February 19, 2021
A simple guide to kid art projects for the practical mama.
You know those moms who turn juice boxes into snowmen for the holidays and knit wool booties for their newborns? I'm not one of them. I once went on a ski trip with my brother and his family — I brought a few books and toys along for the kids, but my sister-in-law showed up with an arsenal of crafts I'd never seen before. Sticky paper, paint pens, a wide array of colorful puffballs — they put me to shame.
Clearly, I don't consider myself very crafty, but ever since the pandemic, I've had to come up with new and inventive ways to keep my son learning and entertained. This past year, I have colored, painted and glued more than I ever thought possible, and I've learned a lot along the way. So for all my practical mamas out there, here's my easy, no-frills guide to arts and crafts:
When your kids are young, keeping them confined to the paper can be an issue. We've had marker stains on walls, couches, even on the dogs. That's why mess-free markers are such a revelation. Great for beginning artists, they only show up on designated special wonder paper, keeping the rest of your space nice and clean.
Once your kids are a bit older, try Ultra Clean washable markers. They really do wipe right off of most surfaces, and wash easily out of clothing. But my secret weapon these days? Tempera paint sticks. Seriously, these things are amazing. They're like painting, but without all the set-up and clean up.
Pro-tip: Until my sister-in-law clued me in, I had no idea about the importance of picking the right type of paper. I'd been using plain computer paper, but as it turns out, a little construction paper goes a long way. My son especially loves picking out a new color for each project.
Painting can make a mess, but it's a great activity for those long pandemic mornings or afternoons when you need to fill an hour (or more). You can get fancy and buy an art easel, but I prefer to keep it simple and set up kid on the floor. A good tarp is crucial here, so you don't end up with paint all over your furniture, but newspaper works, too.
Washable non-toxic paint is a must — especially if you opt for finger-painting or hand-printing. Another lifesaver — no-spill paint cups. They may seem extraneous, but they do a great job of keeping things clean and organized.
Pro-tip: I don't use a water cup to wash the brush between colors — I find it only dilutes the paint and makes it less pronounced on the paper. Instead, I give my son designated brushes for each color, and just use water to clean at the very end.
I admit that when I was first starting out as a novice arts-and-crafts mom, gluing sounded a bit out of my league. It's messy and sticky, and there are small objects involved. But when I saw how much my son loved doing art projects, I had to give in. Thankfully, there are kits you can buy online that have everything from pipe cleaners to colored feathers.
When your kids are young, they may not be interested in making something representational (i.e. a bird or a sunset), so you can just give them a handful of materials and let them go to town. When they get a little older, try more complex projects, like making paper plate animals.
Pro-tip: Glue sticks seem like a great no-mess idea, but they only really work for gluing paper to other paper. For things like pipe cleaners, feathers and googley eyes, you'll want a classic, like Elmer's School Glue.
Stickers may seem straight-forward, but let the user beware. First, I had no idea how early kids become interested in stickers — my 1-year-old niece loves them — so you don't need to wait until they're in pre-school to introduce them. Second, when your kids love stickers, you go through them really fast. You give them a sheet and they want to use the whole thing in one sitting. So now we have different sticker grades — we actually buy basic color coding stickers for regular art projects, and save the good stuff for special occasions.
Pro-tip: Try using sticker charts to encourage positive behavior. We have a bedtime sticker chart — if our kid stays in his bed all night, he gets two fancy stickers in the morning. Or if you're potty training, a potty sticker chart can work wonders.