Indoor Winter Fun, AKA Sit and Draw

Even with an adventurous outdoor spirit, February sees most of us inside quite a bit, and in close quarters.   Finding indoor activities that can suit three boys who are 7, 5, and 2 is, to be plain, a challenge.  Today, for example, we planted microgreens.  The older boys got the idea; my little guy wanted to swim around in the dirt in the dining room and see how it looked on the walls (of course he did).  But there’s only so much of this that even a hard-headed mother can take.

So in the season of spending lots of time together indoors, one thing that we’ve been increasingly turning to is good old drawing and crafting.  Personally I like a goal for these sessions, like making Valentines, because drawing doesn’t come naturally to me and I sometimes need structure getting started.  But as we sit at the table more often, I really am seeing that it isn’t so complicated.  The truth is that the thing that gets the kids most interested in drawing and crafting is for me to do it too.  And since they’re possibly the only people who will sing the praises of my stick figures, I’ve been trying.

Simply drawing (and cutting and gluing and colouring) is perfect fun and a solid go-to around here, but if you’re on the hunt for some visual inspiration, there are some amazing resources out there.  Here are a few of my favourites:

artful parentThe Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life with Art & Creativity by Jean Van’t Hul is full of easy and accessible art activities for young children, and offers her gentle guidance and philosophy around fostering creativity and making art at home.  And if you don’t already know it, her blog is teeming with artsy fun ideas.

hand in handJenny Doh’s Hand in Hand:  Crafting with Kids offers a collection of favourite craft projects by a group of talented bloggers.  They sometimes require some forethought to ensure you’ve got the materials, but I’ve made a few of these with and without the kids and they really are lovely.  It also introduces the reader to a rich variety of crafty and lifestyle blogs, some of which I still follow.

drawing with childrenFor those interested in a more structured approach to drawing are the lessons found in Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes, founder of the Monart Drawing Schools.  This is a best-selling educator’s tool, but is easily adapted to home use by parents and their children, or by adults wanting to learn themselves.  The approach is both practical and inspiring, and it is truly is amazing to see what new artists, both young and old, are able to create after just a few of these lessons.  I never learned to draw as a child and thought I didn’t miss it, but this book tells me otherwise.

flip dollsFor those who like to sew, Flip Dolls & Other Toys That Zip, Stack, Hide, Grab & Go is filled with crafty goodness and toys.  This book is aimed at adults (unless you child is very handy with needle and thread), but the outcomes make beautiful decorations and playthings for children.  My boys sometimes just look through this book because the toys are so attractive.

craft-a-doodleFinally, and maybe my current favourite, are the doodle prompts in Jenny Doh’s Craft-a-Doodle:  75 Creative Exercises from 18 Artists Tried and true doodlers may not see the point of such a book, but for those of us who often feel as blank as the page in front of them, this book is perfect.  Working with simple and repeating patterns never looked so good and I feel more confident sitting down to draw with the boys with this book by my side than without it.

Do you have any favourites to share?

The Artful Year Autumn: A Seasonal Gem for Creative Fun

We’re adding to our usual writing schedule to shout out for a new and wonderful book for parents!  Jean Van’t Hul, author of the popular arts and crafts blog The Artful Parent, has just launched an amazing eBook called The Artful Year Autumn :: Celebrating the Seasons and Holi days with Family Arts and Crafts.

I’ve long been a fan of The Artful Parent, which is teeming with creative arts and crafts ideas for parents and children to do together.  I’ve got my blog addiction, just like I assume you do too, and I read and admire many homemaking and craft blogs.  But The Artful Parent stands out for me in Jean’s friendly and down-to-earth tone.  Her ideas are inventive and beautiful, and they’re accessible.

I’m no natural in the art realm, but Jean makes me think I can make art with my kids, and it’s her blog that’s my go-to site whenever inspiration strikes and we’re looking for arts and crafts ideas.   I have tried several of her ideas (and I’ve been inspired for many more – they’re on our list!) and a couple of them have been duly noted right here on 4Mothers.

Largely because I have enjoyed and benefited from The Artful Parent as much as I have, when Jean put out a call for people to review her eBook, I found myself writing her a note (I do quite of lot of editing for my day job).  And so I became part of her editorial team, and had the pleasure of a sneak preview into the book, which is filled with myriad ways to mark and celebrate autumn.  There are beautiful crafts, recipes, ideas for celebrating the fall, Hallowe’en, and Thanksgiving, along with a suggested reading list for children.

As I’ve come to expect from Jean’s work, The Artful Year Autumn is filled with creative and fun projects.  The only thing that surprised me was how much she managed to fill into it – it’s a great value at only $9.99.   However you feel about the season that is just now knocking on our doors, you will have a better appreciation for all it has to offer after perusing Jean’s eBook.  It’s truly lovely, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Spinning Art with Boys

For Christmas, my husband got me a salad spinner.  Yep, he did.

Anyway.  I’ve never had a salad spinner myself, because I don’t like single-purpose kitchen tools if I can avoid it, especially one so bulky, and also because I’ve never felt the need for wicking water off my salad greens.  But hubby noticed I was enjoying salads more lately, and so he thought it might be nice.  He had also forgotten to take the price tag off, and the spinner proudly displayed $40.   It’s true that it was made of a special safe plastic and was collapsible, but wha…?.  I tactfully asked, and he agreed, and the spinner was returned.  (For the record, he then got me a pair of skates – yay!)

But it must have triggered a tucked-away memory of an art project, because several days later I was in a thrift store looking around, spotted a bunch of salad spinners, and remembererd their possibilities.  So I bought one ($2).  Not for salads, but for spin art!

My boys and I just tried it, an idea from the Artful Parent, which is a blog teeming with accessible art activities for young children.  Spin art is totally satisfying, almost mesmerizing work.  To make it, basically you put a circular piece of paper in a salad spinner, plop some paint on it, and spin away.

I had to post about it here for two reasons:

1.  You only need 3 things:  a salad spinner, paint (we used tempera paints), and paper.

2.  It’s a great art activity for boys, and mine (5 and 3) worked at it together, in harmony, for almost an hour.

Each of these reasons needs a little elaboration.  Reason #1 needs elaboration because, well, this isn’t exactly true.  Because of course you need a place to do the art, some smocks or clothing you don’t mind getting paint on (or just turn clothes inside out), and scissors to cut the paper into circles to fit the salad spinner.  But most of us have these things, so the project still counts as accessible! The most important thing to add to this point for the non-salad spinning types out there is that you need a container of some kind to put under the salad spinner or you will be flinging paint all over the room!  I hadn’t realized this at first, but thank heavens before we started painting, the boys were playing with the spinner with pompoms dipped in water (please don’t ask) and I saw the water everywhere.   I used a large circular cake pan as the paint catcher and all was well.

As for Reason #2, of course this activity will engage girls also.  But it’s especially nice for boys (and at 4Mothers, we have boys, boys, and more boys) because there’s a lot of action in making this art.  First, they can shake up the paint in the bottle (warning:  ensure the caps are on tight!) and shake like their lives depend on it, they will.  Then they can undo the cap and squirt the paint on themselves with just a little guidance to avoid pouring too much in.  They can return the lid to the spinner, and of course they get to spin away.  My 3 year old could do all of these steps comfortably, and the full participation was great for him.  Also, his older brother was able to cut circles out of the paper while he waited for his turn, and wrote his and his brother’s name on them.  Which was really helpful, because it is very hard after the first few to remember who made what.

And a couple of miscellaneous thoughts…  First, thicker paper works better.  We used both paper plates and regular paper, and the plates worked better, with less curling around the edges once the paint dried.  And second, I only had one salad spinner and was initially sorry I hadn’t picked up another one.  But as it turned out, I actually think it worked better that the two boys had to share.  The wait added a bit of anticipation but was short enough not to cause frustration, and they got to watch and enjoy each others’ work.

Neither of my sons is particularly interested in sitting quietly and drawing pictures, but I’m convinced they can enjoy making art all the same, and this action-packed art project hits the spot.  The room was full of excitement (“My turn! My turn!”), curiosity (peeking into the hole at the top of the salad spinner while spinning), and encouragement of each other (“Wow, that looks great!”).

That was pleasure enough for me, but as a final bonus, we are making a mobile out of the artwork for their infant brother.  I hope seeing their artwork floating above the diaper table gives them the same pleasure it gives me, and I’ll be asked to give that spinner another whirl.

A Kids Craft Activity You Can Actually Do

If you have spent any time at all in the blogosphere of crafty mothers, you will know that it is overflowing with beautiful and innovative ideas for crafting with children.  As for me, I am helplessly drawn to the crafty creations of the natural living flock, and am constantly impressed by the artistry in the wood and wool crafts.

As anyone who has actually tried to replicate these crafts will tell you, though, they are almost invariably harder to do at home than they appear on the screen.  First, you have to have the supplies (the getting of which can be tough, as I’ve discovered especially with the natural materials I like so much), and then you need to make space and time, which you’re likely to underestimate because who properly accounts for prep time and clean up with small children except their teachers?

Having said all that, I’m not a craft naysayer – not at all.  Actually, I go through quite a bit of effort to ensure that I do some crafting and creating at home with my boys because I value it so much.  But I’m aware of how much effort goes into some of these endeavours, and I know how divided a mother’s time can be, so I’m always on the prowl for easy kids crafts too.  Partly for my own sanity, but also to make a pitch to other parents who might enjoy this version of quality time with their kids but don’t have tons of energy or time to throw at it.

Enter marshmallows and toothpicks. That’s it!

As I discovered this idea from the Artful Parent, with just these two items, you are set up for some serious fun with your kids.  You poke the toothpicks into the marshmallows and see what structures you can make.  If you get different sized marshmallows (highly recommended!) or the coloured ones, you can make some really interesting things.  The Artful Parent suggests stale marshmallows, which might make them sturdier, but I just used fresh ones and they were fine too.

This activity works for a wide age range.  Older kids (and adults) will be able to make quite impressive towers and bridges, but it’s really nice and inclusive for toddlers too, as they’ll be able to poke their own marshmallows and make something too.

Clean-up is a snap and there basically isn’t any prep to do.  And of course you can recycle the marshmallows afterward for rice crispie squares (also an easy make with little people).

It’s not very natural living or Martha Stewart or whatever, but it is do-able, and it’s rare that I’ve gotten that much successful and fun making time with my boys for so little effort.  It’s nice to drool over the creative crafting of the web; it’s better to do what you can when the screen is off.

Do you have any easy crafting ideas to share?