8 Tips for Doing Arts & Crafts With Kids

Hello, Friends! I posted this advice back in 2008, but I read it again recently and thought: I have more kids now, and they’ve grown since 2008, but I still agree with what I wrote. Hah! So here are my tips again, for those of you who are getting ready to get your holiday crafting on and hope to involve your kids. : )

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Design Mom’s 8 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. : ) 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 art projects 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.

How about you? Do you like crafting with your kids? What tips would you add?

P.S. — Here’s to happy crafting! Also. These images were from Oscar’s birthday party where the guests helped make the pinata.

41 thoughts on “8 Tips for Doing Arts & Crafts With Kids”

  1. The Babby is only two and a half, so I’m trying to figure out ways to include her this year. I was thinking I’d make most of the things, and then she could have a special present just for her to give to family, like painted toilet paper owls (I make the owls, she paints them). And I was going to do potato printing on inexpensive totes – I’d do all but one and she could make herself one to keep. Any other toddler crafting tips would be appreciated – I want to involve her, but she’s not all that coordinated yet!

    1. Christa,
      If you haven’t already (because you are Babby’s mom) go ahead and give it a try. At two and a half my son was a super gluer. I tried for so long to keep the glue away from him. To my surprise, I say when I actually did give in I was amazed at his technique! My son just turned 3 a month ago and I am amazed at his craftiness. Good luck.

  2. I love crafting, my son seems to just do it because we are. “Can I be done now?” Is a common phrase he says. My daughter will however sit at the table and draw pictures, cut and glue etc long after I have to move onto something else! You are totally right, don’t force it. I try to put together activities that will interest my son, but on a rainy day, I don’t rely on all day craftiness, it just doesn’t work for him.

  3. Great list – and all so true.

    When we are making gifts/cards for holidays, I always make sure I have enough supplies for my girls to make one for themselves as well as others.

    A few years ago I read on a blog to remember to stay present while your kids are crafting. It is so tempting to do something else (laundry, dishes, cleaning…) while your kids are so focused on their craft. I like to put on music and make my own of whatever they are making. It is such quality time together.

  4. I especially love #2. I’m always trying to tell my daughter that, in art, you can do whatever you want. Really, really, really whatever you want. I was infuriated when she told me her ART TEACHER at school made her start a coloring project over because she had made the sky pink instead of blue.

  5. This Halloween, we improvised another great HP wand option (Sigh. I’m a hopeless nerd.) by breaking off the long, thin part of a plastic hanger (cardboard would likely work too), wrapping pipe cleaners or wire around for texture, and painting over it all with a brown or “flat” gold paint (spray or acrylic)….it took away the drying time the hot glue method needs midway through the process.

  6. This is great and what I’ve needed to hear lately. My kids are nearly begging to do crafts lately and it always seems to be requested at the worst time of day (i.e. when I am prepping dinner). I’ve decided to have some small craft supplies ready to go when they make their requests so I can make dinner in somewhat of a peaceful atmosphere but simple enough that they don’t require constant help (no glue or cutting required.) Mine are still little: 1, 3, and 5 so of course the 1 year old always has to be involved. Great reminder that things will get messy – and to embrace it. I struggle with that one sometimes, but I know these are the things that make my children’s hearts full even if it makes my head a little crazy. :)

  7. Thanks for the post! My son is 20 months old and we’re just starting to get into crafts that last longer than 5 minutes. Do you have a good source for fun crafts, or do you, being ultra creative yourself, just think them up?

    1. There are lots of cute sources on line. One of my favorites is Make & Takes (http://www.makeandtakes.com/).

      But mostly, when my kids were little, we would either a) pull out the art supplies and let them create whatever came to their minds, or b) come up with holiday or event focused projects (like Easter Eggs or the Harry Potter Wands).

  8. All of these are great — I really love #4 & #8, as a crafty mom with one crafty girl and one non-crafty boy.

    I also think repetition helps, just like reading that favorite story for 38th time. We have a couple of ornaments that we make each year and they both expect and look forward to it.

  9. I think the #1 thing to keep me sane is the we don’t have to keep everything rule. We clean off our art wall once a month or once a holiday and that keeps life under control.

  10. I posted a link to this post on my blog about a week ago. Great advice as always! Actually in the same post I wrote about this great company, Nono by Noelle, that turns children’s art into kid’s bathing suit patterns. I think you would find this really cool – the perfection “intersection of design and motherhood!” Also the company donates proceeds to help with pediatric cancer research. You can check out the post if you like: http://www.shelleyabreu.com/shelley-abreu/2011/10/art-is-therapy.html

  11. Thanks for re-posting this! It’s something I’ve always struggled with, so it’s good to have some reminders of how to make crafting fun and not stressful. Now we just need to do it more! :)

  12. gabby: i remember when you first wrote this and it is brilliant. so great to read it again as a refresher. i am going to share with all my friends! thanks for this, and all, your great posts!!

  13. 1 and 4…that’s me.
    I cringed for a long time at the thought of the messiness. I’m glad to say I’ve given in and “it’s all good” – we love project hours together.

  14. I love this post, thanks for sharing. My boys are always up for a project…but I’ll admit that I do tend to stress out over the prep, the mess, and the clean-up. One thing that they have always LOVED is tape! Give them a roll of tape, a pair of scissors and some paper, markers or crayons and they will be happy for hours. I just keep my own secret roll in my dresser drawer because I need the security of knowing that I have it on hand when I need some. :)

  15. Great tips! I am so glad you re-posted this since I missed it the first time. We craft a lot at our house and I teach little groups of kids from time to time. I love points #2 and #3. A lot of the kids I teach want to do the project exactly like I am doing or how I want them to do it (even if I don’t have a model)… and some kids want to do the exact opposite. If some kids really want a model to follow, I will create several examples of ways to do a project (or we’ll brainstorm several ways) so that they don’t get stuck on just doing it one way. When my son was a little I was so anxious for him to grow up and do little crafts that I introduced him to some projects too soon. I felt like I was hitting my head against the wall the whole time, but pushed through. It was not a positive experience :) With my daughter I am much more aware of what is appropriate and we are having a lot more fun together.

  16. i am a nanny and we craft A LOT. The boy is asking to make a costume almost daily. Today, we made a Turkey costume out of stuff we had around the house: cereal boxes, colored paper, and glue. We found a template for a mask and he is so anxious to put it all together that he said, “I am going to stand here and watch the glue dry!”. Too often I find we go shopping for materials and it was so refreshing, and fulfilling to, as you said, “Make it work!”.

  17. Great tips! I want to start crafting more with my son that is now asking me for it. As a designer I tend to be too perfectionist and ended up not doing anything with him cause we didn’t have the “perfect” materials or the exact time for it. I realize now that if I keep waiting for that he will be an adult before we craft something!

  18. My kids are two and four and love to craft. I am a little more like you and encourage messes and creative thinking. They have free reign over an entire cupboard full of paper, paints, pom poms, glue, markers, colored pencils, crayons, google eyes, pipe cleaners, stickers, beads and all sorts of things we recycle like tp tubes, lids and more. I’d rather they pull that out and make a mess than watch tv. And the love it. They make me things often and we display with pride.

  19. This is a fantastic list. As an art teacher two things make me bananas:
    1. People who are so worried about “the mess” that they don’t let their kids create art, and
    2. Cookie-cutter art projects. The hand turkey, when every single one looks the same and they’re “supposed” to look just like the teacher’s sample. Ugh.

  20. I love to do arts and crafts with my 5 kids, but I have one problem. I don’t like messes at all and I am very organized; I try to smile and tell myself it’s fun and they are just kids. I will use these tips and see how it goes, especially with Thanksgiving around the corner, we are going to make 5 turkey shirts. FINGERS CROSSED!

  21. Thanks for these tips on doing arts and crafts with kids. I want to start doing projects with my kids because I think they’d really enjoy it. I will have to visit an arts and craft store soon to get all the right materials.

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