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Friday 17 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Hildegard of Bingen

Terrible crafts, how to do them, and why we bother

Simcha Fisher - published on 09/29/16

We used to do sooooo many crafts. No we do no-o-o-o-o-o crafts at all, hardly. I feel bad about this — not because doing crafts is one of those immutable proofs of good mothering, but because we almost always genuinely enjoy it, if we approach it with the right attitude.

My little guys have plenty of arts and crafts material to mess around with, but what they really want is for me to put my laptop away and sit with them for half an hour while we chitter-chat about the ridiculous things inside their heads. The craft is really about them, and about our time together, and not about the craft itself. So I’m trying to get back in the habit of doing little projects at least once in a while.

Here’s a really easy one I found. I got the idea from the waiting room at my daughter’s hair salon.

  1.  Cut a bunch of Q-tips (ear swabs) in half.
  2. Poke them into a styrofoam ball. The more you poke in, the better.
  3. Roll the finished Q-tipped-ball in paint. (I thought of this afterward. We dipped the Q-tips in paint before sticking them into the ball, which was messier.)
  4. Stick a skewer into the ball, stick it in a vase, and you’ve got a flower(ish).

That’s it. A total success, by my standards — because the kids had a lovely time and I didn’t yell at anyone, and it was over quickly.


Why do I resist craft time so much? Lots of really reasonable reasons! But I’ve learned to overcome most of them over the years.

There will be a horrible mess. Well, this is unavoidable, so just lean into it. I don’t clear the table ahead of time, but just set up the paints or whatever right on top of the spilled corn flakes and ripped-up mail. This may make you even crazier, but for me, it means there’s one mess to clean up instead of two, and there’s no, “Aughhh, I just got this space cleaned up and now look what happened to it!”

Let the kids wear clothes that you don’t care about. Or do the craft before they take their pajamas off. Or just let them work shirtless. That works, too. If the weather cooperates, move it all outside.

And I cannot recommend a tile tabletop highly enough. After years of struggling with an always-cruddy wooden table, I tiled it myself, using one of those pre-glued mats. Easy peasy, and everything washes off it. Everything.


Also, I will continue buying scented baby wipes until the day I die. I sometimes even use them for wiping babies.

You’re not crafty.  I avoid this by doing on the very, very simplest of crafts and by not even attempting to make the finished product match the picture on the instructions.

Before you even begin, weed out from your mind every last little idea of what the finished product is supposed to look like. Don’t hope for anything good. Don’t hope for anything in particular. The point is the experience, not the end product. Make an explicit resolve to make it a pleasant experience for your kids, and let that be your only goal.

Your kids are not crafty, or even competent, or even — holy mother of Betty Grable, how do they even get through the day?

So what? If they’re going to cut, burn, or needle themselves, insist that they do it your way. If they’re just plain doing it wrong but they’re fine with it, go make your own flower. Help them if they want help. If they don’t want help, go make your own flower. If they go “off task” and start making something else instead, that’s fine.


Now, if they insist that you “help” them by doing it for them, you’re entitled to just say, “Oh well, I guess this craft isn’t so much fun. Let’s try again another day” and pack it up. Unless you want an excuse to sit down and make stuff. That’s fine, too; only don’t hog the materials if the kid suddenly becomes interested again.

But don’t let perfectionism or comparison get in the way of trying a project. I’ll say it again: make it be about the experience, not about the finished product.

You don’t want to clutter up your house with a bunch of craft projects. A legitimate problem. We handle this by praising the finished project extravagantly, displaying it for a while, and then throwing it away after it gets torn up or knocked to pieces because of all the hubbub. If it’s really special, take a digital photo and save that.

The most important part: do praise the finished project extravagantly. I know all about the scourge of coddled special snowflakes who have never heard anything but praise, and what useless, narcissistic, entitled adults they become. This is a problem if it continues all through childhood and beyond in every aspect of a child’s life. But a child under the age of ten is not going to benefit in any way from hearing that there is something lacking in his Q-tip flower. And a parent who feels a strong urge to correct said flower is already, believe me, making plenty of demands on the kid in other areas.

And even if you do praise a kid too much, it’s a heck of a lot easier to recover from that kind of childhood than it is to recover from the opposite kind of childhood.

If you really feel like you can’t say something nice about the scroddy little wad of whatever-it-is the kid is showing you, look into her face and say, “How lovely. How extremely lovely” and you will be telling the truth.


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