Crafting With Kids

Crafting with kids can be intimidating to parents. I get it, we are all pretty insecure with our drawing, painting, overall making skills, and what parent doesn’t despise an extra mess? However, our God is the ultimate creator, and we are made in His likeness! Creating with your kids is a great way to connect with them and our God. It gives opportunities to talk about the lack of perfection in the world, how we are all different (and our creations all look different even if we follow the same instructions), that God created all we see and has the most spectacular imagination. So, let’s celebrate Elohim and get to making with our kiddos!

One of the reasons I love teaching art is that one idea can be interpreted in so many ways. I give one assignment to 125 students and have 125 unique results. So, take these ideas and twist them to fit your style and comfort level with materials. Art is messy, spills happen so try to breathe and enjoy the conversations and joy that creating brings your kids. Any of these lessons can very easily be adapted for any age. So, I encourage you to work right alongside your kids. Kids are fearless in creating until about 4th grade when all the sudden they become more aware of their peer’s skill and begin to compare. If they see you take an “I can” attitude they are more likely to build confidence in their making skills as well.

Things to try:
1. Drawing upside down: Using a coloring book page (younger children) or a photo (older children) works great for this! Pick something with simple lines. Flip it upside down and have your child draw what they see. This is a great skill building drawing exercise. When you flip the image, your brain sees the simple shapes and lines and you are more focused on that than making your picture look like the one you are drawing from. When they finish, flip the drawing around and see how close it got.

2. Blind Contour Drawing: Choose a simple object like a cup, vase or other kitchen item. Set the item in front of you in a position that is higher than your paper. Touch your pencil to the paper and begin to “trace” the object with your eyes. Focus on moving your eyes and pencil in the same path at the same rate. Once your pencil begins to move, do not pick it up and do not look at the paper again. When your eyes have finished tracing the object, look down at what you created. The more you practice, the more your eyes and hand will move together which will result in a more accurate drawing.

3. Scrafitto (Eric Carle): This is one of my favorite painting techniques. You will need some heavier weight paper (like construction paper) and some tempera (cheap and washable), craft/ acrylic paint (usually permanent and ranges in cost), a comb, fork, craft sticks, cardboard, any other tools that would scrape an interesting mark. Brush some paint on the surface of the paper, then use any of your collected tools to scrape into the paint. Drag your tools through multiple paint surfaces on the paper to create patterns and mix colors. Eric Carle is the master of this! Scraping back into your paint leaves fun textures and patterns that you cannot get by just brushing with your paint brush. Leave this creation as is or when it dries, cut it up to create a collage animal, portrait, or bouquet of flowers.
4. Wet on wet watercolor: Color mixing should be considered the 8th wonder of the world. I still get a sense of awe when two colors combine to create something new. Wet on wet water coloring is a fun way to create interesting backgrounds that you can then draw back on top of or leave as is. You have to let go a little because it has some components that are difficult to control. You can toss out some good science words like “osmosis” (diffusion through water) when teaching your kids this technique! You will need some paper, typing paper will work but a heavier paper will hold up better when using watercolor. White construction paper works great for young kids, but you can invest all the way up to a nice cotton rag watercolor paper. I personally love the Prang brand watercolors. They can usually be found in the craft section of most stores, but a cheaper Crayola set also does the job! Start by brushing some clean water on the surface of your paper. Then pick a color to begin with.

Load your brush with a good amount of paint pigment and water. Touch your brush to the freshwater coat on the surface of your paper and the paint will diffuse through the surface. I like to paint a few spots with that color, then rinse my brush and add a second color to the empty spaces that the color has not diffused. The clean water that was originally painted on the surface will create a boundary for the color. The color will only travel through the water; however, surface tension only holds to a point. If you use so much water and color in one area it will eventually spill outside of the original space. Try painting a simple shape with your clean water like a star or heart and then work back in with your color! Want to get really crazy? Try tossing a pinch of salt on your color and see what happens next!

5. Found object sculpture: My kids are trained to hit the recycle tub in the garage when they want to build. As you do house project start a tub of old bolts, screws, motor parts, wires, fast food toys, etc., for the kids. Then when they want to build something like a robot, you will have some resources that they can go to town with. Taking old stuff and giving it new life is one of my favorite things. I may be a borderline crunchy mom, so found object sculpting is a way to indulge my inner 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle). A hot glue gun works great for this, however, even the low temp hot glue guns get pretty hot so be sure to supervise your little people. White glue takes extra patience but will do the job. Have your kids use things like old boxes, toilet paper rolls, plastic fruit containers, string, or wires to create whatever their imagination comes up with. Do your kids need some ideas? Have them build a city or a new family pet. Then part of the creative process is that the art should be appreciated so make sure it gets displayed somewhere in your house for at least a day! If they use things that withstand natural elements like cans, plastics, old screws and such, make that a public art piece and proudly display it in your garden bed for others to also appreciate!

6. Collage: Collage is one of my favorite ways to work as an artist. I love to layer and layer things into my images. Collage tends to serve as a base for much of my work but can also be the end result. Begin by collecting all sorts of interesting papers. I try to look beyond the subject in an image and more at the color. If you have old magazines stashed away somewhere that’s a great place to start. You can also pick up a book of scrapbook paper at a craft store for about $10. I also like to dig on the internet for interesting backgrounds and images that I can print off and use. Other things that are interesting are cardboards (think delivery boxes—you can peel the smooth top layer off for an interesting corrugated texture), tissue paper, old books, fabrics, dried flowers, and on and on. You will need a surface to then build on and glue. This is another great time to repurpose those old Amazon boxes. The trick to creating an interesting collage is to have multiple textures and colors. Sometimes to add texture I take to ripping my papers instead of using scissors. Sometimes we need to free ourselves from the neat and tidy lines by ripping a shape out. Try creating a still life with your collage, so think bowl of fruit or vase of flowers. If you like to draw, then maybe you want to create a background that you can work back into with a permanent marker or fine-tipped pens. The possibilities are endless.

A few other things that have helped me to be supportive of my kids’ creative endeavors have been to set up a designated space for them to create. Being an art teacher, I may be a little over the top in that my kids have a room designated to creating. However, a basket with their supplies is a great start. Put them in a place where they can get to them, make sure they know what table or room it is appropriate for them to work in, and then teach them how to clean up the mess. We have adopted the “we don’t cry over spills; we just clean them up” mentality.

One of my kiddos is a perfectionist and can spiral when she loses control. When I do not react in a disappointed way and simply encourage her to fix the mess, she is more likely to respond in a more emotionally controlled way. I hold them accountable to cleaning up their space so the next time they want to create the space is ready and waiting. This takes time and teaching. Model for your kids but don’t do it all for them. Make them wipe the table when they are done or vacuum the scraps under the table. Caring for your “studio” space is again part of the creative process.

Best of luck and I hope you find you can connect with your kids and our great Creator when you create with your children.

Melissa Sellers is an art teacher at Olathe East High School where she teaches Photography and AP Studio Art. Her favorite artists are her three kiddos. In her free time, she loves adventuring on her paddle board, taking photos, and making mixed media art. If you are looking for more suggestions and/or ideas of ways to encourage art making in your home, feel free to reach out to her at [email protected]