list, grasping for something to accomplish while they’re occupied, which could be 3 to 30 minutes. While I need those moments of solo productivity, sometimes it’s most fulfilling to craft with them or color beside them. The shared time and space go a long way in filling their emotional cups.
Know your sanity boundaries.
Giving them one Play-Doh tub at a time keeps color mixing at bay. A plate dotted with blobs of (washable) paint, each with its own paintbrush, avoids an art gallery of brown. Bins of soapy water for toy washing are placed in a sea of old towels. And sometimes, I just lay down newspaper, cover them with smocks (my full-coverage favorite) and let them go for it.
Have patience with their creative process.
Oh, how I want the adorable paper plate Santa from Pinterest to be put together “just so.” When we’re making a present for grandma, it’s worth guiding them through it. Other times, a little patience with where they draw the mouth, punch the hole or glue the eyes builds confidence and fosters independence.
In the end, I’ve learned to find finished crafts a home in our house. There is so. much. artwork. between school papers, coloring pages, and crafting.
I hang a few current favorites on our window or fridge for us to enjoy and for them to show visitors. The projects eventually migrate to their rooms to clip onto their wire picture frames. The less-prized items end up in one of two bins: a plastic catch-all or the trash (when no one’s looking).
Find the balance between curating their creative joy and managing your penchant for order. You don’t have to fight all your persnickety tendencies – they’re a part of who you are.
Just take a moment to watch your little ones focus intently on their work of art, concentrating with furrowed brows and little tongues sticking out between pursed lips. That might just make a little chaos worth it.