When parents take over children’s crafts

When parents take over children's crafts
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?


10 thoughts on “When parents take over children’s crafts

  1. Well, Emilia is a bit older and I can’t remember what it was like when she was two, except that she did a lot of abstract painting. At this time, she is a doer. In fact, she wants us to do crafts together, but if it’s something where we need to take turns (such as glitter glue blottles), she says, “What can I do? What can I do?” And she is upset at the parts that she can’t do (such as, she wanted to do the gluing, and I thought that was not a good idea).

    When we’ve done other projects, such as worked with clay, she wants to do it herself. And I will do some things, too, and sometimes she will try to do something similar, sometimes not.

    I never gave this topic much thought. You made me think about it a bit. I never realized how much “can do” this might foster in her, but that would be terrific if it did. I can’t remember (not to say it didn’t happen) my mother even doing craft projects with me at such a young age.

  2. Love this post. With my eldest I did all of the making, and she the admiring. I have an almost 3yo now and I’ve never done that with her, and she makes things that look like absolutely nothing, but labels them as animals, dishes, telephones, etc. She doesn’t see that they don’t actually resemble those things, because I’ve never shown her my version. I love it. And my eldest, who is 8, is now great at using her own two hands as well. 🙂

  3. Another great post! We play with playdough all the time and I do end up making a lot of things for her. Ha ha. Other than that she is miss independent, Heaven forbid she lets me touch her crafts when she’s working on them. She loves those clear markers that only show color when you use them on certain paper. Do you know what I am talking about? She goes to town coloring in the pictures. I love them knowing she won’t be getting anything on the furniture!!

  4. Ha! I do the exact same thing with the Play Dough! Lately Greta’s been smashing whatever I make with it to smithereens, so, all of our Dough is pretty much one weirdly green color, but, hey, at least she smashes it with her own unique style! That counts, right? 🙂

  5. I’ve totally had that happen with the playdough. It is hard to figure out what crafts my two-year-old can do himself, between limited ability and a tendency towards obsessive compulsiveness (no finger painting here! he can’t stand the mess). When I find something he can actually do though, it’s so awesome. And nice to be able to stand back and wash dishes or something while he does a craft himself. The best one recently was sticking cotton balls on a piece of construction paper I’d cut like a bunny and spread glue on. 🙂

  6. I agree with this wholeheartedly! I try to do art activities right along with Simon, while giving him loads of space. However, I do make occasional suggestions. When it comes to the playdough scenario and the “You make it.” I have also worried the same thing. I think though, that some of it is learning by watching, some of it is the you-do-it-better thing. I think you found a great compromise in the way you handled it with your son.

    I teach a toddler art class, and one of the first things I tell the parents is that for little ones the process is more important than the product, and to allow their children to explore each project in a way that will keep making them want to come back to art making. Sometimes I can see the parents get uptight that their kid isn;t doing it “right”, and sure enough those kids want to be finished first.

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