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Getting Crafty With Kids
Getting Crafty With Kids

What to keep in mind when designing and coordinating a group crafting project

It's no secret that crafting is a staple of primary education. Crafting teaches children valuable lessons in creative thinking, problem solving and how to follow a process from start to finish. Not only that, crafting helps children develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination - and it's a fun way to use up some of their boundless energy.

Whether you're a schoolteacher, camp counselor, church activities coordinator, or anyone else who organizes group activities for kids, you're probably going to cross paths with a crafting project. But how do you design a project that keeps them interested and educates them, all while staying on a budget? Here are a few things to remember.

Where to start

In the era of social media, inspiration typically starts online. Sites such as Etsy and Pinterest have become a haven for educators looking for a project idea. The only problem is that those sites are so full of ideas, it's difficult to know where to begin. You'll need some guidelines to search by. Here are a few easy pointers to guide just about any crafting search.

Remember your age group.Are you designing a project for preschoolers? Second-graders? Fifth-graders? Stage of development should play a big role in the project you select and the amount of prep work that goes into it.

"If I'm designing a project for preschoolers or kindergarteners - say a string-art project on a wooden board - I'm going to do most of the prep work myself," says Alessia Lloyd, owner of Kreation Station, a crafting studio in Avon Lake, Ohio. "I'm going to paint the boards and have the kids just focus on the string art portion."

Lloyd says once kids reach second grade - age 7 or 8 - their development has reached a point where you can start introducing them to multiple-step projects, such as allowing them to paint the boards in the above example.

Take a look around. What's already around your house or classroom? Scrap wood, string, yarn, and even old milk cartons can come in handy for a crafting project.

Complete a sample first. This does two things - it ensures that you, as the teacher, have successfully completed the project, and it gives your students an example to emulate. An in-person, three-dimensional example of the project always beats a photo. "I never want a craft to be on its maiden voyage in front of a class," Lloyd says. "Making it in advance helps me be sure I've uncovered any hidden problems and solved them before I'm asking kids to do it."

Make sure your space is ship-shape. It doesn't matter if it's a classroom, conference room or picnic pavilion, your space has to be conducive to crafting. Make sure all of your necessary materials are present, easily accessible and organized in a logical fashion. If the project would work better on an open floor, clear out the tables. And if it's messy, have aprons or smocks at the ready.

"The bottom line is, you have a finite amount of time to present the project and allow your kids to complete it," Lloyd says. "So you have to be ready to go. Get them prepared, get them focused and jump right in. Everything should be ready by the time the kids arrive."

Stocking up on supplies

One very important way to be prepared is to always have an ample supply of crafting materials on hand. If you find a project worth pursuing, you don't want to have to rummage through your house or craft closet to see what you already have on hand, followed by trips to multiple stores to buy what you're missing.

Staying stocked with the crafting essentials can eliminate headaches later on. And that starts with a trip to the crafting store.

There are basic items any crafting teacher should have on hand – tempera paints, brushes, smocks and wet wipes for cleanup. But what about shopping with particular crafts in mind? What types of crafting projects are you most likely to assign? It's impossible to know exactly where and when inspiration will strike, but there are some ways you can shop with a purpose, and often, you can draw on your crafting experience with your own kids.

"Kids shop the activity: Do I like this? Do I want this? Does it look fun?" says Heather Lambert-Shemo, director of marketing for Children's Brands at Faber-Castell USA. "Mom's also looking at the activity - will my child like it and can they do it? - but she's shopping with four main criteria."

  • Utility."Is it something they can use, wear, play with or give to grandma as a keepsake?"
  • Price to value.Compared to other toy categories, crafts are more about value than price. A recent Creativity for Kids focus group revealed that "value is the balance of what's in the box, how long the activity will keep the child engaged, the degree to which the activity matches the child's specific interest and the utility of the completed craft," says Lambert-Shemo.
  • Independence."Sometimes, parents want to give their kids something to do on their own while mom and dad make dinner," she says.
  • Age appropriateness.Last summer, Creativity for Kids conducted a focus group during which moms and daughters shopped a craft aisle. "The girls would pick out something above their ability, because they're constantly wanting to be older than they are. The moms would redirect them - not necessarily veto - but say, 'What about this? You might like this better.' A child may be attracted to pretty colors, but mom is checking to see if they can do it," she says.

Certain crafts at Creativity for Kids remain popular through those filters over time across ages. For girls, fashion, jewelry and sewing crafts remain hot, while boys still enjoy building trucks. Marie LeBaron, a former kindergarten teacher best known for her kids craft blog, Make and Takes, says the best crafts are ageless across genders.

"I personally think you can craft with children using any supplies at any age, as long as there's a little parent involvement," says LeBaron, who started crafting with her three children when they turned 2. "You'll be surprised at how young a child can craft with paint, Play-Doh, paper or glue, if they start out with some parent involvement. If you can keep it minimal and easy when they're young, they start to accrue more skills."

Other crafting considerations

There's a lot more involved in planning and executing a group crafting project for kids than meets the eye. Once you've considered the age range of your group or class, the materials involved in making a project, setting up a crafting space and keeping your supply closet stocked, there are still a few more things to consider.

Remember safety.Crafting often involves small items - beads, pom-poms, pipe cleaners, small blocks and so forth. If you're designing a crafting project for preschoolers, make sure the items you use do not present a choking hazard or contain pointed ends that could pose a danger to a child's eye.

It's OK to design a project for cleanup.Yes, messy is an inevitable adjective that goes with crafting. There is no way you're going to get kids in a room with things that drip, spill and splatter, and not have some cleanup involved. But that doesn't mean every crafting project has to be a cleanup nightmare.

You have some control over how messy things get, and it's OK to design a project to minimize the mess - particularly if you're using a common space that it utilized for other purposes, such as a church fellowship hall.

"For example, most kids' crafting projects, particularly for smaller kids, aren't going to use watercolor paints, just because of the mess," Lloyd says. "You can use crayons or colored pencils in place of paint in some cases. And remember to have a decent-weight paper on hand that can be used with different mediums without ripping or falling apart. That just comes back to having the right kinds of materials on hand."

Get a deal on your supplies.Ask for donations. Particularly in a nonprofit setting, adult volunteers will often be willing and able to assist you in acquiring materials for your project. All you have to do is ask. Parents have cardboard boxes, empty milk cartons and plastic milk bottles at their houses, just like you do at yours. They have old dress shirts that can be used as smocks. They might even have glue, paint and pencils. And if not, explore every avenue to acquire your necessary items. You may be surprised where you can find bargains.

"You might look at buying items in bulk from a supplier, if you need a large enough quantity of something," Lloyd says. "Some stores frequently issue coupons, so keep an eye out for those, as well. And most parents like to donate crafting materials, so donations are something schools and camps can rely on. It's fun to see what your kids make with the materials you provide, and parents see the value in that."

Designing and teaching a crafting project is rewarding for teachers and parents, and provides numerous educational benefits to kids - and every bit as important, they enjoy it. It takes planning and perhaps some investment of time and money, but when you see the creativity light go on in a child's mind, it's worth it.

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