Sunday, November 30, 2014

Halloween Crafts for Kids or Timing Is Everything

Halloween has come and gone and we’ve all been inundated with various Halloween themed crafts that range from the cool to the total waste of time. They seem to fall into several broad categories:
  • Terrible crafts for kids
  •  Cool crafts for kids
  • Useless ugly stuff 
  •  Crafts that are not worth the investment in time
  • Throw crap at a plastic pumpkin and call it a craft
  •  Inventive Halloween crafts

My theory on projects for children or the developmentally disabled is that the end product has to be worthwhile. Busywork is unacceptable for anyone, but particularly for someone who doesn't have a great deal of say in which project they make. Giving someone a lame project is insulting and it discourages the participants from crafts in general. Making things with children improves their coordination and gives the child a chance to use their own judgment within a controlled environment. While the developmentally disabled may not achieve any physical or cognitive improvement from crafting, making something is satisfying and enjoyable and for those reasons alone you should choose worthwhile projects. 
Here are some poorly designed projects that are a total waste of time (all the project links are at the end of this post):

These projects are busywork and as a kid I remember feeling cheated that my crafting time was being wasted on this kind of thing. These projects are insulting because if the child has the coordination to make any of these soon to be garbage projects, there is something better they can be working on. Even the time of a child is valuable, or maybe, particularly the time of a child is valuable.

Sticking food on something is not enough to make it a good project. My older daughter once had an assignment to make a bird drawing and decorate it with only seeds (pumpkin, poppy, sunflower, etc). The drawing had to be big and we both thought that the project was a huge waste of our time.

In the fourth grade my younger daughter had to make something like six dioramas in a row. It was as if her teacher had one idea and that was it. Apparently, this teacher was so uninterested in crafting she couldn't be bothered to crack a teaching manual or ask a colleague for suggestions.

Ok, here are some satisfying projects for younger kids:

The blue balloon is an armature for a papier-mâché pumpkin. Depending on age, the child may need some help with the string, but after that papier-mâché is easy (and cheap). Once the pumpkin is made and dried it can be painted and decorated. This project will be much more satisfying than throwing glitter at a plastic pumpkin. 

The spider and the web is another easy project, but much more interesting to make than the paper plate ghost above. You can vary the complexity of the web and/or use one of the many cool pipe cleaner spider projects to adjust this for the age of the child.

The pumpkin heads are a variation of papier-mâché, but are made with string rather than newspaper. 

The impressive paper chain ghost would be a great group project for small children with an adult to put the whole ghost together. You could vary the size of the links for smaller fingers. 

I like the bat silhouette project a lot. It’s basically finger painting and is more or less the same as the lame candy corn project above. The dots are the kid’s fingerprints and a child old enough to use a pounce sponge brush can make fairly clean fingerprints. The child could choose their own stencils, which would help keep them interested.

Here are some projects for older kids:

This amazing skull is a string art project. I’m glad to see string art coming back. I thought it was cool in the ‘60s and I still like it. The link at the end of this post goes to a really excellent tutorial. Once you know the technique, you can do anything. I’ve seen some amazing negative space string art pictures. You can also vary the scale of your project with yarn, twine or embroidery floss. I’ve seen string art jewelry made using springs instead of nails and thread instead of string.

The totem pole is great. In this case I'd probably use the dreaded plastic pumpkins due to weight considerations.The article about this says to pound a steel fencepost into the ground, but if you use plastic pumpkins you can probably get away with a couple of dowels. They're going to be a lot easier to get into the ground than a steel post. Don't forget to cut a hole in the back of each pumpkin for the lights before you put it on the pole.

The last project is also something I remember from the ‘60s that has come back – dried apple dolls. These are awesome. I’ve only seen witches before, but this zombie is great.

I think the way crafts are taught in school or camp is similar to how math is taught. Making things is presented poorly or taught by someone who doesn’t enjoy doing it and who has to fill a mandated amount of time per week. Therefore, most people never make anything worthwhile and aren't motivated to try on their own.

I grew up in a family where nearly everyone, man or woman, made things so it was always presented as fun. Family members, including my mom, made everything from furniture to wall hangings to toys. Generally speaking, I’m not talking about artisan quality stuff. We mostly made things that we could use because it was both fun to give making it a shot and fun using what you made. Years pass and you can fondly remember what you made, how you used it and who used it with you. That’s awesome.  I’d love to say I’ve passed that thrill on to my kids, but while they both enjoyed making things with me when they were young, only my eldest makes stuff as an adult. I don’t think my younger daughter’s psyche was damaged by the endless dioramas, though. Those ended up as bonding moments because we both hated making them so much. It was an object lesson in not wasting your time on useless crap. As in life. On that pretentious note, I'll leave you. The next post in my Timing Is Everything series is adult Halloween crafts.


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