Crafting with Your Kids

by Gail Cowley

Many parents look for inspiration when weekends, light evenings and holidays come around, desperate to find something to do with the kids that avoids them being sucked into an argument over repeated requests to play that computer game again, to watch another DVD or take expensive trips out. This familiar scenario usually ends in frayed tempers and sulks (and that's just the adults!). The ideal solution is something that is relatively cheap and keeps them well occupied, as well as giving them the satisfaction of having created something that has also added to their motor skills and general education. That describes craftwork perfectly.

A set of research for Charity 4Children (2006) found that what children themselves want is to spend less time watching TV (hard as that may be to believe!). They are apparently unimpressed by the number of adverts aimed at them and would actually prefer to spend time with their friends and family! The same research tells us that kids prefer to save their pocket money and hanker after a more traditional childhood of fun and simple pleasures.

We all worry about the impact consumerism has on our kids and many of us would like a return to the simpler pleasures in life, such as engaging in some form of creative activity at the same time as spending time with our children. Child development professionals tell us that being creative is good for our children's cognitive development and their manual dexterity, as well as boosting their self-esteem and allowing for more self expression. It's also incredibly satisfying for parents to witness their children's pleasure and pride as they show off their handmade creations and it's also very possible that this early interest could provide them with a lifetime of interests and pleasure.

So what stops parents crafting with their kids? We all know the one about time, but other excuses include:

They simply don't seem interested in doing arts and crafts

Not hard to alter - think of something they are already interested in and then link it to a creative craft activity. For example, if they are football crazy then incorporate their team's colours or a football into their craftwork item; if it's fashion they love, they can practise designing and making their own clothes or even clothes for dolls. The list is endless and once they've enjoyed an art or craft activity they'll be really enthusiastic when you suggest another.

child painting

My kids aren't naturally artistic, so they won't get any benefit, will they?

This isn't true - kids now get little artistic time at school and, as more testing has come into the curriculum, arts and crafts have been sidelined in order to make way for more 'academic' topics. As well as developing a child's artistic talents, being creative allows children to explore their imagination and show their feelings. Craft helps them to develop their dimensional awareness, hand-eye co-ordination and manual dexterity. If they work with others it also helps their social interaction skills.

They'll make such a mess!

Glue and paint are the biggest culprits here, but activities such as sewing are relatively tidy and house friendly. What your kids really want is to spend some time with you - so make sure that some time is set aside to help them (this is especially important as they're starting off), and also include time for cleaning up any mess, so the kids understand that doing craft means putting a few minutes aside at the end to put everything away tidily and clean up their work area.

Some of the stuff they produce is really naff!

OK - I'm here to tell you that is more than a little harsh! Everyone has to learn at some point and it's unrealistic to expect that they'll produce works of art immediately. If you really hate the idea of lots of bits and pieces then buy good quality children's art and craft kits and products as these make a big difference. The main thing to remember is that it's learning the technique which is important - try to avoid manipulating the end result into something that you as an adult would be proud of. Put aside one area in the house where they can work and also display their finished craftwork.

Lots of parents would probably prefer to send their kids to a creative crafts class rather than tackle it themselves, but the unfortunate truth is that, due to various types of hard to comply with legislation, these are getting few and far between. A great compromise is a kit, as everything is there for them, so no more buying loads of stuff they won't need or use in the future and you're pretty much guaranteed a great outcome. Squidgy Stuff (www.squidgystuff.co.uk) has lots of great needlework-based kits for boys and girls of 8 and over. The Early Learning Centre is a great supplier of craft items and kits for younger children.

Do give crafting with your children a try - it will bring you and your kids together for some really fun and memorable times.

Workshops and talks

Gail Cowley offers a range of day workshops and talks on different aspects of textiles and design throughout the UK and abroad.