Between frigid temperatures, social distancing, too much screen time and pandemic fatigue, parents need new ways to not only have fun with their kids, but help children entertain themselves outside of the virtual realm.
That's where Maker Camp: Heritage Crafts and Skill-Building Projects for Kids comes in, the new do-it-yourself book by Delanie Holton-Fessler, owner of the kids' workshop Craftsman & Apprentice. The idea behind the book is to set children up for crafting success at just about any age, and provide little ones the tools they need to use their imaginations and whip up all sorts of things using wood, glue, fabric, recycled objects, paint and more.
"The book is something you can pick up, put down and find the areas that speak to you the most. It's food for thought to help give you more confidence in creative practices," says Holton-Fessler on the eve of her book's debut. "I have been inspired by my collection of vintage arts and crafts books, and I wanted to write something that had the same atheistic but gave teachers and parents tools so they could get into the practice of making things with young people."
While all of these projects can be created at home with your own supplies, many of them can be purchased as a kit from Craftsman & Apprentice at 1335 East 22nd Avenue. The shop also hosts classes after school, weekend sessions and a summer camp. The book Maker Camp is available at the shop for $19.95, as well as at the Tattered Cover and most major retailers.
Using her book as a guide, we quizzed Holton-Fessler on how to keep kids entertained inside and build a thoughtful craft practice at home, without screens.
One of the first steps to successfully starting a craft habit in your home is to make a space for it with your child. While it may be easier for you to design a place for them to work, and may even be better than what they come up with, it's important, says Holton-Fessler, for kids to have a say in their own workshop.
"It's about getting the kids to identify the space and help decide where things should go," she says. "Even if it's just for like fifteen minutes, this helps them build up to working in their dedicated spot."
Letting the kids have a say in the process doesn't mean they have to do everything. You can ask them simple questions such as what shelf the paint should go on, what color they want their table to be, what supplies they use the most, what should be easy to get to and so on. In her book, Holton-Fessler adds that a craft spot doesn't have to be huge or in a separate room; it can be anywhere in the house where the kid is comfortable, as long as it works for the family.
You're never too old and almost never too young to build a fort. This calculated exercise is great for kids stuck in the house, and you don't need any special materials.
"Blanket forts and things like that are easy for trial and error. What's going to happen — a sheet is going to fall on your head?" says Holton-Fessler. "It's all imaginative play, and if there are siblings, they can collaborate and learn how to work together."
She adds that when kids have control over their environment, it helps them feel more secure and in control, and building a fort creates one of these safe spaces. Use blankets, sheets, pillows, stuffed animals, giant clips, string, scarves and anything else lying around. This activity not only makes a neat world for the little ones to hide out in, but it can create a sense of safety, feed independence, show how to collaborate and practice building skills.
Socially Distanced Projects
While the playdates that used to pepper winter weekends don't happen quite the same as they once did, you can still plan a project-based meet-up with your kids' friends. Enter the world of Zoom or other digital meeting spaces.
Craftsman & Apprentice has free YouTube classes to check out. Pick one, and make sure the other people involved have similar supplies; then let the kids create together over the internet. An easy way to do this is to pick up a pre-selected craft kit from the shop, such as the junk robot kit ($26), weaving set (starting at $19), or the soy candle kit ($32), to name a few. Of course, using what's on hand in the craft bin is encouraged, as well.
Design a Game
"Making a board game — that's one of the most popular things that kids do at the shop," says Holton-Fessler. "They take them home and play them with their families." Just about any age can make one, too, she adds. They are scalable based on a kid's ability.
To inspire creating this item, try organizing a board-game night with classics such as Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders and Monopoly Junior. Talk about what aspects of the games your kids liked, what they might want to see out of their own game, and what goals will be involved. If it doesn't work, that's okay, adds Holton-Fessler. Failure is all part of the process, and there's always another chance to try again.
Create a New World
Sure, you gave up that plastic grocery set years ago, but that doesn't mean your little ones don't want to play supermarket. Instead of buying a bunch of plastic toys, have them make their own shop, from the cash registers to the money to the food, which is something Holton-Fessler has done during camps at Craftsman & Apprentice.
"Creating a whole world like this activates kids' imagination," she says. Plus, they become invested in the space they create as it's being built.
You can do this with all sorts of destinations. Take off into orbit with a cardboard spaceship, search for moon rocks using a recycled jet pack, and create unique aliens to engage with. Safari around the house with stuffed animals and handmade binoculars, guide books, a picnic and lion-taming tools. Create a train out of used boxes, and let the caravan travel around the house picking up passengers. The possibilities are endless.
Yes, kids still love screens, but if you're trying to wean them off of video games, consider creating a real-life video game. Namely, Minecraft, which can be done with a pile of cheap wooden blocks, a building plan and a low-heat hot glue gun, something Holton-Fessler recommends having for ages five and up so they can have instant gratification when creating, instead of waiting for white glue to dry. With these tools, solid creepers and zombies may soon be roaming free in your house.
Prompt a Project
Sometimes creativity just doesn't flow, and that's okay. Holton-Fessler suggests asking questions or prompting a specific idea.
"Kids don't always know what to make," she says. So, encourage them to make a story with the art supplies on hand; make it an all-junk craft day, or tell them to create their family in miniature. Holton-Fessler also recommends pulling out a select number of materials, especially ones that speak to your child.
"That's the cool thing about crafting," she says. "They can create all the props and pieces and turn it into play."
For more information, go to the Craftsman & Apprentice website.