I love doing arts and crafts with my children. Whether it’s painting or Play-Doh, I enjoy any excuse to get creative. The funny thing is, I’m really not an arty person at all. I was rubbish at art at school and I genuinely can’t even draw a stick man without it looking distorted. Honest! When I was training to be a yoga teacher, we had to draw out yoga poses in stick man form. My course tutor told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to work on mine.
Despite my own shortcomings, I am passionate about encouraging my children to express themselves creatively. Our kitchen walls and cupboards are plastered with artwork they have created, and they each have scrapbooks over-flowing with bits and pieces they have made. Not only are arts and crafts fun, but it helps them in so many other ways too – developing fine motor skills, visual-spatial skills, language development, problem solving and confidence to name but a few.
Little E, my nearly-five-year-old daughter, absolutely loves drawing or making things. She will sit and do it for hours. Her younger brother, three-year-old Little O, has a shorter attention span for creative projects so I’ve learnt to offer him things that can be done quite easily and that capture his interests (mostly dinosaurs and pirates at the moment). I’ve also noticed that he is more confident in his creations when his big sister is not around. It’s still early days with Baby I, as he’s only seven and a half months old, but he found having his foot painted hilarious recently, so hopefully we are off on the right track.
Sometimes, I look at photos of arts and crafts on the likes of Pinterest and it makes me panic, because they look so complicated. Some of them don’t even look like they have been created, or even road-tested, by children – and I’ve previously written about why I would rather a not-so-great work of art that my child has created themselves, than a much-better looking one that has involved a lot of adult assistance.
Anyway, here’s 10 classic arts activities I think every child should do before they start school.
- Hand, foot and finger painting
Oh, this is such fun! It’s something we have done every few months since our children were babies. I know most parents shudder at the thought of getting paint all over the furniture and walls, so it pays to be organised here. Make sure to get water-based paints that are safe for children to use, cover floors and surfaces with newspaper or messy mats, have plenty of wet-wipes to hand, plus a bowl of warm water to wash it all off and some towels. As well as regular foot prints, you can get really creative with this. We have everything from spiders and ghosts to Easter bunnies and reindeer made from hand and foot prints. My children have also helped to make their own first birthday cards from us, decorated with their hand prints. They love measuring their hands and feet against the ones on our walls and seing how much they have grown.
- Create a leaf collage
I love a bit of multi-tasking and this one combines a good old fashioned nature walk with an art project. Collect a pile of leaves in different shapes, sizes and colours, wait until they are dry (but before they go crispy) and let your little one glue them onto a piece of paper. To stop them flaking, paint over them with a layer of PVA glue. Again, you can get really creative with these and Pinterest is full of clever leaf creations, such as hedgehogs and ladybirds.
- Symmetry painting
Paint some blobs on one half of a piece of paper, fold the empty side on top of the painted side, press together, open up and – bingo! – your little one’s first lesson in symmetry. Little E and Little O are always amazed when they do this. They think it’s so clever, and they have especially loved making butterflies and Christmas trees in this way. I love that something so simple still holds so much magic for them.
Yes, it’s a pain the way it flakes all over the floor, and it’s so annoying when all the colours merge into one dismal shade, but Play-Doh is fantastic fun and great for developing fine motors skills, strengthening muscles in your child’s hands and encouraging their imaginations. I also think all that squeezing and rolling is therapeutic and calming for them – and me, too. I often find myself creating my own little masterpieces alongside my children. It’s so relaxing.
- Paper dolls
I loved making paper dolls when I was younger and it’s been so much fun revisiting this with my own children. It’s so simple to do: just fold a piece of paper into a concertina, draw the shape of a person, making sure the arms, and perhaps the feet too, reach the fold. Cut out your doll, ensuring you don’t snip between the arms, unfold and then decorate. We have created everything from rugby players and pirates to ballerinas and fairies in our house. While you’re there, I recommend reading Julia Donaldson’s beautiful book The Paper Dolls. I challenge you not to cry at the end!
Whether it’s bark, coins, shells, fossils or anything else you fancy, this is another one that little ones find magical, as a picture pattern suddenly appears before their eyes. It’s great for learning about textures and different surfaces, and can add an extra dimension to days out to the park or the beach. I find crayons are the best tool to use, removing the outer paper and using the whole of the crayon to shade over the object. We recently did coin rubbings and it was a great starting point for learning about money.
- Potato printing
This is a proper retro arts activity and one that I remember vividly doing as a child. Wash and dry a potato and cut it in half. Score a shape on the flat surface and cut away the potato around it, making sure not to cut through the shape. Dip into paint and print onto paper or card. You can even use fabric paint to decorate clothes. Just make sure your little ones understand that these potatoes are not meant to be eaten!
- Bubble painting
My big advice with this one is to make sure your little one is old enough to understand they need to blow through the straw and not suck. Mix paint, a good squeeze of washing-up liquid and some water in a bowl, and blow down the straw to create bubbles. Cover the bubble mixture with paper, hold for a few seconds and lift to see your print.
- Sticking and glittering
Yes, yes, I know glitter gets everywhere (I can see a few specks glistening away at me on the settee while I write this – and I’ve vacuumed it twice!), but children sure do love things that sparkle and can be sprinkled. Experience has taught me to have newspaper or a tray underneath, and the vacuum cleaner nearby. We also like glitter glues – you can usually pick up a pack in any of the pound stores.
- Painting a pebble
Every parent or grandparent should have a pebble paperweight somewhere in the house! We’re lucky here in South Wales that we have a number of beautiful pebbly beaches nearby, so finding decent stones to paint is not too difficult. So far, the ones Little E and Little O have created are decorated with their own random shapes and patterns, but I have seen some fantastic painted ladybird and other animals on Pinterest that I think we might try next.
Do your children enjoy arts and crafts? How many of these 10 have they done? Are there any I should add to the list?
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