Crafting is one of those activities that goes hand-in-hand with parenting. It’s the artsy, creative brother of soft play, the table everyone crowds around at family friendly events, a huge part of early years learning, the go-to on rainy days and playdates. It’s important for fine motor development, muscle strength, co-ordination and expression… but what if your child, like mine, absolutely detests crafts?
I am a craft lover. I adore painting, sewing, collage, drawing, jewellery making and learning new hobbies and skills. As a child I loved drawing and creating the weird images in my head and memories from my dreams. I copied illustrations from my favourite books and added my own along with the stories. Before having children, I dreamed of wonderful afternoons with my kids experimenting with colour, texture, messy play and creating tons of masterpieces to stick up proudly over every wall space and refrigerator door. My reality however was vastly different!
I spent a lot of time thinking about this through my years of early parenting both my sons. I was desperate to find something, anything, that would spark their interest and passion for creating but they just flat out hated it. Most of my friend’s children absolutely loved craft play through those early toddler and preschool days to primary. I began to feel a bit of a failure that I just couldn’t seem to encourage the creativity for them that I enjoyed so much as a child. I was frustrated and importantly so were they.
When we decided to home educate our youngest son, I discovered once again that most clubs and meet ups had a craft theme. My heart dropped! We tried a few of these, with disastrous outcomes. It was here that I discovered, especially with our youngest child, that there were other things at play other than a general distain for crafting. A child with Autism, SPD or OCD can react very physically to certain elements of craft play. Things can be over or under stimulating. The need to vigorously squeeze out all of the glue or indeed not have the glue touch them at all can be hugely strong for certain children. My youngest son cannot bare to touch rough craft coloured paper or cardboard as he has a physical reaction to it (goosebumps and sometimes retching). He is also a huge perfectionist and get very upset if something doesn’t come out as he is seeing it in his head. My eldest really struggled with imagination too.
I realised to explore craft happily with my kids I had to understand the two main different types of crafting and the personalities of my own children. Crafts can usually be categorised into free flow (free reign to do and explore whatever the child wants) or product based (working towards making something specific) activities. Once you have that worked out, you can observe your child’s play and chosen activities to see which way they lean towards and enjoy the most – or in our case, hate the least!
Discover your child’s personality and interests. Some children may become bored quickly or dislike sitting down to do a craft activity, so take it outside or somewhere other than a table. Use nature and physical movement in your discoveries within creativity. Do they prefer sports or gaming? Use their favourite team or game to link to crafts. Some children dislike the mess and sensory exploration of crafting so be aware of any negative triggers, set out an organised area safe from spills, stickiness and glitter. On the flip side, some kids may relish in getting covered head to toe in safe, gunky, crazy craft fun – the bathroom is a great place to explore with non-staining materials. Exploring in this way is just as creative, even if you don’t actually end up with a finished piece.
If these suggestions aren’t working for you, it’s important not to push it and bring a cycle of negativity back into things. Every positive experience you can gain from crafting and creativity, however it is achieved, will slowly build your child’s confidence, which ultimately is what I realised I was aiming for all along. It’s taken us years to get to this point but I don’t care how slowly we go now or how many craft play-dates or activities we turn down, we’ll get there when my kids are ready.
We may not have a dozen paintings and Play-Doh creations lining our walls and windowsills but we did achieve making an Ancient Egyptian Sistrum and death mask this week, within our Ancient Egyptian topic. I focussed on touching and assembling the cardboard, my son focussed on designing and threading. With this understanding of his triggers and strengths, we used teamwork to be creative together to add another positive experience to our craft discoveries.
Do you have any crafty hints, tips or suggestions for enjoying crafts with your kids in non-traditional ways? I’d love to hear about them below!