5 easy crafts for preschoolers (and their color-starved moms)

Maybe it’s different where you live, but here, there still isn’t any green. Just brown, tan, black, white, and grey. I know it’s Lent and it makes sense to look out the window and feel terrible, but I just can’t take it. I resorted to  . . .

Craft day.

In about half an hour, we came up with five very simple crafts that my five-year-old could do with almost no help. These are all projects that make the house brighter and more colorful, and that cost almost nothing to make. To make all five, you’ll need wax paper, colored tissue paper, paper plates, thread, glue sticks, paints and/or food coloring, scissors, clothespins, and pipe cleaners.

#1: Stained glass mosaics

Cut or tear colored tissue paper into squares or shapes. Lay out a sheet of wax paper, and run a glue stick all over it. Stick the tissue paper on the wax paper, in a design or at random. Stained glass!

 

#2: Tissue paper garden

This one is more fun to make than it is fun to look at.

Take a paper plate (always have paper plates on hand!), and color it green or brown, or glue green or brown paper on it. Cut colored tissue paper into little squares, wrap a square around the eraser end of a pencil, dab some glue on the end, and dab the gluey end onto the paper plate. Lift away the pencil, and — boop! — you’ve “planted” a frilly little flower. Plant as much or as few as you like.

You can also cut long strips of green paper and fringe half of it, so it looks like a comb. Fold it the long way, glue the unfringed side onto the plate, so the fringed half sticks up, and you have a row of grass.

#3: Flower garland

We made a lot of paper snowflakes this winter, so now we put those skills to use to make flowers. You want to start with a rough circle of tissue paper or colored paper.  (You can also use coffee filters, but, being white, they may look too snowflake-y.) You can trace a coffee can if you like. Fold it into a semicircle, then fold it in half again into a triangle, and then again into a smaller triangle, if you can.

To make a basic flower, cut the curved end into scallops or a jagged edge. Then snip off the point. Open it up carefully, and you have a sweet flower.

You can string a bunch of these on thread and make a little garland to brighten up the window.

 

#4: Coffee filter butterflies

Paper coffee filters absorb paint very nicely. Paint whatever designs you like on a coffee filter. If you get the paper wet, the colors will spread and blend.

Pinch the coffee filter in the middle to make butterfly wings. Clip them in place with a clothespin. For antennae, bend a pipe cleaner in half, twiddle the ends, and clip the bent part into the clothespin along with the wings.

If you like, you can add eyes with markers or googly eyes.
#5: Coffee filter planets

Flatten out some coffee filters. Put them on a plate, and get them nice and wet. Then take them, one by one, and drip watercolors or food coloring onto them. Then set them away somewhere to dry completely. (The washing machine or dryer is a good place to dry wet crafts, because you can wipe it clean afterwards.) Food coloring is more fun to work with, but it does stain skin, clothes, and hard surfaces, so be aware!

They get a gorgeous marbled effect, and look like glowing planets if you hang them in the window.

***

These projects are not razzle dazzle, but they are pleasant, cheap, and doable, and they make the house cheery.

Here are my general rules for preschool crafts:

1. The kids should be able to do most of the stuff without help, or else it’s not really a preschool craft.

2. The kids should listen while you explain how to do it, and then they should be able to do it however they want to, without being corrected

because it is their craft.

If mom wants it to turn out perfect, then mom can make her own!

3. Remember that some kids just want to take their pants off and watch craft day burn.

Just roll with it. That’s what old towels are for.

What fresh hell is this? It’s Pinterest Christmas 2016!

Feeling a dearth of burlap, foxes, chevrons, fairy lights, and mason jar lids in my life, I went on Pinterest to see what was happenin’.

I always start out with wholesome intentions, sincerely searching for neat DIY ideas. I even bought a set of plain glass balls, and I intend to spray paint them, using tiny paper snowflakes as stencils. As stencils! It is going to be pretty. Tell me it’s going to be pretty!

I start out, I say, with good intentions, looking for ideas that we will enjoy trying out; but I always end up calling my husband over for backup to help me mock stuff more thoroughly.

Because son, there is some stupid shit out there.

For your convenience, I’ve organized my thoughts into some basic rules to help you identify when you’ve slipped past DIY and landed smack in the middle of WTF, by which I obviously mean Where’s the Fphrenologist to feel your lumpy head and figure out what would impel you to follow through with some of these hideously inexcusable projects?

Things that would bring shame to hobos. Okay, so we all have failed crafts and stupid crafts and crafts that don’t turn out so great. That is fine. I have a number of them displayed around my house, because I have low standards.

But when I do come up with something lousy, I do not then use an expensive camera to take luxe photos of it and offer tutorials for how to recreate it in your own home. And not only because it didn’t occur to me! It’s because when you take a sweater and cut it up into heart shapes and then stick a paper clip through it, that’s not a cozy winter ornament. That’s garbage.

When kids make things that turn out a little rough and wobbly, that’s cute. When disabled people make things that are kind of naive and clunky, your heart is allowed to melt. But functioning adults are not allowed to just churn out crap and call it “adorable” just because it looks bad! Bad is bad! It’s not twee or offbeat or funky! It’s just bad! Bad bad bad!

(If you want to live a little, browse around in this chick’s site. Do not miss the confetti updo, which, the tutorial will instruct you, can be achieved by braiding your hair and then using your head to clean under the couch. In another spot, she instructs you to roast a turkey, cram some pom poms up its ass, and call it “festive feast.” I BET IT IS.)

Craft projects that require you spend $18 on a hobby store fake version of something people used to throw out back once the hogs were done with them. You know it must be within ten days of a major American holiday when local message boards are full of frantic pleas: Does anyone know where I can find wooden pallets? No, honey, nobody knows, because they have all been painted like terrible flags for the fourth of July, hung on the walls of pretentious condos for terrible wine racks, transformed into terrible herb planters in the front yards of people who wouldn’t know what to do with basil if grew with instructions right on the leaves, or tacked together by someone’s gloomy husband who would be perfectly willing to shell out cash for an actual, real, non-wobbly coffee table that doesn’t give you splinters, but now we have to spend all Thursday night sanding, and the Raiders are playing, too.

Leave pallets alone. Also milk bottles, mason jars, pre-weathered planks, and fruit crates. Gosh.

When you have a display, rather than decorations. Stores put up holiday displays. Businesses put up holiday displays. School children get together and work on a nice display together. But why are we doing this as individuals living in our homes? Why do we buy three shrink-wrapped bales of disinfected hay upon which to prop up some easily-identifiable symbols of the current holiday season in a studiously asymmetrical fashion, and set it up just to the left of the entrance to your home, and then forbid the children to play in the front yard because you’re trying to make it look homey with all those corn stalks you bought for eleven bucks a bunch? It’s your house, and you’re supposed to be living in it, not marketing it.

A small-scale rendition of this trend is when you take perfectly good stand-alone ornaments and tag them with keywords designed to snag maximum pageviews. You know what I mean: You have five glass balls in tasteful blue and silver, and that’s fine, but then you have to buy a special glass-writing marker and label each one with a Certified Holiday Word (without upper case letters or punctuation, of course, because we are having fun!). “Jingle” says one. “Merry,” explains another. “Star,” posits a third.

What? What? What is this for? This is stupid.  If you like jingling so much, maybe use a bell, eh, smartacus? This is one of those things that people only do because other people are doing it, so it seems normal and cute and pretty, but it’s not. It’s stupid and it’s making the word stupider.

Subset: those astronomically smug, oversized wall decals that literally spell out exactly what kind of family you are. “WE DO LOVE! WE DO MESSY! WE DO OOPSIE WOOPSIE DOO ON THE REGULAR! WE SHINE FULL TIME! LOOK AT MY WHITE TEETH! I DEMAND A GOLD MEDAL FOR NOT FLIPPING OUT WHEN CARTER DROPS A CRACKER ON THE CARPET! CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE YOU GET TO BE FRIENDS WITH US!” No, I can’t. Please give me my coat back; I really must be going. I think I left my humidifier running, and the cats are going to get all waterlogged.

Yeah, yeah, I know, they’re not there for guests. They’re there for the actual family, to remind them of their own ideals. Except they’re not. They’re totally there to impress people, along the lines of those “Another family for peace” bumper stickers. I’m going to start my own auto insurance company just to design a rider specifically to cover people who deliberately rear-end another family for peace.

 

Inedible food ornaments. This may just be a hangover from some stinging childhood disappointment, but I feel like it’s bad form to fill the house with marvellous scents and then not get to chew on anything. Gingerbread cookies? Those are for eating. Applesauce is also for eating, and not for compressing into little weird brick stars and hearts that only look like non-poop if you tell people, “Those are made of applesauce, you know!” I’ll make an exception for clove oranges, because they really are pretty, and they have a venerable past. But no more dried applesauce poop. It doesn’t make me mad, it just makes me sad. I like applesauce.

Complete non-ornaments that just stare baldly at you, daring you to wonder if this is, like, the lost and found shelf, or what. Skis, ice skates, sleds, bicycles, wagons, whatever. You are not TGIFridays, nor were meant to be. Just because you manage to hang it on your wall, that doesn’t magically transform them into decor. This offends my thrifty heart, and it also violates the whole “decoration vs. display” rule.

Now, if you’re trying to sell me on the idea that industrial design can be beautiful, that is one thing. I will actually go to a museum and look carefully at a very good toilet or a telephone or a circuit board, because I like design. But that is not what is going on here. What is going on here is that some deranged housewife gets it into her head that anything that is no longer for sale at full price at Bed, Bath and So Forth must be automatically nostalgic, and therefore decorative. My only comfort is that deranged people are bad at hanging stuff, so it will probably fall down at some point and hit somebody. Kapow! Where’s your nostalgia now?

 

Things made out of books.  Okay, so if the book was going to be destroyed anyway, that’s fine. But the thing that gets me is “She loves books so much, she made a whole chair out of them!” Hey, that’s great. I’m entirely blown away with your thorough grasp of the purpose of the written word! Or maybe you love books so much that you cut them up into bits and torture them into a gluey diorama depicting a scene from that book, that’s how much you love books!

Super duper. Remind me not to let you babysit my kids. Yes, I know you said you love kids. I heard you.

***

In closing:  Yes, I write things like this because I am a bitter, unhappy person who finds fulfillment in criticizing others, even though their behavior in no way impacts my life. Please pray for me.

Yes, mason jars are still a thing, still. I checked.

 

 

In which my kids make Valentine’s Day weird and creepy

We’ve been doing 3-D lollipop valentines for the last few years. Here is how it turns out when a normal family does this project:

PIC 3D lollipop valentine

 

Cute, eh? It is easy:

1. Take a picture of your kid extending a fist toward the camera.  Leave some blank space in the background for the lollipop and message.

2. If you like, photoshop a greeting onto the image.  If you are alert, you will remember how to paste things in with a transparent background; and if you care, you will be able to talk your kids out of choosing tacky images.  (This year, I was neither alert nor did I care.)

3. Print out enough photos for the class.  We use Walmart’s photo service – turns out fine.

4. Using an Exacto knife, make a slit above and below (or on both sides of) the fist.  Insert a Dum-Dum or other lollipop through the slits, so it looks like the kid is holding a giant lollipop, and tape the stick in place on the back of the photo.

Here is what we have so far this year (before getting prints and inserting lollipops):
one standard (?) lollipop holder:

 

one kid who wants to have the dog holding the lollipop in his mouth:

one kid who is just a crumb:

and one kid who wants to have the lollipop going in one ear and out the other:

I’m sure the school misses the old days, when we were new and paranoid and sure that everyone would be judging us, so we tried extra hard to seem like decent people.

Advent chains – a very easy Advent activity!

My sister Abby Tardiff is once again providing a template for advent chains.

1.  Go to this link on Dropbox and print out all six pages.  Cut along the lines so you have strips.

2.  If you want to be fancy, you can paste the strips to colored paper — purple for the first, second, and fourth weeks, and pink for the third.  If you don’t want to get fancy, just use them as is, or let the kids color the pictures in.  Make a paper chain and hang it in a prominent place.

3.  Each day of Advent, starting tomorrow, December 1, you cut snip chain and read the appropriate verse inside.  This is a nice visual activity for kids, because they can see the chain getting shorter and shorter as you approach Christmas day.  Some people draw out the lesson that the chains of sin grow weaker and weaker as the Savior draws near.  One year, I gussied up a few of the links with a hint to where the kids could find some kind of treat (chocolate in the mailbox, that kind of thing).

That’s it! Thanks, Abby.

 

Our Black Friday tradition

Hey, I don’t think it’s immoral to shop on the day after Thanksgiving, or even on Thanksgiving itself.  It’s depressing that so many people do it, but Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, so.  (Yes, I know that the first Thanksgiving feasts in the New World were to thank God. I just mean that it’s not a feast day or a holy day.)  Buying a nice present for someone you care about doesn’t mean you’re some kind of hardened consumerist swine.  Some people don’t have lovely family or happy associations with Thanksgiving day, so they’d just as soon be shopping — or working and making time-and-a-half.

That being said, I have never had any desire to shop on Black Friday or on Thanksgiving.

We just have a nice meal on Thanksgiving, and lately have started a new tradition on Friday:  we make Jesse Tree ornaments.  I know Advent is preparation time, but if we don’t prepare for preparation, nothing gets done.  Since we stopped homeschooling, it’s very hard to find time to do family activities; and yet somehow, when we have a day off school for whatever reason, we often end up just lying around playing on the Wii and eating cereal.  So, yay, a tradition!

There are any number of Jesse Tree readings and ornament patterns available online.  What we do is find one that has a reading for each day, assign a symbol to each one, and then the kids divvy them up.  Then I go to the “craft area,” which is a hideous jumble of felt, pom poms, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, glitter, beads, etc., and just dump everything in the middle of the table . . . and the kids get to it.  Big kids make elaborate figurines, little kids make sticky bundles of junk.  No judging!   Anything goes, as long as you can hang it.  The purpose is not to have an artistic finished product, it’s to have a nice time making it together, and to help us move into Advent mode.  (And if any Jesse Tree ornaments come out especially nice, they get saved as permanent Christmas ornaments.)  Oh, and pro tip:  foam meat trays are versatile.

Then we put everything in a box, and when Advent comes, we take turns reading that day’s reading, and whoever made the day’s ornament gets to hang it up. One year, I cut a branch off an evergreen tree and stuck it in a pot full of rocks in the living room.  One year, we hung the the ornaments from the ceiling in a line, leading up to where the Christmas tree would be.  One year, very short on room, I cut a bare tree branch and bolted that to the wall.  It has that gloriously weird, almost-festive Catholic look that unmistakably says, “SOMETHING is going on, but it ain’t Christmas yet!”

What about you?  Do you have any traditions for the day after Thanksgiving?