I recently hit the point where both of my kids are juuust old enough to be interested in the crafts that I work on, but they’re often frustrated that they can’t use all of the same tools.
I searched (like many of you out there) to find crafts for kids that would be: easy projects, pretty fast to make, and not too expensive. I found… a lot of projects that looked cute but that had either been made by adults or with scissors/special tools that my kids wouldn’t be able to use yet.
Instead of creating my own list of projects, I decided to collect tips and advice instead, so you can collaborate with your kids and come up with your own project ideas.
I wanted to make sure that all of the advice here is backed up by science and designed to be both fun and developmentally optimal.
I promise: it’s really satisfying coming up with ideas along with your kids, and they will love to see their influence on the project!
1 – Keep track of successful projects and future ideas
If you ever find yourself low on energy & ideas and looking for something easy to make, having a list of the projects you’ve made before can help a lot. We keep our master list in a special notebook and both of my kids find a lot of joy in entering a finished project after.
We keep track of:
- the date
- who worked on it
- materials we used
- themes, colors, ideas
- who the project was made for (if anyone!)
- our rating of the project (1-5 stars)
You should design your own system along with your family. One of our favorite parts is coming up with the rating because it’s something everyone who worked on the project has to reach together. This might sound like a hassle, but research shows that coming up with a common rating like this promotes empathy: you have to think about what other people took from it, not just your own experience.
We don’t always agree, but almost always we figure out some compromise. I rate this one, you rate the next? Average our ratings? Rate just one part that we both agree on?
2 – Use a designated crafting space
Even if you don’t have an entire craft room available and you’re just going to be using the dining room table or the floor, I recommend trying to use the same place every time you sit down to craft together.
John Medina (a developmental molecular biologist) writes in Brain Rules that the location in which we learn something is incredibly important for retaining that knowledge, and that includes motor skills and creativity.
“Neurons that fire together, wire together” – we want to replicate as many of the environmental cues as possible to really promote learning, which brings us to our next tip.
3 – Create a routine
This doesn’t mean you have to make the same things over and over, far from it! Instead, try to craft at a similar time each day. Don’t just set a designated time to start, hype it up a bit! Your kids will anticipate it, mentally preparing ideas even if they’re unaware of it, and the consistency in their days will make learning a lot easier.
A crafts routine is great for parents, too.
Most of the craft projects we come up with are completely safe for kids to do unsupervised, so knowing that your kids will be occupied for a bit means that you can get some needed work done, or, you know, close your eyes… just for a minute.
4 – Start with just a few supplies
It can be tempting to go overboard on the materials, setting up acrylic paint, watercolor paint, paper plates, tissue paper, pom poms, toilet paper rolls, and on and on and on.
What I think you’ll find is when you keep things simple, the craft ideas just sort of appear on their own. This idea of constraints inspiring creativity is well-researched and backed by science, known as learned variability. When you have to accomplish a task with limited resources, you often find new ways of applying those resources that you would never have discovered if you had many more materials available.
Try it out!
5 – Display what your kids make
I know for a lot of you putting an art project on the fridge is second-nature, you can’t help but display it because you’re so proud! But I want you to consider placing their art in locations that really elevate them as part of your home’s design.
Buy frames, hang them around the house. One thing we’ve set up is a small gallery area, complete with little cards with information about the piece. They give them ridiculous names and descriptions, but we get to feel fancy and dress up once a month for our gallery openings. You can give them control over a small part of the house and let them decide what to display, or you can function as the gruff museum curator who keeps rejecting pieces and sending them back for ridiculous revisions.
There are so many games you can play here!
6 – Make sure their clothing is appropriate
Crafts for kids can be messy, and that might be an understatement. Make sure the clothing they’re wearing is easy to wash and not anything too precious. Let them know that it’s okay to get messy, that can be half the fun.
Changing clothing for certain types of play is a great lesson to teach early in life, too. We have different outfits we wear for different activities, some are appropriate for going out to dinner, others for visiting family, others for watching morning cartoons in, and, yes, some for painting in!
7 – Play with different mediums
It’s not a terrible idea to repeat the craft ideas that turn out well or that they enjoy, but every so often you should try to mix it up with a new material or style of project. If you have a kid who really loves paper crafts, maybe try painting. If they love sculpting with clay, bring them outside to introduce a nature craft and use found objects in your environment to inspire a new design.
One thing we like to do is write down any ideas we have throughout the week and put them into a shoebox. You can put in more than just craft ideas, we add materials, colors, actions, dreams we had. Pull a few out and you can usually stitch them together into a new kids’ craft.
8 – Come up with crafting themes
Similar to our shoebox idea from earlier, we have a huge list of themes that they can work on. Any time we make a new project we look at the list and see if it fits neatly into an existing theme. If not, or if we dream something new up, we add a theme to the list.
A few of our favorites:
- green (yes, somehow… green is a theme!)
If we’re in need of a fresh idea, we just check our theme list and usually dozens of ideas start pouring out.
9 – Copy something your kids like and try to figure it out
Do they have a favorite toy, something they saw in a cartoon, or just an idea? Work together to come up with how to DIY the craft before looking for a tutorial or guide. It’s a great way to teach critical thinking skills and come up with crafts you would have never imagined otherwise.
10 – Be flexible
It’s only natural to want to ‘get things right’ or ‘make it the right way,’ but with kids’ crafts the more you can let go the better a time everyone will have.
11 – Keep your kids’ crafts simple and open-ended
For us adults, it can be easy to forget what it was like when we were much smaller. Fortunately, when you have kids, they’re constantly reminding you!
One of those reminders that I have to repeat to myself: things don’t need to be complicated to be fun. In fact, the simpler a craft, the more open-ended and fun it can be.
Finger-painting is one of the best examples I can give. There isn’t ‘a point’ to it, you can use any colors you want, and the ‘destination’ of the painting often changes multiple times over its course. We have paintings here that are layers upon layers of ideas!
I would have never suggested “paint a frog princess being eaten by the Moon, and then paint over that thirty lightbulbs all giving off blue light” but… ultimately, that’s what my daughter had in mind.
12 – You offer, they choose
Similar to the division of responsibility many parents swear by with meals and eating, we have a similar theme with crafting if things are tough. If they aren’t sure what they want to work on, I set up all the supplies and materials, prepare the area, and they can pick what to work on.
I’ll nudge and hint, maybe there’s a past project that didn’t go so well, or something they really liked at the museum, but ultimately the adventure is led by them.
13 – Try not to have a time limit
This one is probably going to be the most controversial of my tips for kids’ crafts. Not everyone has an unlimited amount of time, routines are obviously important, and sometimes we just need to do something important.
I get it.
But, if it’s at all possible to make additional room for what they’re currently working on, I really recommend you try. Different parents have different parenting philosophies of course, but we’ve had remarkable, precious adventures when we’ve been able to delay the next errand and really dwell and explore what has the interest of our kids.
Your kids will notice too, they often understand a lot more than we give them credit for and seeing you really commit and show interest in what’s currently captured their attention will leave a big impact on them.
9 additional ideas for kids when crafting
If you’ve made it this far (thanks!) and are looking for some additional tips that didn’t need quite the explanation of some of the above, here you go:
- Let them take the lead
- Ask them what they want you to help with
- Praise the effort, not the outcome
- Have fun
- Reuse and recycle interesting materials
- Only use materials that are safe for them to use on their own
- Lay newspaper down for easy clean-up
- Clean-up together
- Organize your supplies together
I hope this post helped you, and please share with us any advice you have that we might have missed out on. If this article was helpful, pass it on to a friend!