Sometimes oldies are goodies – and popular crafts are popular for a reason, because they are (almost) universally enjoyed and benefit children in all kinds of ways. They are also about passing on traditions. There is something magical about making Christmas decorations in the same way that children have for centuries, and realising how much children love this stuff even in this electronic age.
The past few weeks we have had fun with some traditional crafts:
1. Salt Dough Ornaments
We made our salt dough using the basic ratio of half:half:whole water:salt:flour. L and N loved mixing it and kneading it (L developed a really good technique). There are so many merits in this – motor skills, maths (measuring, ratios, quantities) science (the properties of the material, how it dries and hardens), and it is fantastic sensory play. We didn’t colour our salt dough because we planned to paint it, but there are so many variations – adding cocoa, coffee grounds, food colouring, sand, cornflour, spices etc etc to make this a multisensory activity and create different effects.
I gave L and N a rolling pin and some Christmas cutters, and let them get on with cutting out their shapes. They couldn’t wait to show me. N was really surprised when we put them in the oven and they hardened, and was quite excited about the idea that we could keep them and not squish them away like play dough.
They were very busy and had a great time. L was really proficient at making perfect shapes, N found it difficult to pick them up without squashing them so this was a lovely way for her to practise.
We also made the three children’s initials out of salt dough, using alphabet play dough mats from Twinkl resources.
I gave them glittery paint and let them paint the ornaments any way they wanted – sometimes less is not more, and they were very, very glittery since L and N wanted to add even more glitter on top of the sparkly paint – but why not? They really enjoy the freedom of being able to decorate in any way they like, enjoying the process rather than the finished product. And as it happens the finished products were great:
2. Painted pine cones
Easy peasy – we spray painted ours with gold and silver paint – for some reason N is still talking about this oh-so-simple activity from last year and so we have done it again. We have hung them on the Christmas tree, made garlands by stringing them onto thread (I did this with a sharp needle), used them to make a table centrepiece with a candle in the middle, and strewn them around the fireplace.
It is also fun to paint them with paintbrushes and poster paint – great sensory play and motor skill development as well as experimenting with different materials to paint onto – we have done this before and plan to do it again this week. In a few Christmases time I think the house will be very full of pine cones!
3. Toilet Roll crackers
Very easy, again. We wrapped a toilet roll in a sheet of coloured felt (an A4 sheet seems to be exactly the right size) and tied with pipecleaners to form a cracker shape. I then let L and N go bonkers with glitter and sequins to make some very sparkly crackers, some of which are on our tree and the rest decorating their bedrooms.
To make real crackers (which we haven’t done yet because L hates the noise they make), I believe you would need a paper perforating tool (available from craft shops) to perforate halfway along the toilet roll to allow the cracker to split in two when pulled. You would also need cracker snaps to put inside (as I write this I am having an idea that we could make silent crackers by omitting the snaps) – you would also need to use a decent quality wrapping paper instead of felt to cover the cracker. And obviously something to put inside it!
Here we are decorating our Christmas tree with crackers and painted pine cones. I am quite proud of the fact that everything on our tree is home made (OK, except the lights!).
4. Paper snowflakes
Again, no prizes for originality, but plenty of traditional Christmas fun and learning. I was impressed that both L and N could make these independently, as long as L cut the paper into a square shape for N, and after a few trial and error attempts where they cut all the edges away so that nothing held the snowflake together. Quite a lot of mathematical thought, understanding of shape and symmetry and co-ordination as well as sequencing, goes into the folding of the paper diagonally again and again to make a small triangle, and cutting skills were perfected in cutting the shapes out. And they were so impressed with their own work when they unfolded the snowflake and saw what they had made. And F enjoyed playing with the pieces of paper that had been discarded. L and N decorated their snowflakes with glitter and sequins, just because they love them!
They made loads of these, with minimal prompts and reminders about the technique. the great thing about this craft is that pretty much whatever they do looks great!
5. Felt Hearts
These hang on the Christmas tree, and are a particular favourite of mine. We cut out two heart shaped pieces of felt and let L and N decorate with fabric pens and glitter glue. I then stuffed them with upholstery wadding and sewed them together.
It would be easy to punch holes around the edge and let the children sew their own. For older children, cross stitch designs could be incorporated.
All of these crafts are things that L and N remember from last year, which is a long time in their little lives, and have asked to do again this Christmas – I think they will be repeated year after year, some can be given away as presents, but I think our house will still be very full of these things. This is only really the second year of Christmas crafting for us, and it is already lovely to see the difference in the way they approach these crafts, and to look at last year’s nostalgically – imagine how lovely it will be to have a decade of paper chains and felt offerings sewn by little fingers!