Arts versus crafts

February 28th, 2007


Before I had children the artist in me thought I would have paints and various art supplies always available to my children. So that they could express their creativity whenever the urge would strike them.

Then I had children and realized how messy they can be while pursuing their artistic endeavors. And the artistic side of me came into conflict with the somewhat anal side of me.

I try to set aside a block of time a few days a week for them to explore painting, drawing, oil pastels, and various other messy crafts.

I make a distinction between art and crafts. Art is something that we create without as set goal in mind. Art is approaching a subject with creativity and looking at things in new ways. Creating art means that sometimes the end result isn’t as wonderful as you imagined, but that the doing is what matters.

Crafts are completely opposite. They are working towards a specific end goal. An example that comes to mind is the handprint turkey that every school child in America makes for Thanksgiving.

I think both of these things have places in children’s creative lives. Both teach different things and work different parts of the brain. Sometimes children want a little direction. And sometimes they just want to make something that looks like something,

Having said that, I am not a good crafter. I don’t follow directions well. Gluing eyes onto little pom-poms annoys and frustrates me. I don’t really want to make anything out of tampons.

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that we almost never have coloring books in our house either. I just don’t really get them.


I like watercolors for their ease of use and clean up. I always buy PRANG. The colors are vivid, unlike some of the slightly less expensive brands like Crayola. The price difference is only a couple of dollars and it worth it.

I sit with them when they are creating and give subtle direction. I will say things along the lines of, “Hey what do you think it would look like if you painted a design on one half of your paper and then folded it together?”

or I will set out unusual things to paint with and see what sort of techniques they come up with. Toothbrushes, q-tips, sponges are all examples of this.

Show the children paintings by famous artists that used interesting techniques. My children can recognize Jackson Pollock, Claude Monet, Picasso, and pointillism. Set out a bowl of fruit and ask them to paint it realistically, then ask them how they think Andy Warhol might have done it.

Most important of all, don’t praise how “good” you think they did. Or offer suggestions for how they can improve that drawing and make it look “better.”

Instead say things like, “I like that color choice,” or “That is an interesting way you approached your painting,” or “What do you like the most about it?”

And when they do create something special, put it in a frame and display it.

Children's Artwork

This painting was created using the paint on one half of the paper and then fold it so it prints on the other side of the paper technique. I love this one. It has been matted, framed, and been hanging in our home for over a year now.

A fort of their own

February 23rd, 2007

What is better than a blanket fort?

There is something magical for children about a little blanket fort. They love creating them and then lounging inside.

Why not join them today?

Grab a bunch of blankets, some pillows to lean against (if you have an aching back like I do), perhaps a comforter for the floor.

Get a few good story books and to make it seem more special assemble a little snack tray, crackers, sliced cheese, raw vegetables.

Then settle in, read, and relax together. Today is the day to enjoy the moment.

Melted crayon sun catchers

February 22nd, 2007

If your children are like my children they break crayons frequently. And then don’t want to color with the broken ones any longer.

This project makes use of those broken crayons.

For this project you will need these special items:

wax paper
iron (this is very special here since I don’t iron, ever)
construction paper

Using the sharpener to get crayon shavings

First you will need to shave the crayons. The easiest way to do this I have found is with a small pencil sharpener. You can also use a vegetable peeler, but those are difficult for younger children to manage safely. Do this directly onto a piece of wax paper.

Setting up the iron

Once your child has the color variations and amount shavings they desire, fold the wax paper in half and place on a towel. Cover with a second towel. Turn the iron to medium and iron the cloth. Check frequently to check on the melting. They seem to go from solid to runny instantly.

Making a construction paper "frame"

Out of construction paper, make a “frame” for your stained glass.

Hanging in the window

You can be creative with the shapes of the frames.

Butterfly shaped frame

heart shaped frame

Then you can plaster them on your window to block out the snow.

A few crayon suncatchers

Pine cone bird feeders

February 16th, 2007

finished bird snack

Was your peanut butter one of the ones that was recalled? Ours was, though we had already eaten 3/4 of the jar and I felt fairly certain that it wasn’t contaminated, but why risk it.

So I thought the perfect project for us to do was one that involved using up the rest of the peanut butter in the jar.

The supplies

For this you will need:

peanut butter
bird seed
wire or string

I used craft wire. Wrap it around the pine cone before you coat it in peanut butter. It will be too messy to do afterward.

spreading peanut butter

Spread the peanut butter on the pine cones. You don’t need a lot of it, just enough to hold the birdseed.

Roll the pine cones in a tray of bird seed.

Rolling the pine cone in birdseed

Then hang them outside on some low bushes or trees.

hanging them outside

We hung ours outside of our breakfast room window so we can keep an eye on them and see what birds come to visit.

Tin can stilts

February 14th, 2007

tin can stilts

Take two identical cans, the larger size ones (28 oz I believe) give more area for feet to stand on. For young children you can even use tuna fish cans.

Use your can opener to poke holes on the opposite sides of the top of the can.

Run your rope through the can and knot the top where they will hold with their hands. You can put several knots to accomodate different sized children.

treasure in a bottle

February 13th, 2007

This is an easy project that entertains kids longer than you would think possible.

You will need a clear bottle. I used a 2 liter soda bottle that I bought for the single reason of using it for this project. My kids rarely get to have soda, so that was also a treat.

Fill the bottle 2/3 of the way full with birdseed or rice. (I chose birdseed because I can reuse it to feed to the birds, unlike the rice. You will be tempted to fill it more than 2/3, I know I was. But don’t do it. It makes it impossible for the birdseed to really move inside the bottle and for the “treasures” to get lost and found inside.

What lurks beneath the bird seed?

Go around the house and find little things to put inside the bottle. Basically anything that will fit through the small hole on the top of the bottle is good.

I put inside:

diaper pin
barbie shoe
wooden bead
plastic ring
crayon nub

as well as a few tiny random toy pieces I found lying around the house.

Screw the lid on tight.

The give the bottle to them and let them shake, roll, and smack it to find the little “treasures”

Oh, look, a barbie shoe

More fun than you would think possible.

a project for the clutter haters among us

February 11th, 2007

Having magnets and photos and assorted crap hanging on my refrigerator is against my religion. Seriously, it is. Unfortunately it seems to be one of the tenets of the religion my children practice. Along with tossing their wrappers on the floor, painting the bathroom mirror with toothpaste, and a diet purely of carbohydrates.

Something about random things stuck on the refrigerator feels so cluttery and messy to me. I realize I am in the minority here. And let me say, that it doesn’t bother me at your house, just my own.

Cinderella paints

I got some photo mattes, inexpensive ones. I happened to have these already in some picture frames I wasn’t using. I think you can buy these at a store like Walmart for about $1.

Superman paints

I got out some craft paints and sponges and the children dabbed on the paint.

Painting photo mattes

Once it was dry I added stick on magnets to the back side of the frames.


I originally put the magnets like this, thinking they would also hold the photos or drawings in the frames. But I discovered that the magnets worked better when I put a long strip on top and a long strip on the bottom.


Now the artwork and photos on the refrigerator look like art. More finished, like they were put there on purpose, not stuck up on there because we had run out of room in the junk drawer.

the refrigerator

I did these in pink and reds for valentine’s Day. We planned on sending some to the grandparents.

I think I am going to have the kids do some more, and put their names on their own matte. That way they have a specific place to display a prized drawing or photograph, other than taping it to a wall, which likewise drives me nuts.

Gone Fishin’

February 9th, 2007


Magnets are always fun.

This is one of those projects that the children can participate in making and then playing. It is also sneakily educational.

I began by cutting fish shapes out of white construction paper.*

Then I had my 3yr old daughter punch a hole on the head of each fish.

punching holes for the paperclips

I attached a paperclip through each hole.

My 9 yr old son numbered the fish 1 through 10. Then my 6 and 7 yr old sons colored the appropriate number of dots on each fish.**

For the fishing poles I found some scrap trim wood aroung the house. If you are not living in a construction zone you can use any kind of sturdy stick… a long wooden spoon, a branch from outside, anything 12-18 inches long and sturdy.

We have magnets will holes in them which made tying them to yarn very easy. Then I taped the other side of the yarn to the stick using painters tape. Think about the things you have around the house. Don’t have those kind of magents? What do you have on your refrigerator that you can use? punch a hole in one of those magnetic business cards and tie one of them on.


My 2 yr old enjoyed just “catching” as many fish as he could. This is a great way to help with the developmennt of eye hand co-ordination.

For my 3yr old I called out numbers and she tried to catch the right number.


My other children, ages 6, 7 and 9 I gave a math fact and they had to “catch” the answer.


My almost 11 and 12 yr olds were not interested in participating. Perhaps if I allowed them to whip each other with the fishing poles and tackle each other while trying to “catch” the numbers they would be interested. But I wouldn’t let them. I know, I am mean like that.


They played with this for almost two hours. As I type this they have gathered a bunch of objects and are trying to determine what is and isn’t magnetic. I did give them a stern warning about keeping the magnetic fishing poles away from televisions and computers. Don’t want to go there again.

*I am going to redo the fish using different color craft foam. It would be more durable and have the added benefit of being able to help my youngest learn his colors.

** I will also do the dots myself the next time as they were more interested in making the dots form shapes than having them be able to be easily counted by my 3 yr old.

How about a treasure hunt?

February 8th, 2007

Having a treasure hunt is one of my children’s favorite things to do. On birthdays I hide their presents and then make them hunt for them using clues.

There are many variations of doing this, and we have probably tried them all.

The following one is the one usually come back to.

Get a stack of index cards.

Think of places around your house where you can hide these cards.

As you think of a place write a little poem to find the location.

Some examples:

Go to the place
Where you wipe your feet
Lift it up
And look underneath.

Where does Mom spend time
hitting keys?
Open it up
A Clue you will see

How many clues has this been?
Figure it out now,
Not later.
You may have to use
the calculator.

Think about how the children will go from location to location. Personally I like them to run all over the house. So I will have a clue which leads them upstairs, followed by one which leads them to the laundry room, followed by one which leads them to my bathroom, etc.

The easiest way to hide the cards after you finish writing them up, is to put them in order and then walk around the house just like the children will do to find them.

You can have as many or as few clues as you can think up.

Even children who can’t read yet can have fun with this game. Just have them bring you the card after they find it so you can read the next clue to them.

What’s at the end of the treasure hunt? Whatever you want. I have found that the hunting part is what excites my children the most.

Today I am going to hide a Netflix movie that just came for them and some popcorn. And possibly a nap for me, if I can figure out how to hide that.