Crafting With a Toddler Can Be Easy (Really, It Can!)

I am a very creative person. If I'm not making something - anything - I start going a little nuts. I've managed to learn how to fit that need to be artistic into everyday chores. Cooking is the easiest because it can be a very creative pursuit all the way from mixing flavors to the presentation. Organizing can be done in such a way that I feel like I'm being creative - I decorate boxes that I shove store paperwork in, I arrange books so their spines make interesting patterns. You know, anything to get that artistic craving satisfied! So, when Little Guy got to be about 18 months old, I just had to start doing crafts with him. And, no, I'm not crazy!

First of all, we call these "Projects" because it just sounds important. I put a lot of meaning in the word. It's Project with a capital "P"! I've found, through trial and error, that our Projects tend to go better when I've prepared and executed them in a particular way. I'd like to do a little series of crafting-related posts and decided that the best place to start is describing my formula for a craft session that ends with everyone happy, no huge mess to clean up, and a proud little one. I focus on toddlers here, but these tips can be used with just about any age.

If you have any tips that you have found work for you and your little one, please share them!

Plan Ahead

  1. Let your little one know you're going to be making something. Anticipation is key to a great experience. When I tell Little Guy that we're gong to do something, it gives him a feeling of empowerment. No, it really does! Think about how it must feel to be a toddler. You don't know about telling time, appointments, etc. One minute you're coloring, the next your mom is telling you it's time to go. "Where? Huh? No one told me about this. Maybe I'll have a tantrum right now!" Additionally, I'm trying to get Little Guy to understand the concepts of "First", "Next", "Then", "After", and "Last". So, I'll usually tell him something like this, "Hey, I have an idea! Let's do a project after nap time today. Would you like that? OK! Well, first we need to make lunch, next we have to eat lunch. And then we need to clean up our dishes, and after that we'll take a nap. And when we wake up, AFTER our nap, we can do a fun project together!"

  2. Make sure to schedule the craft for a time when your child is in a good mood. Yeah, sounds like a no-brainer, right? But unless someone tells me stuff like this, I just don't think of it until I'm standing in my kitchen with bright red, non-washable paint dripping from me, the ceiling, the fridge, the toddler, and the cats (also covered in paint) are chasing the little beads that are rolling everywhere. So, please, for your own sanity, make sure your little one is happy. My guy is in his best mood after he's had a nap and a snack. He's cooperative, happy, and ready for anything during that time. If we ever need to do anything, that's when I schedule it!

  3. Have all the items you will need ready. In order. Really. I usually had everything I needed (well, most of it) sitting in a big pile on the table. Then I read some tips from Linda's Blog and saw this one. It makes perfect sense. I can't tell you how many times projects have gone south because I was spending more time rifling through my pile-o'-crafting-supplies trying to find two googly eyes that are the same size. Toddlers don't like waiting, especially when they're waiting over and over again. I line up all of my items on an old baking sheet while Little Guy is sleeping. I put them in order of when I'll need them. This may sound kind of OCD, but it really makes a difference. We can move from one step to the next the second he's ready. I'm not turning my back on  a toddler with a half-made craft, still wet with paint and glue for three seconds (the exact amount of time it takes most toddlers to completely dismantle said craft and lick half of the glue off. What is is with kids eating glue, anyway?!)

  4. Use the fun factor of crafting to your advantage! Oh! This is a good one. Little Guy LOVES doing projects, so I have a great way to get him to do stuff like clean up his toys. Some may call it bribery, but I don't see it that way. I will tell him that it's almost time for our project and suggest that he start putting his toys away (they're always everywhere!) He'll usually dismiss me the first couple of times, but I know I've planted two ideas: We're going to make something, and The toys need to be cleaned up. Finally, I'll tell him that it's time to do his project right now. THAT gets some attention! Once he's listening, I can tell him, once again, that we can't do anything until the toys are cleaned up. The next thing I hear is Little Guy singing the Barney "Clean-Up" song.

  5. Know the directions well. Yeah, read them. Two or three times. Make sure you understand what you're supposed to do. Pay special attention to drying times and things like that. You don't want to get your little one all psyched up for a fun time only to find that the first step is to glue two pieces of something together and then wait 30 minutes for the glue to dry. That would be something you could have done in advance, right? It also helps to ensure you have the right tools and supplies for the job.

  6. Think twice about where you will be making this masterpiece. This is pretty important. A fairly confined area is best. Little ones like to explore. They can't help it. If you have your toddler working at the kitchen table, try to make sure he or she is in a booster seat. A half a second of you not watching can end up with your kid (covered in paint) crawling around under the table. And, as you know, once they start stuff like that, you'll never get them to sit still again. I put little guy in his high chair. It's confined. The tray keeps spills and splatters in one place. His attention stays focused on the task at hand.

 Getting Started

  1. It's good to have two options. I know, I just told you to have all of your supplies in order and ready to go. Now, I'm going to tell you to give your child a choice between two projects. But it doesn't have to be a bad thing. Lots of projects use the same supplies. Let's say you have construction paper, pom-poms, glue, and googly eyes. Think of all the things you could make with those. Maybe ask your little one if he or she wants to make a duck or a bug today. Just don't do what I've done and give too many options. You'll most likely end up with a toddler who has no idea what they want to make, crying every time you decide for him or her. End of craft. See? So, why give them a choice? It makes this their project. That sense of ownership can mean that your toddler will be more apt to pay attention to direction, work carefully, and enjoy what their doing.

  2. Go over the rules before you begin.You know, stuff like, "No touching the scissors unless I help you, they can hurt you." And, "Stir the paint very gently!" (I learned all about that one when I gave him the brush and he went at it like a chef beating an egg into submission. Paint everywhere!)

  3. One step at a time. Don't start telling your toddler what you're going to do next when he hasn't even gotten through with what he's doing now. It can be distracting. It can lead to him wanting to do that next step - now!

 It's a Process...

  1. Make sure you really want to do this and will have time for it. Your kid is going to know if you don't really want to be doing a craft right now. Have you ever had someone do something with you, knowing full well that they really didn't want to be there? Totally sucks the fun out of it. Your toddler knows. Don't make her feel like you're making a huge sacrifice just so she can paint. Then there's the time thing. Rushing a project can end up causing anxiety rather than a relaxing good time. This should be an enjoyable and leisurely time for you to spend a little one-on-one time together. Think about how often you focus completely on her and nothing else - no TV, no Internet, no iPod, no phone calls, etc. Now think of how important and special that will make your kiddo feel!

  2. This is your toddler's project, NOT yours! It really doesn't matter WHAT the thing looks like when you're done. Please don't try to make it look perfect. Please don't grab the paintbrush and "fix" it. Please don't change it after you're little one leaves the room.

  3. It's OK to make substitutions and skip steps. Really! I can't tell you how many times we've completely left something out (like glitter) because it's just too messy or complicated. And, sometimes I just don't have the supplies I need to create a project according to the directions. No googly eyes? Draw them on or have your little one make fingerprints where the eyes go. I no longer have poster paints or watercolors - we go through them too fast and they're expensive. I go online and find recipes for them. And the great part is that you don't have to worry about it if you have a toddler who likes to taste everything! (Look for some upcoming posts on this.)

Finishing Up

  1. You don't have to complete your craft right now, or even today. Sometimes, in the middle of creating, a toddler will become bored. Don't push it. This is supposed to be fun and the minute it stops being fun is when you need to find something else to do. Sometimes just moving on to a different step in the craft will help. My little guy doesn't like the cutting part as much as gluing, so if he gets bored cutting, we'll stop and use whatever we have to glue with. Other times, a tantrum will hit when the "I'll do it myself" attitude takes hold - even when you know they cannot do it on their own. Tantrums mean it's just too much. A break until emotions cool down is the best plan.

  2. How do you explain drying time?! Yeah, this is a tough one. What I try to do is figure out how we can change the steps in a craft so he's constantly got something to do. That way, we can allow paint to dry while we're busy with another task. For instance, we recently had a project where we had to paint a flower pot with two coats of paint, letting it dry in between, as the first step. What we did was paint one coat and, while it was drying, we cut out some shapes from paper. Then the next coat went on, and we really couldn't do anything more until it was dry. So, I made something up. We ended up arranging our cut-outs by size, then shape, then color... It kept him busy, was project-related, and hey - we got a little learning in, too! If you just can't think of anything to do while the paint is drying, pull out a piece of paper and some markers. You can always cut a piece off and glue it somewhere on the project later.

  3. Cleaning up can be fun! Have your child help. Talk about what a great help he or she is being - constantly. Let them use your kitchen sponge - the one they always see you using for the dishes. Little ones really want to model the adults around them and by asking them to help you clean and letting them use the same cleaning tools that you use, you're showing them that they can do this stuff, too! And, that by doing it, they're really, really helping you out. Even after we're done, I'll loudly tell other people how Little Guy helped me clean up and what a great job he did. He hears this and gets the proudest look on his face.

  4. Instill that sense of pride in your little one and take lots of pictures. Keep telling your toddler what a great job they're doing. Though it can be hard sometimes, let them decide what colors to use and where to glue the ears. You might end up with a green bunny or a face that looks like Picasso painted it, but it doesn't matter. It really doesn't. Is the world going to end if your kid's flower only has one petal and a purple stem? Nope! By encouraging your child's creativity, you're showing them that they can do something, that they have the ability to make their own decisions, that they don't always need your help. Taking a ton of photos also shows them how important their "work" is to you. I know that when I get the camera out, Little Guy already know that we're doing something special. I usually only get three or four good photos after I eliminate all of the closed eyes, weird looks, and unfocused ones. (I LOVE having a digital camera that allows me to delete!)

I plan to write a few craft ideas, reviews on supplies, how to make your own non-toxic supplies, and other craft-related posts in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out. You may want to sign up for emails so you don't miss anything (just below the Networked Blogs widget in the sidebar.)

UPDATE: Head on over to my Super-Easy Crafting with Kids post for a crafty GIVEAWAY!

    *** I've entered this post as my link in the Lower Your Alexa Hop hosted by Real Mom Reviews. If you'd like to join in, head on over and read the instructions. Please follow the rules! This is a Wednesday Hop which posts every Tuesday evening around 7pm. My Alexa has dropped almost 500,000 in the four weeks I have participated!


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    I just came across this Alexa Hop, too! I hope I'm not committing a major blogger faux pas by combining the two in one post. (Please let me know if I am - somebody? anybody?) This hop is hosted by Spearmint Baby, a blog with lots of great parenting posts. The rules are the same: Download and install the Alexa Toolbar, link up, hop around. Make sure to leave a comment at each blog so they can return the favor by heading over to yours.

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