Here are my top tips on the best ways to achieve stress-free crafty playdates.
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I have held many crafty playdates over the years and I can’t say that I enjoy mess very much. My friends knew me as a “crafty mom” but making craft projects with just my own child was VERY different from handling a group of kids. So I have worked out the best balance between letting the kids get creative, and me actually remaining calm during the session.
Get ready for immediate clean-up
Some water gets knocked over, a child gets paint all over their hands and arms – whatever it is, try and be ready for it. Have paper towels handy for wet spills. I keep a box of unscented baby wipes on my crafting table at ALL TIMES. Of course kids will make some mess – this isn’t about keeping them pristine. It’s just that if their mess starts to threaten your enjoyment of the craft session – then a little interim clean up will stop the situation escalating.
Prepare in advance where possible
A lot depends on whether the craft session is planned – or even the playdate is planned! If you know about it in advance, have an idea of what you want to do. Prepare anything in advance that you think will be too difficult for the group, or won’t hold their attention. If there is a specific final outcome in mind – like a paper plate bug, marbled clay beads or some leaf outline art, then it may help to have a finished craft already made. Some kids like to copy, some kids do their own thing. It all depends on their experience and personality – but if they’re struggling with what you’re asking them to do – this will help.
Set things out in advance
You could go one step further for a planned playdate if you set out the required items in advance – again this depends on whether the session is freestyle or with a definite plan! Better organisation will usually mean less stress! Paint poured out into small bowls means there is less chance of there being excess paint around. A small pile of sequins means that one child won’t dump out the whole container onto their project. You can always top up these materials if they are running low, especially as kids will often all want to use the same item! I stock up on small bowls and dishes from the dollar store whenever I am there.
I have learned over the years that I can never predict which child will want to get involved. Don’t assume because you’re doing something with a princess theme that the boys won’t want to be involved! Some days they’ll all want to get involved, or maybe only one or two of them – and sometimes NO-ONE will want to do it! It could be their mood, other distractions or that the activity just doesn’t appeal to them.
Be sensitive to differences
If you have a mixed age group of children – it will be obvious that they are going to do things differently. Depending on the craft – an older child may complete it quicker than a younger child – or they may have more patience and want to take their time with it. Even children of the same age will work at different speeds. I suspect if I was a teacher I’d know exactly how to handle this, but my workarounds usually involve suggesting that the child who finished first try the activity again, or go and play while the others finished. I would hate to rush a child who wanted to complete their craft. If you want to keep them at the table – always keep some coloring books handy, as this may keep the child busy until the others have finished.
Have multiples of key supplies
If you’re planning a scissor-cutting activity for the kids, they’re going to need a pair of child-safe scissors each. I only have one son – but I have at least three pairs of kid-friendly scissors in the house just for crafty playdates. Turn-taking is an important life skill of course – but sometimes it doesn’t help the flow of the playdate if one child is being slow and cautious and everyone has to wait for them to finish. Get lots of paintbrushes. Lots of bottles of glue and/or glue sticks. Here are some ideas of essential craft materials for kids.
Use WASHABLE paints, glue and marker pens
It can be tempting to just buy dollar store materials for kids crafts – but one of the main differences I have noticed is that they are much harder to clean up after using. Crayola make a fantastic range of washable acrylic paints and washable markers. Although generally less vibrant, watercolor paints are another alternative and are easier to wash off skin and clothes. Ensure you buy washable glue, too! The Elmer’s brand is highly recommended.
Consider providing aprons or smocks
When my son was two and under, he always wore an art smock for painting projects. Somewhere along the line we dropped that habit, perhaps because we usually use washable paint, or maybe he just wears clothes that I don’t mind getting stained! However, if you are looking after other people’s kids, you have no control what they wear to the playdate. You can buy multi-pack of aprons, simple vest smocks or long-sleeved smocks for full coverage.
Avoid the messiest craft materials
Instead of providing white craft glue bottles, some crafts may only need glue sticks. I always use glue sticks for collage work – and anything that involves tissue paper. If you want to omit the glue altogether, there IS an alternative: Contact paper! Available in clear, white, black, and more – this sticky paper is perfect for making collages and suncatchers with little ones. And this article wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention GLITTER! If your project requires loose glitter, make sure it comes in a shaker tube with a tight-fitting cap. Or, much less messy is glitter glue – which you can buy in a range of colors and is very effective!
Your house, your rules
Crafty playdates are supposed to be a fun and creative time for the kids, but if necessary, insist on some rules. If the playdates become a regular occurrence the kids will soon get used to them. Ideas of rules that you want to use are that children should be seated at all times, or that no-one leaves the table without their hands being checked for paint and/or glue remnants! Also if you’re using scissors you’ll want to make sure that everyone uses them safely.
And, if all else fails:
Hold the playdate outside!
If weather permits then this could definitely ease your stress levels. If it is warm enough then messy kids could get under the sprinkler or hose after they have finished! Or how about a nature collage board? Kids can each have their own board or it could be a collaborative project.
Here are some of my mess-free art and craft ideas – particularly useful for toddlers!