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Arts & Crafts

By Melissa Morgan
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #68, 2005.

Low-cost craft activities that bring activities to life for little ones.
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Melissa Morgan

Tots use arts and crafts to create low-cost, messy fun. Without realizing it, they also painlessly develop perceptual and fine motor skills. Scissors and marker boards, tracing, book-making, beading, etc.-all help little hands and minds get ready to write, learn colors, and identify shapes.

Arts & Crafts: Do More with Less

When our kids were small, we kept a whole cabinet full of throwaways that we saved for crafts. We punched holes and drew faces on paper plates to make masks. We ornamented plain paper cups, and used them for planting seeds. We cut different colored magnets (the kind that has a business card on it, that is often given away as an advertisement) into shapes to make magnetic pictures. We recycled old sponges for paint stampers, marked faces on wooden laundry pins for doll figures, and created simple doll accessories from scraps of cloth.

Little kids love to draw BIG-on marker or chalk boards, or REALLY BIG-on windows (with glass markers) or sidewalks or garage floors (with chalk). Coloring books can be frustrating to tots. Tiny hands struggle to use small, undeveloped muscles. Try using simple coloring books for tracing instead of coloring. Take turns tracing the lines in the coloring book, and learn how to draw shapes together. You might like to use a different colored pen than your child. Mark one line in a picture at a time. Then let your preschooler mark over your line. Do the same with simple letters, words and pictures that you draw on a marker board, chalkboard, or the sidewalk.

Our littlest loved it when I made simple dot-to-dot or maze activities for her. Soon she was making her own, such as one to "help the bunny find the carrot." She drew lines all over the page for the maze, a bunny shape at the top of the page, and a carrot shape at the bottom.

Copy a simple art activity that you remember doing as a child, such as making winter pictures with glue and cotton balls. Remember, you don't need anything fancy: the simpler the better. Do you feel inept at art? Anyone can learn to draw along with their children. Mona Brooks' book, Drawing with Children, can help.

Change your arts and crafts with the holidays and seasons. Pick up inexpensive seasonal/holiday activity kit, sticker book, or activity guide such as Busy Bees: Winter (also available for spring, summer, fall) for Twos and Threes and Holiday Art (Ages 3-6) from Totline Publications. Find bargains year round at yard sales or outlets such as Half Price Books (apply for teacher's discount), or buy activity books marked down immediately after a holiday.

Of course, you can also purchase inexpensive craft kits at dollar stores. If relatives ask what your child will like for a gift, suggest consumable creative toys, such as craft kits or art supplies, clay, beads, building bricks, Klutz guides, Usborne books, markers, clear plastic containers for storage, and glue sticks.

Hands-On Core Subjects

Teach core subjects with arts and crafts. Preschoolers don't really need formal learning. Try these ideas:

History: Make historical paper dolls about people you've been studying. Trace pictures of Bible characters or historical figures from books. Don't worry if it doesn't look perfect; your preschooler won't mind. Let your child trace over what you draw, and cut (with preschool scissors) a rough circle shape around the figure. Then an adult or older child could finish cutting out the doll. If you cover your dolls with tape or plastic before you cut them out, they will be almost indestructible.

Craft a family history scrapbook together. Find and share inexpensive ideas on small children and scrapbooking at www.homeschoolzone.com/pp/crafts/scrapbook.htm. Consider using pictures that show how people in your family worked, played and traveled in the past. Scrapbooking with preschoolers can incorporate visual, kinesthetic, and tactile stimulation by decorating your scrapbook with interesting fabrics, stickers, or texture paint.

Language Arts: Create a storybook together. If your preschooler likes to make up stories, write down the words, one short sentence (or word) per page. Ask your child to draw a separate picture to go with each page. Make a cover for the book out of colored paper. Punch holes in the pages, and lace them together with ribbon. Some preschoolers can lace and punch holes, but supervise. A book like this, created by your child, makes a great Christmas gift for grandparents.

Make finger puppets out of old gloves and illustrate your child's story book. Help your youngster stuff a cotton ball (or small piece of one, if the glove is small) into the tip of each finger. Tie a piece of yarn or string under the head, glue yarn hair on each puppet finger, and draw a face with markers.

Science: Gather free natural items-such as autumn leaves-to make a picture. Help your youngster glue or tape the leaves onto a piece of paper, or put paper over the leaves and rub over it with a crayon. Talk about leaf color, shapes, and sizes. Borrow a tree book from the library, and identify trees with your leaves.

Have your preschooler lie down on top of a large sheet of paper or old (without paste) wallpaper. Trace around your child's body. (Alternately, take turns tracing shadows reflected onto paper on the floor.) Your child will probably enjoy coloring the life-size picture-and will develop body awareness. For an advanced preschooler, draw the inside parts, such as brain, heart, lungs, etc.

Math and Logic: Make ladybug counters by gathering and painting small round rocks together. Paint the rocks red and allow them to dry. Then place small dots all over the bug bodies. Create an equal number of bee counters by painting yellow bodies with black stripes. Use your counters for playing checkers, if you wish.

String large beads or buttons onto string or pipe cleaners in patterns to craft bracelets. Make patterns of color, or shapes, or numbers. You can also attach strings of ten beads to a wooden frame (an adult will need to hammer in eye hooks) to build an abacus.

Stay Organized

Organize your craft goodies in a preschooler-friendly way. If possible, store materials in the kitchen, on a kid-accessible lower shelf. You'll find that you play with art more often if you store supplies near the place of use. Of course, if you have a family member or friend who still puts small objects in their mouth, you'll need to store craft supplies up high.

Enlist your preschooler to help you sort craft objects into boxes or baskets. Carefully cleaned food storage containers work great; ask friends and relatives to save them for you. Consider using clear containers to see what is inside.

Store large plastic food trays or old cookie sheets with your craft supplies. (Obtain trays from thrift or dollar stores.) We don't allow kids to use the supplies without using them on a tray, for easy cleanup. If possible, do crafts in a tiled-not carpeted-area. If you can't find a carpet-free place to play, put an old plastic tablecloth over the floor.

Include time for clean-up-a place for everything and everything in its place-and arts and crafts can be a joy. If your family is like ours, older siblings and even grown ups will be practically begging to be included in the fun!

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