As we rediscover our great-grandmothers’ tools, tactics, and techniques for raising healthy children on budgets tighter than their corsets, we are learning to grow our fruits and vegetables, cook and bake our favorite dishes from scratch, mend and maintain our best clothes, and generally capitalize on the joys of getting back to the basics. Great-grandma knew not only how to economize but also how to feel profound joy and satisfaction from self-reliance. We can impart similar lessons to our children when we stop spending money on toys, turning them loose instead with great crafts projects fueled by their own imaginations.
The secret to cool crafts: Link them to seasonal themes. Major holidays are obvious enticements to creating decorations of all kinds; so are the seasons themselves and the sports that go with them. Your techno-tots are wonderfully world-aware. Take a minute to ask them what’s going on in their little worlds, and then work the themes accordingly. Bring back a few traditional favorite crafts, and let the magic begin.
• Playdough or gingerbread Type the word “playdough” into your search engine and instantly discover more than 100 great recipes for all kinds of play-worthy dough, colored and scented, bakable or edible. Kids have a great time making the dough with you, and they can spend hours doing with dough whatever they would do with mud or clay. Moreover, nowhere is it written that gingerbread cookies must come out only at Christmas. Bust out the cookie cutters and go crazy with delectable dough treats.
• Cardboard, construction paper, and assorted paper goods You provide the stuff, kids supply the imagination and inventiveness, and the projects multiply like baby bunnies. Paper plates, of course, become snowflakes and snowmen; they also can become flying saucers, quilt squares, and at least 100,000 clever inventions. A medium sized cardboard box easily becomes a mailbox, therefore a great place to collect kids’ art or stories. But boxes just as easily become buildings, which gather into neighborhoods which can expand to become cities…and so on. Veteran moms agree, “The hardest, but also the best part is learning to trust the kids and their inventiveness. The other difficult part is not getting so engrossed in the projects you forget about the kids.”
• Papier mache Remember how wonderfully sloppy strips of newspaper become when you slip them through flour-and-water paste? Productive play groups have been known to create entire jungles from papier mache, filling these wild places with all kinds of ferocious beasts and mythical monsters. Groups of girls, not surprisingly, have been known to create families from slippery shreds of newsprint. Everything about papier mache is completely washable and 100% non-toxic. Encourage the kids to go crazy with it.
• Collages Set the theme and watch the children illustrate it with all kinds of photographs from old magazines. As children are coming into awareness of language and developing their sight-reading skills, help them find words to complement their pictures, or help them write descriptive captions for their pictures. You may also move beyond themes into narratives, having each child in a group illustrate his or her favorite moment in a popular story.
• Very cool coloring projects. Just as the internet abounds with dough recipes, craft suggestions, and seasonal teasers, so it abounds with great coloring projects. Kids will alert you, however, when a picture looks like just another lame entry from another old coloring book, interest fades fast. Tease their imaginations and sustain their motivation with usable coloring projects that become holiday gifts. A favorite: a colored stained glass window pattern from http://free-stainedglass-patterns.com/. Pasted on a well-lit window, these patterns look like “the real deal,” and they are guaranteed mom favorites.
As with all other playtime and fun-time activities, kids like it best and get the most from their projects when you complete the activities with them. Every mom knows that kids’ imaginations sometimes can run well ahead of their little fingers’ capabilities; but, when you collaborate, you usually can find excellent solutions to the toughest crafts-project dilemmas, and you set good precedents for working on algebra and geometry when the kids get just a little bit older.
Photo credits: making playdough volcano by jimmiehomeschoolmom/flickr; 060715papiermache by Dan4th/flickr
Author Thomas Hathaway is a financial consultant and suggests there are times when payday loans may come in handy while waiting for your regular paycheck to arrive.