It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Christmas crafts, again

At Mary’s house, there is always the craft table (aka the dining table), set out with scrap paper, crayons, scissors, glue, and assorted other stuff — cotton balls, tin foil, popsicle sticks, stickers… They can play with these things however they see fit, as often and as long as they wish. I offer only such assistance as is directly requested, and even then I may opt to assist by asking questions rather than by doing anything to their creation. And I never, ever “improve” something they create in this way.

These days I have three three-year-olds in the house. Fun! Three-year-olds are usually fascinated by crafts. They will respond according to their personalities, of course: The social ones expect you to stay and chatter with them as they create; self-motivated tots are happy to work for long stretches on their own; really active munchkins will zip to and from the table, adding a sparkle here and a scribble there between bouts of wild cavorting in the living room.

But by and large, they love the colours and the stickyness and the poking and twisting and gooping.

At three, they are only just moving past the absorption in the process that consumed them at two. Two-year-olds have no interest in “making” something recognizable. They are interested in the scratch of pencil on paper, the crunch of tin foil, the slop of paint, the scent of glue, the unfolding of colour, sound, texture, smell. It’s all about the ‘doing’ for a two. And as they “do”, they learn how all these things work, and they develop confidence in their creative process.

At three, while still fascinated by the doing, they are developing an interest in the outcome. Which is why the best three-year-old crafts have a little of both. The best crafts for this age do not need a lot of adult intervention. (The best crafts for 2-year-olds need essentially none, beyond providing the materials and maybe some instruction in how to use them.)


This ball is a good craft for this age. They peel the stickers off (fine motor), they stick them to a ball (more fine motor), and they create something to hang on the tree — or simply grace their bedside table. This is Emily’s ball. She worked on this thing for a good hour, in several sittings. It required no adult assistance whatsoever.

And this is a not-so-developmentally-perfect craft:


They got to draw the faces on these angels, and they made the halos by twisting the metallic twist-ties, but all the assembly was done by me. They helped by putting tape in the appropriate spots, but this is clearly an adult-essential craft.

That’s okay. They learn different skills, skills they perhaps can’t yet manage, but will in time. They see something being created in a step-by-step manner, with an eye to a goal. They also learn to follow instructions. All of these are Useful Life Skills. You don’t want all crafts to be adult-essential, of course. Non-directed crafts allow for exploration and experimentation. In a week of daily crafts, one or two adult-essential, directed crafts still allows for three or four days of free exploration crafts. A reasonable balance, I think.

And the parents get recognizable angels for the Christmas tree! So everyone’s happy.

December 10, 2008 - Posted by | crafts, Developmental stuff, holidays | , , , , , , , ,


  1. How do you keep the crafts materials from spreading all over the living room and away from the one year olds in your care. I have a 3/5 year old and a 13 month old and I am still not sure how to organize the older craft time while keeping the younger one away from the action.

    The older kids know that the craft stuff is to stay on the table. It’s never taken elsewhere, except for the finished products to be put in their storage bins.

    The youngest ones sometimes join us — safely strapped into their high chairs, either to do a baby-friend craft or play with toys on their trays — or just toodle about doing 1-year-old things. Since most of the crafts I plan don’t require 100% adult assistance, I can split my attention between both groups.

    If, however, a craft is going to need my undivided attention (I try not to plan too many of those!), I do it at the beginning of naptime. I put the year-olds down first, and send the older children up in half an hour or so, when the craft is done.

    Comment by nina | December 10, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks so much for all the great Christmas craft ideas that you and the others have provided. I have so many neat new ideas this year to try with the kids!

    By the way, I have discovered that the shiny, sparkly pipe cleaners make fabulous orament hangers.

    Aren’t they great? They’re good for twisting into candycanes, too, or, for the more advanced, into little angels or Christmas trees. We love ours so much, we’ve used them all up…

    Comment by Bev | December 10, 2008 | Reply

  3. So you leave craft stuff out on the table all the time? Do you have glue there, too? My 3 1/2 year old would do fine with leaving things at the table, but he’s obsessed with tape and glue and I’m thinking that there would be glue all over everything… Do you just always supervise that? It would be easy for me to get distracted and not notice the glue going everwhere…

    For a while, little Anna was obsessed with cutting bits of paper into teeny, tiny pieces. The absorption in this task was amazing to behold, but lordy, did it make a mess! And sometimes, the other children’s artwork became fodder for the snipping. Oops. I responded by removing the scissors to the kitchen counter. If anyone needed them, they had to ask, and so I was always aware when they were out.

    Comment by rosie_kate | December 10, 2008 | Reply

  4. Here’s a hint. If you are worried about the stuff spreading all over give the kids trays with sides to work on. Their stuff stays in front of them and as an added attraction you can pick up and move the activity if the child isn’t finished and you need the table for something silly like lunch.

    What a good idea! I foresee yet another trip to the dollar store, or maybe, for this one the hardware… We tend to eat at one end of the table, with the art stuff shoved at the other. (It’s a big table; can comfortably seat eight, and has often seated ten.)

    Comment by jwg | December 10, 2008 | Reply

  5. I love the sticker ball! What kind of ball did you begin with? I’m thinking a traditional ornament would be too fragile and stickers wouldn;t stick to a styrofoam one. But I would love to try this craft with my class, so please emlighten me! Thank you. 🙂

    I got them from the dollar store (a box of six for a dollar!). They look fragile, but they’re not. They must be made from some sort of plastic: when you squeeze them, they dent in and then recover. I checked before I bought them. Failing that, I think someone on a previous post suggested plastic Easter eggs (though good luck finding them in December!).

    I wonder… could you maybe use styrofoam balls if you first painted them with a coat of watered-down white glue? I’d try that on one, and see if it worked. You’d have to paint the ball, let it dry overnight, and then try the stickers on it. Hmm…

    Comment by Patti | December 11, 2008 | Reply

  6. This isn’t for a craft per se, but for scissors practice on of my son’s teachers filled a wading pool with magazines, wallpaper scraps etc and called it the scissors pool. They could chop and snip to their heart’s content.

    Ha! I love it! I have a small house, so I cannot imagine where I’d stick a wading pool, but I think it’s a fabulous idea. Can you imagine the photo ops? Too cute!

    Comment by Jill in Atlanta | December 11, 2008 | Reply

  7. You can do the cutting thing with a cardboard box. Just keep the scissors tied to it so they don’t vanish into the cut up paper. When it’s all little pieces add it to the collage collection and start again.

    Comment by jwg | December 11, 2008 | Reply

  8. […] This is Emily of the Christmas ball. […]

    Pingback by Feeling better… « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | December 23, 2008 | Reply

  9. […] It’s not all Mary Poppins (con 2 idee semplici semplici, adattissimi per bimbi piccoli) […]

    Pingback by Creare bocce di Natale con i bimbi « HomeMadeMamma | November 23, 2009 | Reply

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