With the COVID-19 public health crisis closing everything from libraries to businesses to schools and camps, many people are now faced with a new reality- being a caregiver in a new, shelter-in-place environment. For parents, it can feel like we're suddenly expected to be experts in things we don't necessarily have any experience with: we're now teachers, full-time entertainers, and IT support for small children. For those of you feeling this pressure, consider the joy of craft time.
Some people may find doing arts and crafts with children as intimidating as explaining the difference between numbers and digits, but there is a magic phrase that can change your perspective and help you enjoy this activity for the first time and every time after that: process over product.
There are what seems like an infinite number of craft and art projects for kids on the internet: make a bean bag toss game or a cardboard robot or a macaroni galaxy or your five millionth batch of slime! These are all fun projects, but the instructions, with their photos of impossibly well-groomed children creating instagram-worthy crafts leave the adults feeling less "expert" when projects fail to live up to internet standards. A focus solely on a product implies there will be a right way and a wrong way to make something.
Reframing craft time to focus on process means talking about materials, about tools, and about possibilities. It isn't abandoning a product - they aren't opposites, and something is still getting created - but it is being open to letting the product be determined by what you learn along the way. It means laying whatever you find in the house out on a table and asking "I wonder if..." It means starting with a question, letting the learners direct the exploration, and seeing what you find along the way. It means becoming a learner alongside the young people in your house, creating a space where it's okay for everyone to make mistakes - a space we rarely get to inhabit.
At my house, we've assembled a box with all of our most useful tools - a low-temp hot glue gun, scissors, markers, some nuts and bolts, tape - and I'll encourage my kids to pick a single material from the pile and see what they can make. We'll talk about what they were doing before, if there was a problem they wish they could solve or some prop that would have made their play more fun. That has led to things like a camera stand made of popsicle sticks, a workbench made from scrap wood and felt Wonder Woman tiaras. The best part, as a parent, was creating a less stressful environment and experiencing the joy of watching my kids explore their own projects.
If you'd like some inspiration, try searching for "process art" or "tinkering" and you'll find great suggestions, but the greatest guides you'll find are the young people right in your house.