This may be hard to believe, but long ago, in a distant galaxy, children actually played outside, building forts and getting dirty while riding bikes through mud puddles.
Most astonishing was that these children got together spontaneously and were unsupervised! No structured play dates, no parents warning, "Be careful… you'll get hurt!"
As a camp director back in those "good old days", I'd spend hours with kids, making all sorts of messy crafts. We mixed up bucketfuls of slimy, sticky papier mache paste or created fairy villages using moss and rotting tree bark.
Kids eagerly slopped paint on empty refrigerator boxes to create multi-colored spaceships. They spread paste with their fingers to glue fake fur onto puppets. Our craft program was creative and oh so messy.
Fast forward to today's world of sterile keyboards used with a hard plastic mouse. At a recent craft class, one nine year old boy complained because he had a raisin-sized drop of paint on his finger.
"What should I do?" he cried. "I've got paint all over me!"
Craft classes are an ideal way to expose children to various senses. Let them knead flour and salt to make smooth play-dough. Encourage children to decorate their diorama with actually bumpy twigs and prickly pinecones. Have them smell peppermint while making homemade candles.
In today's high-tech, sanitized world, craft projects allow children to touch, smell and create in ways not possible with a video game. Here are some ways to make your craft program successful:
Low on supplies? Send home a list with children asking for craft supplies. Simply let parents know you are looking for items such as fabric scraps, egg cartons, small boxes, yogurt containers, buttons, yarn, chenille stems, stickers, scrap paper, etc.
Parents are glad to clean out closets and you'll soon have plenty of supplies! You could turn the event into a scavenger hunt and award points or prizes for kids who bring in craft supplies.
Check out your local library or bookstore for some new craft ideas. Garage sales are another source for craft magazines and books. By all means subscribe to Family Fun magazine. This monthly magazine offers hundreds of truly creative projects using ordinary household supplies.
Another book, Larger than Life Activities for Kids describes how to make super huge crafts! Additional great craft books include:
Family Fun book of Crafts
The Kid's Multi-Cultural Book of Art
Here's my favorite….Craft Fun with Sondra (Okay, I admit, my daughter wrote that book!)
If you are feeling really brave, try Make Something Ugly for a Change by Dan Reeder.
As with any recreation program, it's important to have an activity available for children as they arrive. So often leaders say, "Let's just wait a few more minutes to get started to make this craft project."
Why penalize those children arriving on time?
Have easels available or ask kids to draw self-portraits on a large piece of butcher paper. Children enjoy coming to a program where there is no waiting involved.
Make sure supplies are working. Have you ever been frustrated when a bottle of glue is dried up? Kids also find that irritating.
Check that paint brushes have soft bristles, markers actually mark and glue flows freely from the bottle. Is the clay too dry to work with? Are paints lumpy from old age? Do glue sticks actually contain glue? Having craft supplies that are easy to use lets children concentrate on creating, rather than complaining.
Try to encourage open-ended craft projects. Yes, it might make a nice bulletin board to see 25 identical pictures of black and white paper plate penguins… but where's the creativity in that?
Instead, look for projects where children can add their own ideas. Why can't a puppet have blue hair and three eyes? The world needs more three-eyed, blue-haired puppets.
Open-ended crafts reduce frustration for children. Some young crafters get upset if their project doesn't turn out picture-perfect like the sample. Encourage children to mix their own colors of paint or design a new way of connecting boxes for their robot.
Add that something extra. If you find directions for a craft project, embellish the ideas. Making paper bag puppets? Buy colored paper bags or use plastic wiggle eyes instead of crayons to draw eyes.
If the craft calls for making butterflies out of coffee filters and clothespins, try using fluorescent paint to decorate the butterfly wings.
Get really wild and use industrial sized coffee filters and paint stirrers to make mammoth butterflies. Figure out how to add that "something extra" to traditional craft projects.
Need more ideas for craft projects? Many Web sites offer free craft ideas. Some of these include:
Sometimes a few unusual supplies can spice up a traditional craft program. From specialty papers and brushes, wood tops or even miniature tee pees, you can find all of that an more by contacting the advertisers in this magazine.
Craft programs provide an excellent opportunity for children to have a tactile and creative experience. Video games come and go, but that lumpy clay pencil holder will remain on mom's desk for years to come!
Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects. (She thinks the dried paint under her fingernails might start a new beauty trend.) A frequent speaker at camp and recreation conferences, Silvana is also a spokesperson for S&S Worldwide.