Crafting with kids: an overachieving mom’s guide to making an artistic mess

Last week, the kids and I were fighting spring colds, and even though the temperature outside was reasonable for spring, the wind was gusty. I opted for an in-house project instead of playtime outside.

For a few weeks, I’d been wanting to make these.

They are magazine files made from cereal boxes, and I first saw the idea on this site. I’d marked up the cereal boxes but was waiting for the best time to drag out the scissors, glue and scrapbooking paper.

My kids are 4 and 2, so art projects in our house require lots of supervision and tons of help (not to mention a boatload of patience on my part.) I like making things, but I’ve never been very good at follow-the-rules kinds of crafts.

Anyway, they didn’t turn out too bad, and I only had to threaten one time that we were going to put it all away before were done. The mess was minimal, and we made something useful.

Craft projects with kids can be intimidating, especially if you’re a control freak perfectionist like me, but it can be done, and I hope the effort pays off later in life and that my kids enjoy creating things as much as I do. (Or more!)

Here are some tips I’m learning about crafting with kids.

  • Be realistic. About how much time it’s going to take. About what you can accomplish. About the amount of mess you’re going to make. I usually approach these projects optimistically thinking “how hard could it be?” or “we could totally do that” and then find myself frustrated because I had unrealistic expectations. Repeat after me: The time is worth it. I don’t have to do every project I find on Pinterest with my kids this year. Messes clean up.
  • Plan ahead. My kids have a short attention span. Case in point: Easter egg dyeing. Do you know how long five minutes is to a 4-year-old or a 2-year-old? I suspect the experience was slightly less than what they expected. With that in mind, if I can have some prep work done before I get them started, we’re more likely to succeed. For example, with the cereal box project, I measured the boxes ahead of time. I should have cut them, too, because in the down time when I was cutting, the kids were bored. Gather your supplies. Lay out newspapers (if you’re working on your kitchen table like we usually do). Take a deep breath. Dive in.
  • Take your kids shopping for supplies. Hobby Lobby with two kids under 5 is one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had. One time we were shopping for a picture frame and my son, the 2-year-old, insisted on holding the basket. Every time he swung around, I envisioned shattered frames all over the floor. That said, when I take the kids with me to buy craft supplies, they get inspired and excited about what we’re going to do. Our next project is to glue seashells we found on our trip to Florida to small wooden objects we found at Hobby Lobby. My son picked out a train, something I wouldn’t have bought if he hadn’t been with me. Giving him a choice in what to make, I hope, will keep him interested in the project.
  • Keep it simple. I try not to spend a lot of money on arts and crafts, frankly because we don’t have a lot of wiggle room in our budget. Projects that use things you have around the house (like cereal boxes) or things you can find (like leaves, flowers or sea shells) cut down on costs. Our biggest art expenses tend to be things like glue sticks and clear contact paper. Otherwise, I look for things that are sitting around the house, like my stash of scrapbooking paper that I’m not using for scrapbooking right now, and paints I used for projects years ago before I had kids.
  • Settle for imperfect. I want things to turn out right and look good. With kids as young as mine, that’s almost impossible when it comes to craft projects. If you look closely, my magazine files are misshapen and the paper is crooked. They may even be falling apart by now. Sometimes I lose it in my quest for perfection, but I’d rather my kids learn to try things and get it wrong than be afraid of trying anything because they know it won’t be right. Besides, it’s art. That’s one of the beauties of creative projects. If you make a mistake, you can convince people you did it on purpose and it was just your creative spin on the project.

What am I missing? How do you make craft projects fun for your kids?

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