What do you get when you combine a toddler, a preschooler, a first-grader, and a room full of crafting supplies? One frustrated parent or babysitter and a big, big mess. Every. Single. Time.

Not fun. Especially when you just pull out some art supplies and say, “Have at it, guys.”

But with some planning and a can-do attitude, group crafting can be a LOT of fun—for everyone. Here are some guidelines for managing a craft with a group of kids at various ages and stages, whether they’re your own children or you’re hosting a mixed-age play date.

Pick a craft, (not) any craft

crafting for toddlers and bigger kids

First and foremost, consider safety. Then, your sanity! You may be inspired to kick off a cool beading project, but those small beads might be too tiny for the toddler’s fingers, let alone end up in the baby’s mouth. Maybe stringing rigatoni macaroni onto yarn is a better option.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure your activity is safe for everyone. Painting with washable paints, building structures with non-toxic modeling clay, hand-crafting holiday cards with construction paper and stickers… these activities can be carefully customized for your crafting crew.

Clean up, set up

Do yourself a favor and start with a blank slate. Clear any debris off the kitchen table. Set down some newspapers on the floor, have wet wipes at-the-ready, secure the booster seat to the chair, etc.

Bring your craft materials to the work space: unwrap supplies, open lids, divvy up paper, and set the items each kid will need to get started in front of their seat. Put your chair near the youngest kids to provide more guidance. You can even enlist the oldest child’s help, if they’re willing.

Get the crafting party started

Once your crafting circle is up and running—don’t rush them. Survey the scene and divide your attention accordingly.

This is where the fun happens. Be present. Enjoy it.

Bring in reinforcements

Have a plan to respond with lightening speed to the inevitable “I’m done,” “I’m bored,” “Aaaaahhhh, she won’t share X with me!” Toddlers lose focus more quickly than their school-age counterparts. Then again, the older kids may need a little something “extra” to keep them engaged.

Modify with alternative materials (stashed just out of site!). Maybe some stickers or chunky crayons and a coloring book for the younger kids. Treat older kids to a quick tutorial in adding detail to their work—or see if they want to help the little ones.

If all else fails…offer a snack.

Clean-as-you-go

Before too long, someone will have a meltdown. Let’s make sure it’s not you, ok? Do what you can to pick up spills and scraps while the kids are busy creating. That way you won’t have as much to do later.

And what a great opportunity to introduce the concept of teamwork! Kids of every age can participate in clean-up, even if it’s putting a couple of crayons back in the box or carrying a pile of paper to the recycle bin.

When you’re done, pat yourself on the back! But first, hang up those glorious works of art so you’ll always be reminded of the fun you had crafting together—yes, all of you.

 

Learning is Where We Play: