How to: Get artsy and crafty with tots
It's never too soon to get artsy with your tots, says Pip Jones. It's good their brain development and great fun too!
Anyone with a baby who's reached the sitting up stage will know exactly how much entertaining they now require. With all their burgeoning skills, those tiny little people have a seemingly insatiable curiosity – which will only be satisfied for so long with a squeaky toy or a few wooden blocks.
And so arrives the time to put on your activities thinking cap. If you thought that arts and crafts was a pastime you'd be saving for when your child is older, think again.
You can start crafting with your baby from a very young age, and you'll get all sorts of ideas firing in their brain – something every mum loves to know she's achieving.
Maggy Woodley, author of Red Ted Art, and mum to Max, five and Pippa, three, thinks the earlier you start crafting with your baby the better.
'Arts and crafts make brilliant activities for little ones,' she says. 'It really appeals to their senses – touch, sight, scent – and it helps to advance their fine motor skills and hand-to-eye co-ordination every time they pick up a crayon or brush and put it to paper.'
Maggy started crafting with Max when he was just two years old – and then his little sister began to join in from the moment she could sit up.
'I remember, when Pippa was about nine months old, seeing her grab a crayon and purposefully drawing,' Maggie says. 'I was amazed. She'd been watching her brother and me for months and was now having a go herself. We'd do simple exercises after that. I'd sit her in my lap, crayon in hand, and we'd make big swooping circles and tiny little ones.
'Having started earlier, I think Pippa now has more freedom in her activity – she's much braver with her arts and crafts, and is more likely to try out something completely new or to invent her own things.'
Ok, so simple crayon drawing with a nine-month-old is one thing, but can you really get such young babies artily crafting? To start with, many mums have 'mouthers' – children who will immediately want to explore whatever you put in their hand with their sense of taste.
'To begin with,' Maggy says, 'things like finger paints and Play-Doh are great for the very little ones, because they give them the freedom to squash and squelch. Let them paint either aided or unaided, or give them a sponge with paint on to 'print' with and just see what happens. If you're worried about it going in their mouth, you can go online and find recipes for 'doughs' and paints which are safe to eat – but not tasty!'
For parents who consider themselves devoid of creativity, the idea of doing arts and crafts with their children might be daunting. But simplicity is key, and if you give them the right tools, children just need a little bit of guidance to get going – and remember that nothing ever needs to be perfect.
'Young children learn so much through watching,' Maggy says. 'If they see you create and make, they will want to copy you. They have to learn that a face has two eyes, a nose and a mouth – so prompts like 'Would you like to add some eyes now?' or 'Where do you think they should go?' and 'How many of those do you need?' really help them.
'Of course, if they want to add three eyes all along the side of the head, let them! They are exploring. You can always do your own craft alongside them then show it to them and say, 'This is what mine looks like.'
If you really want to help your baby or toddler to get crafty, but you're unsure where to start, one thing it's good to know is that you definitely don't have to start by stocking up with loads of materials in an arts and crafts shop – something which would be likely to relieve you of quite a lot of cash. Just a few basics are all you'll need at this age.
Maggy insists that crafting isn't expensive in her house. 'We do buy a few bits, like googly eyes, which transform everything,' she says. 'But apart from that our basics are masking tape, paints, tissue paper, and dad's old shirts for fabric and buttons.
'On top of that, we just accumulate lots of odds and ends, such as old loo rolls and cardboard boxes. And we love doing nature crafts, making little characters using stones, pine cones, nut shells or conkers.'
That probably just leaves one stumbling block, then. Because of personal experience (in fact, many disastrous experiences), I can certainly relate to any parent who shies away from doing crafts at the kitchen table because of the inevitable mess it will create. I mean, that's what all those messy mornings at children's centres were created for, right? So the mess doesn't have to happen in your house? 'I totally understand where those mothers
are coming from,' Maggy laughs. 'But if you can "embrace the mess" it really is worth it. I see arts and crafts in our house as "together time" – it's our quality time of working together and they love it.
'The most important thing is setting up correctly. Clear some space and put down splashproof sheets or whatever. Some people just use bin liners – cut them open, and when the crafting is done, simply scoop it all up in them and put it in the recycling bin.
'Dress your child in something that's allowed to get dirty, and have the kitchen sink or bath tub ready to stick them in afterwards.
The key is to set things up in a way so that the mess won't stress you out. 'Finally, don't do what I did and give them acrylic paints that stain!'