Do you want to know what some of my favorite toys for kids are? They don’t take batteries, they don’t overstimulate the kids, and they aren’t expensive. What could it be?
Art supplies. That’s right. Crayons, glue, construction paper, and scissors.
I had several experiences when I evaluated children as an occupational therapist where the parents would see me hand their child scissors and would say, “Oh! Little Johnny hasn’t ever used scissors!” Or, I would be working with a toddler in early intervention who was about to go to preschool who had little to no experience with crayons and markers. This would shock me at first, but then I’d realize that it can be a little nerve-wracking to let your toddler loose with markers and crayons. But that’s where we have to let go of the reins just a little.
(Now, I’m not saying that you should give the child who makes you constantly mutter, “This is why we don’t have nice things,” freedom with the scissors and the glitter glue. And your child who puts everything in his or her mouth shouldn’t be left alone with craft supplies. Obviously.)
Some of my favorite moments with my daughter have involved her showing me her artwork or her “crap” (the way shes pronounces “craft,” that I adore right now, but really hope she outgrows by preschool, haha). Ever since she could hold a crayon, she has liked to scribble, color, and draw. We have gone through countless notebooks with ever-evolving drawings.
Not every kid has the desire to sit and draw very often, but that doesn’t change the fact that they need to get the tools in their hands early and as often as possible. They need to figure out the weight of the tools, how they feel in their hand while they can scribble to their hearts content, before they are asked to make shapes and pictures. How can we ask a preschooler to draw a circle when he is still learning what it feels like to drag the crayon across paper?
Scissors are tricky. You want them to learn how to use the scissors, but there is always that risk of hair cutting. In my house, the scissors are put up high and their use is closely supervised. But you want to make a three year old giggle mischievously? Hand her some paper and a pair of scissors and let her go to town! She will snip and cut and learn how those scissors work before she has to learn how to cut on a line, all while thinking she’s getting away with something.
We tend to use glue sticks for most crafts because I can hand it to my daughter and let her do it mostly on her own. I help with the liquid glue only so we don’t waste half a bottle gluing Peppa’s head to her body.
Now, if you’re a modern-day parent (or a pediatric therapist!), you have probably scoured Pinterest for the perfect toddler craft at one time or another. There are so many adorable projects out there that seem like good ideas at first. My problem with the ones that look so “picture perfect” are that the adult ends up doing most of it! That used to drive me crazy when a new OT student would come through with crafts that were way too complicated. The student would have to do everything hand-over-hand with the child and the child’s craft would look exactly like the example. Here are a couple “real-life” crafts that my daughter and I did. Yes, I did the cutouts, but she glued and drew.
See? They are works of art to me. She had freedom to make what she wanted, and I love seeing the result. (Note: I am not against structured art projects. I like them a lot, actually. I just want others to see the value of giving children freedom to create!)
So, are you worried they’ll make messes? That’s what paper towels are for. (As my daughter says, “It’s okay, that happens sometimes.”) Are you worried they’ll cut things up with scissors? Teach them a time and place for scissors and then make sure you know where the scissors are at all times. What about paint?! Surely I won’t suggest paint… Oh, I will! This is a great outdoor or garage activity. Stick an old t-shirt over their clothes and let them get creative! Stop worrying about what they’ll destroy and find out what they’ll create. They might surprise you.
Sit with your kid while he or she draws (sometimes- I get that drawing time can be “oh great, she’s occupied, I’m doing laundry” time) and just listen while they narrate what is in the picture. You’ll find that there’s a lot more detail in that picture than what you would have guessed. I learned a trick from a Babysitter’s Club book who knows how long ago that has really come in handy. . . Instead of asking, “What is it?” ask “Can you tell me about your drawing?” In addition to safeguarding their feelings (feeling like the drawing isn’t good if an adult can’t even guess what it is), it is an open ended question that can lead to a whole explanation of their masterpiece.
So, if you have a toddler in your life, let them play around with crayons, pens, markers, chalk (we love sidewalk chalk!), etc. There are so many skills to learn and so much creativity to unleash!
Here are some links to help your mini-Monet get started!
Art Supplies Kit $15.19 (Contains crayons, colored pencils, markers, chalk, colored paper, and model magic clay. All of it fits in its tub for storage! Perfect!)
Construction Paper $9.50 (For 500 sheets!!)
Paint Supplies $19.92 (This set includes paint, paper, and all sorts of fun texture tools! Plus, it has a carrying tote!)
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