Crafting can be a pain in the arm, as my biggest badger used to say – worrying me every time she did so in a public space: the endless preparation, the endless mess; the actual 10 minutes of crafting pleasure wedged, forlornly, betwixt the two.
As a mother of ten years and a teacher of longer, I have had plenty of time to ponder upon those creative pursuits that can be carried out with a minimum of mess, fuss and adult involvement. Here are my top picks. Some are more suitable for a 7+ clientele, but where appropriate, I’ve included options right down to toddlers.
I am putting links to Amazon as this is where I would buy most of these items from. Please be aware that if you were to click through and make any purchases, I would receive a tiddly commission, at no extra cost to you. However, if you have the time and the inclination, places like The Works and Hobbycraft and excellent websites like Baker Ross will have lots of other options.
Origami is one for bigger kiddos on the whole, it’s fiddly and involves following instructions carefully, but it creates absolutely no mess and need involve no outlay whatsoever, if you can cut down some A4 paper to squares. This website has loads of ideas with step by step instructions.
Alternatively, Origami for Children is a nice book with pretty simple projects and some paper included. I’ve also bought something similar in The Works. Amazon recommends this for 3-11 year olds but unless your pre-schooler has truly remarkable fine motor skills and patience, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Children love sewing, but I avoid it as far as possible. I am still haunted by the memories of my first Christmas as a teacher where I blithely decided the creation of fairly fiddly snowmen tree decorations would be the perfect way to round off an arduous term. There wasn’t a point where I didn’t have 95% of the Year 3 class in a queue waiting for me to thread (I really should say rethread) their needles. It was a trying day. Day?! Week!
Anyway, if they have a real desire to sew, then cross-stitch can be the answer, with big, easy to thread, non-life threatening needles. The components of these cross stitch kits can be found in Hobbycraft, but unless you’re certain this signals the start of a life long passion for needle craft, you’ll spend less buying it as a small set.
If they won’t be fobbed off with cross stitch, but aren’t ready to start fashioning their own wardrobes, all of these kits are pretty good and should appeal to a range of interests. They come with everything needed to create an end result they’ll be pleased with.
Painting is another creative outlet I try to discourage, but kids just love to paint. After years of poster paint splattered tables and surprisingly far reaching acrylics, we have compromised on a Watercolour paint set that I don’t mind coming out at pretty much any time. The only cleaning up created is a water pot, and even I’m not enough of a party pooper to begrudge this. There’s a great tutorial here to create some good effects with this kind of paint.
Magic painting books
Another alternative for frustrated artists is the Magic painting books. They’re hardly new – I had something similar in the 80s – but I’d forgotten all about them until a few months ago and my children think they are marvellous. We have a unicorn one, predictably, but there are any number of options for wider appeal.
For the tots, these Aquadoodles are brilliant – we had a travel version and a home version, both of which lasted years (don’t put them away wet!) and were very good buys.
Polymer clay, (Fimo, but cheaper) is kind of the acceptable face of Playdoh. Actually, I’ve never minded a bit of Playdoh, but I know many who abhor it and rue the day they let it near a carpeted area.
This is less sticky and is used in much smaller quantities, so its potential for devastation is diminished. It’s more suitable for older children than preschoolers, which also weighs into the equation massively, of course. It needs baking once the desired result has been achieved, which hardens it and nullifies any mess-making properties once and for all.
I bought some for a sleepover party and it kept seven 9-year old girls good for ages. Unless you have a particular artefact in mind, a set of about 20 colours with some tools and accessories for making charms and earrings and the like is the best way of buying it.
If your vaults aren’t already chock-full of polymer clay trinkets, then a Jewelry making set can be a good addition to your rainy day box. There are options available for every level of fine motor skill and in most cases can be unthreaded once the creator is safely asleep, for reuse another day.
Drawing is a low maintenance activity that most children love, of course, but some work better with a bit of inspo. The Art for Kids Hub website is fabulous – kiddiwinks draw along with any one of a vast array of different projects and always end up with something pleasing. I’ve done this at home and at school and it has been a universal hit. Good pens make a difference and these have worked well here:
Another drawing option is comic strips. This is a great portable activity that can be picked up and put down without any preparation or resources more complex than a pencil case, so it’s good for spare 5 minute pockets of time, or indeed hols. It can be a good way of sneaking a bit of writing practice in too.
On a similar theme, but for when the time allowance is more generous, animation is a good activity for a wet afternoon, either using drawings or clay models. I’d imagine you’d have most success with this if you’re about 9 or over, but it’s the sort of project two or three children of different ages could work on together.
I was in two minds about whether Hama beads deserved a place on a mess-free list, as the little blighters can get everywhere. However, a hoover can see off any resulting turmoil in seconds, so I reckoned they could sneak in. There are tons of different options, from freestyling to more directed enterprises, and, pleasingly, more and more options that will appeal to those for whom princesses hold little allure. It’s all good for the fine motor skills and there is an option of bigger beads for little hands. You’ll need to iron the finished creation to fuse it together, but it’s the work of moments and can keep your little people quiet a good long time.
A final suggestion and a bit of a swizz as it isn’t strictly speaking a craft, but I wouldn’t be without a supply of sticker books. My 6 year old loves them and they’ve done good things for her fine motor skills. They’re brilliantly portable, a good calming before bed, or car activity. We have LOADS. Ours are heavily biased towards princesses and mermaids, but there is something for most tastes and the ‘First Sticker Book‘ series, as the name might suggest caters for those first encountering the world of sticking.
As always, I’d love to hear from you – any feedback on these suggestions and any ideas I should have included!