My two-year-old and I were sitting at his little table molding some play dough. “Let’s make a bowl of soup!” I suggested. I started off with the black play dough and molded a pretty decent bowl, then made the spinach soup out of green play dough. And as I was molding the shapes, I was looking at my toddler… who was looking at me… waiting expectantly for this bowl of soup to materialize out of my hands while his own were sitting empty.
I had brought out the play dough hoping for some open-ended play, where he can create and mold to his imagination’s content. Instead he just sat there, an audience member instead of a participant. “Here you go,” I said, handing him some black play dough. “You can make a bowl too.”
And just as I had feared, he replied, “No—mama make it,” handing me back the play dough.
Great. I just completely hijacked an activity that, if I were childless, would never have made it into my day’s agenda. Here I was showing my toddler how cool it is to make bowls out of play dough and showing all the awesome things we could make, except I was doing all the doing. I realized this happened before too: he’d ask me to make a pumpkin and I would magically mold something that looked like one and hand it to him. He would squeal with delight, and here I blindly thought, “Yay, we’re doing crafts!” Uh, no. I’m doing crafts, he’s just playing with my creations.
I hadn’t been encouraging him to take part in the task. I don’t want him to think these activities were beyond his ability and that only adults can make cool things. I remember seeing some really great artists when I was a kid, but rather than wondering whether I could do the same, I dismissed the very thought of it, assuming that that skill was beyond anything I could ever do. I don’t want my toddler to think that way. Yes, I can make a more realistic-looking bowl of soup, but who’s to say he can’t try, or that his is any less worthy than mine?
So after he handed me back the play dough, convinced that this molding business was only something Mama could do, I handed him another piece. “Why don’t you make the fork, and I’ll make the spoon,” I suggested. He agreed, and while I was making my spoon, he sort of picked at his piece here and there. “Can I see?” I asked him. “Wow! You made a fork. Now our bowls have a fork and spoon,” I told him. Never mind that his fork looked nothing like one. I still took the piece and pretend to poke at my pretend food.
Other than a few of these relapses, I usually let him lead with other crafts as well. When it comes to painting, I try to make suggestions sparingly, like when I see he needs help or ideas. Or when we’re gluing strips of paper or applying stickers onto card stock, he decides where to put them and what color to use. It’s okay if his crafts aren’t the cutesy crafts you see online. I just want him to enjoy the act of making something, creating ideas and finishing a project all at his own discretion and choosing. And it’s also fine for me to make awesome bowls and spoons so he can see the possibilities; I just don’t want him to think that he can’t do them either.
And if he just wants to hold a ball of play dough and pick tiny bits from it instead of rolling it into a masterpiece, then more power to him. When it comes to children’s crafts, children should be the main doers, even if it won’t make a pretty picture on Pinterest.
How do you and your kids do crafts together?