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Creating Fun Craft Projects With Your Kids

There's nothing quite like a unique craft to foster quality family bonding, creativity and fun – not to mention the ability to kill a few odd hours on a rainy afternoon. Before choosing a family craft, take into account its difficulty level and required ingredients, the age ranges of your anxious participants and any time constraints or short attention spans. Once all your necessary supplies are gathered and attentions are focused (at least for the moment), dig into these imaginative and fun projects.

Flower Power

Not all crafts will force you to run to your nearest store to load up on odd supplies. Squashing Flowers, Squeezing Leaves (Klutz, 2001) teaches children how to press flowers and plants, and encourages families to get outdoors and appreciate the beauty around them. This book provides simple crafts using elements out of your own backyard.

Pressing flowers is a two-step process with a gap of two to four weeks in between the gathering and the finished product. As such, it may be best to split this up into two distinct family projects: first exploring the outdoors and gathering colorful plants, and then making crafts of the dried collection.

Prior to assembling your pressed-flower art, have the family search your backyard or a nearby field. Look for flowers with thin petals and few petal layers, as these daisy-like flowers do the best when dried. And of course, beware of any poisonous plants! It's best to collect colorful flowers and textured leaves around mid-day, when it's dry and sunny, to avoid additional moisture or wilted petals. It's also important to begin the pressing process as soon as everyone has collected their discoveries, or the flowers may begin to wilt and lose their petals.

How to Dry Flowers:

To help dry out the flowers and leaves, you'll need to cut some newspapers in 6-inch squares (don't use colored ads or photos – just black ink only). The paper will soak up the excess moisture. Squashing Flowers, Squeezing Leaves includes pressing boards for this process, but you can also just layer three squares of newspaper on a hard surface. (As the pressing process can take several weeks, it's best to chose a spot where the pages won't need to be moved; otherwise use a thick book.) Spread your foliage out on the newspaper so nothing overlaps. Then sandwich the flowers with another set of three pieces of newspaper. Finally, lay a heavy book or other weighty flat object on the sheets. It's best to let the collections sit in a dry place, out of direct sunlight, but avoid storing them in a drawer or closet. Air needs to circulate around the pages during the drying process.

Now it's a waiting game of between two to four weeks for everything to be thoroughly dried and pressed. Check on the materials after about five days to change any outer layers of newspaper that may be damp, but don't disturb the paper immediately covering the flowers and leaves. You'll know the impatient waiting can end when the flowers feel dry and papery to the touch. Then it's onto the second phase of the project.

Look at all the pressed petals and leaves. Do they resemble animals or bugs? Monsters or people? Let children's imaginations run wild as they envision what their collection looks like. Have them gently glue the pieces onto paper and draw in any necessary details. You can also make letters with the delicate collection, working to spell out each child's name.

Decorating with Flowers:

Children can also decorate light switches and provide a colorful, personalized accent to their bedrooms or playrooms. First remove existing light switches or purchase new ones from a local hardware store. Prepare a mixture of glue and water and have a few paintbrushes at the ready. Have children arrange their flowers and leaves on the light switches and glue them in place. Then have them gently brush over the design with the diluted glue mixture, allowing the plate to dry before adding a second and third coat. Simply install the light switch and watch the faces light up!

Squashing Flowers, Squeezing Leaves offers an assortment of other craft ideas for your dried greenery, including sun catchers, stickers and more.

Portraiture Perfected

Jan Whitted is the owner and creativity director at ARTBEAT: The Creativity Store, a craft supply boutique and art studio just outside of Boston, Mass. Whitted helps parents stymied by arts and crafts and even sends out e-mailed newsletters full of colorful projects.

One of Whitted's most popular craft ideas centers around self-portrait collages, which can be completed by children even as young as three or four. "Each family member creates a self-portrait using easy collage techniques," says Whitted. "No drawing skills or mirrors are necessary, and you don't even need to use scissors. Ingredients are inexpensive and often things you have at home."

Each family member needs one 8-inch by 10-inch piece of a white mat board, clear-drying glue and sponges or brushes for the glue. Have an assortment of paper in a range of colors: tissue paper, wrapping paper, office paper – anything that is easy to tear into scraps. Also have pencils, both regular and colored, for any extra necessary details. (Self-adhesive mat boards are available with removable liners for those who'd prefer to forgo the gluing.)

"Before using glue, have everyone tear paper into the shapes for eyes, eyebrows, nose and mouth, and place these features on the board says Whitted. "Have family members arrange them to look like their face, or what they imagine their face to look like. Using a pencil, have everyone lightly draw the shape of their face around the features placed."

Next is the assembly stage. Have every artist carefully glue the features in place, using the brush or sponges. "Now have everyone tear or cut paper in varying skin tones and glue them down to fill in the face area," says Whitted.

Whitted encourages parents to ask their crew questions such as: Do you have rosy cheeks – or would you like to? Do you have laugh lines around your mouth? "Then use small pieces, no larger than a fingernail, for detail areas," she says. "It's OK to leave spaces between the pieces of paper; if pieces overlap, be sure that all the edges are glued down. Brush glue over only a small area at a time."

Remember to add in the details, including dark eyelashes, freckles, beauty marks and so on. Add in a neck, ears and hair, and don't forget such finishing touches as clothing, earrings, hats, eyeglasses, crowns and tiaras, Whitted says. "Once the glue is dry, fill in spaces with colored pencil or marker," she says.

Finally, let your crew decide whether to hang up or even frame their handiwork. "And don't forget to sign and date your keepsake artistic creation," says Whitted. "You'll be glad you did in years to come!"

These same techniques can be used to create pictures of other people, animals or anything in children's expansive imaginations. Whitted says that dimensional objects are also fun to add, such as thread, yarn or real fabric.

Other Arts and Crafts Ideas:

Among the other arts and crafts projects that are big hits with Whitted's clientele is the use of colored sand. "There may not be another material as soothing to humans as sand," she says. "We like to lie on it, dig our toes into it, and children will play in it for hours. It's also a wonderful all-natural art material. Layer it in glass containers for a fun landscape; add a tea-light for nighttime illumination, and paint with it, using glue, or make a 'loose' painting that can change each day and be poured away once you're done."

Another sure-fire hit? Colored tissue paper. "With 20 colors in one package, tissue paper is so versatile, no home should be without it," Whitted says. "Wrap presents with it, use it to make bouquets of flowers, or create 'stained glass' artwork by tearing it into pieces and applying with glue to almost any surface."

Need yet more creative, crafty ideas? Help your children embrace their family heritage and make a family tree, or go through the dozens of leftover photographs sitting around and let each child make their own photo album. Whatever you do, cherish this time, and work to keep the imagination, creativity and fun flowing!

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