Originally posted November 2011
When the Showgirl was tiny, I used to envision the fun things we'd do when she was a little older and had more control over her limbs and bodily functions. I imagined the glorious afternoons we'd spend painting and colouring in and fashioning interesting and useful things from twigs and leaves. I even poo-pooed one of the women in my mother's group who said she'd be leaving all that messy stuff to the day care and preschool teachers. What sort of mother didn't want to fingerpaint, I thought, with only a hint of superiority.
Of course, four years later and hardened by reality, I've come to accept our home crafting sessions as a necessity that, while occasionally fun, must by all means be minimised, both in scale and in mess, as much as possible. I apply a formula that goes something like this:
quality of craft = time killing capacity + creative stimulation
(mess x labour)2
Or...amount of waking minutes child is occupied plus stimulation provided divided by mess multiplied by mummy involvement squared. Clear as mud.
There are loads of great books out there filled with kids craft activities, but so many of them are so convoluted and involve things like salt dough and beads and, eugh, glitter. And all of those things equal, in my opinion, big-time hands-on for mum. Which isn't useful, you see, because our long afternoon 'craft' sessions have become a vehicle for my own little obsessions in the crafting arena - the more an activity can engage them, the more time available to me to knit/sew/cook.
So with that in mind, I thought it'd be fun to blog about my five top kids 'craft' activities that fit the following all-important criteria: they are easy to set up and clean away, they are at least mildly creative and stimulating (ie they're not TV), they cause minimal mess and, most important of all, they require absolutely minimal mummy involvement, freeing her up for more important pursuits like casting on a new cardigan or trying out a new recipe.
1) The Sticker Poster
Take a large sheet of paper and a sticker book or four, and go! Lola came up with this one herself after receiving an incredible sticker book for her birthday. She has pulled it out dozens of times and quietly passes half an hour filling the blank spaces with sticker after sticker. Sometimes she chats about what she's doing, other times she's off on a reverie, no doubt imagining stories about the characters in front of her. It's the ultimate quiet pursuit. Baby sisters optional.
2) The Rainy Day Box
Our rainy day box is a tub purchased at Kmart, though I've seen variations all over the place. It's basically a box full of a gazillion bits and pieces for sticking and twisting and gluing and creating. Cheap, easy, opportunity-laden. Hint: If minimal mess is your aim, remove any glitter or glitter glue before handing it over to the kid. We like to pair this with the recycling craft tub filled with toilet rolls and tissue boxes and coffee trays. Just add good-quality kid scissors, sticky tape and glue. Hours of entertainment.
That old favourite, the playdough. We make our own by following the back of the cream of tartar packet, but instead of adding cold water and 'cooking' it, we add boiling water and just mix and knead it in a bowl. It lasts for months. The bubs have just discovered playdough joy and will happily pass half an hour in their high chairs rolling and pressing and, yes, tasting. We have a basket full of plastic moulds and shapes, as well as knives and forks and rollers. Lola also loves to raid my baking cupboard for trays to put her 'cookies' on. I do believe there's a batch baking in the oven as we speak.
4) The Scrapbook
They say never say never, but I am not and never will be a scrapbooker. Lola, however, has been into it since William married Kate and we set to work with the Women's Weekly and an empty book to record the occasion. Now she attacks catalogues and magazines with fervour, cutting out anything that takes her fancy, then she'll turn her attention to gluing the pictures into her scrapbooks. Great for improving scissor skills, and if you run out of paste (easy when a four-year-old is in charge), just make some gloopy glue out of flour and water.
5) Large-Scale Drawing
Clear some floor space, take a roll of blank paper (ours are from IKEA) and spread out a few metres of it. Stick down on all sides to secure. Place pencils and crayons around the place then let them at it. They can come back to it again and again as the day progresses, friends and visitors can get involved, and when they're all tucked up in bed sound asleep, sneak that massive artwork into the recycling bin 'cause there won't be a wall big enough to handle it. The next morning, repeat.
And there you have it. Ironically, I still have the 'crafternoon' fantasies - but they've morphed into a kind of Austen-esque tableau in which I sit serenely with my three girls, perhaps in a parlour of some sort, all of us working busily away on our knitting or embroidery projects, chatting amiably about our days, Bach playing softly in the background...
I am, as always, the eternal optimist.