I've been off work at my "day job" for the past week, and yet, I feel as though I have accomplished less business-related 'stuff' than I normally do. Is there a time-vampire sucking minutes from my days? Is there a fourth-dimensional time-fold somewhere in our apartment that transports me from early morning to late afternoon unbeknownst to me?
Alas, nothing so interesting. It just so happens that Avigael, our three year old daughter, manages to consistently throw a wrench in the gears of my efficiency. It seems as though I spend most of the day either entertaining Avi (which involves coming up with new ways to keep her little magical mess-making hands busy) or cleaning up after her.
Avi is notoriously precocious whenever she's not occupied. Idle hands are indeed, the devil's plaything. What could I possibly think of to entertain my daughter? Why, arts and crafts of course. I've stocked up on Play Doh, watercolors, construction paper, glue sticks, little scissors, foam shape stickers, pony beads, craft lace, markers, crayons, Biggie Beads (the toddler-friendly version of Melty Beads), and much, much, (argh! clutter!) more. Is it starting to become apparent why so much clean-up?
Organizing Ideas for the Collection of Kiddie Craft Crap
Fortunately, we have figured out how to control some of the clutter problems. After a massive re-organization of our limited cupboard space, Chad freed up the free-standing kitchen cart, formerly known as two cupboards and three drawers of "Miscellaneous." This was turned into pure craft storage, mostly filled with Avi Stuff. This is convenient, because it's kept in a central (read: supervised) location, fully within her reach. Drawers hold papers of various kinds, stickers, coloring books, and other flat crafting materials. The cupboards hold shoebox-sized plastic totes that each contain some activity.
There's an art to managing the clutter of an artsy child. There's a box for Play-Doh stuff (the clay, rolling pin, cookie cutters (just metal kitchen cookie cutters, which are actually easier for her to hold and punch the dough out than the little plastic cutters that you can buy). A box for paints, brushes, and dollar-store sponge stamps. Two plastic dollar-store cleaning-supply totes (with a handle, a large pocket and two smaller pockets) serve as grab-and-go organizers for markers & crayons, the other for "little pain-in-the-rump stuff" like pom poms, foamy stickers, googly eyes, craft sticks, and the like. To keep all the little stuff from escaping, I recycled yogurt cups to separate the findings. Rose Art offered an Art Bin for $3 (at WalMart, here in Columbus) which had crayons, glue, markers, and more; and while those are stored in the grab-and-go totes, the bin now holds beads: the tub of Biggie Beads, the peg boards, and her pony beads (stored in a pencil box scored for a quarter during Back to School season).
As futile as it sometimes seems, we're working on it becoming a habit that Avi put away all the things from her current activity back into the plastic bin, and go put the bin away, before moving on to another activity. I win some and lose some on this front, but baby steps, right? Just the convenience not needing me to go get a new piece of paper, markers or crayons out for her, saves me the "hey bring me this NOWWWWWWs" that 3 year olds seem to be able to bellow out with such gusto that getting a fresh piece of paper suddenly is an emergency, and you can bet, despite your best effort to tune it out, that you won't be able to accomplish anything else until the little munchkin's demands have been met. I originally thought I'd be able to maintain a "we don't negotiate with terrorists" attitude, but honestly, by the third MOMMY! I need! Now! I'm pretty much willing to drop whatever I'm doing to stop the sound.
CHEAP, CHEAPER, FREE: entertaining your kid doesn't have to cost major moolah (unless you're hell-bent on re-creating an only-in-a-magazine scene).
If you haven't noticed a trend: cheap, cheaper, or free. I am always looking for ways to reuse or repurpose things. I do this in my jewelry designs for interest when I stick something unexpected in a design. But I've gotten in the habit of thinking "what could THIS be used for?" in daily life as well. It's immensely useful once you get into the hang of it. You can always throw things away when you realize you aren't, in fact, going to use it, but you can't snap your fingers and POOF! make six toilet paper rolls appear when some random kid's craft requires it. If you craft with your children (or are a craft-addict yourself) you can frequently find yourself in need of paper bags, TP or paper towel rolls, egg cartons, cardboard (e.g. cereal boxes), and more. There's no pricey Pottery Barn stuff on my shelves, hon.
I save yogurt cups (FREE, and disposable for paint tubs, water cups for watercolors, bead sorting cups, and more) and the heavy duty styrofoam drink cups you get at some fast food or gas stations (think poke things into it or glue things onto it for toppers and other craft or floral bases, not to mention an easy way to take along your own iced tea from home), and other plastic containers with lids (e.g. butter tubs, etc.). Pretty much anything that can survive a dishwasher cycle is free game.
I'm also a dollar store and thrift store junkie. Like Forest said, 'you never know what you're gonna get.' Random bits of awesomeness surface from time to time, and the possibilities are endless if you have an eye for seeing What Could Be instead of just What Is. With the economy still dragging it's heels, dollar store crafting and thrift store transformations (e.g. "Shabby Chic" and "Vintage") are fully en vogue. You can Google search for inspiration, or hit your library to peruse the crafty magazines (FREE again!).
If you're a Pinterest addict like myself, you can even check out what has piqued the interest of other craft-minded people (you can check out some excellent reuse, rehab, and refurbish arts & crafts inspirations that I have found by following me on Pinterest- http://pinterest.com/gestaltcasey). If you're not on Pinterest, you should definitely check it out. Think of it as an unlimited virtual cork board where you can "pin" things of interest from anywhere on the web, categorize it, and visit it later. It's FREE (love that word) and comes with a bookmark bar app so anytime you're web-surfing and see something you like (a snazzy outfit, a DIY project to keep in mind, beautiful architecture, a tasty recipe, or anything else) you can click "Pin It" from your bookmark bar and send it to your "boards" for later. I've seen people use it for wedding or party planning, as a recipe book, and more. It quickly has become my go-to for inspiration when I've got that unspecified, squirrley, "I wanna MAKE something" feeling! Plus it syncs with the ubiquitous Facebook (if you want it to) so you can pin and share at once.
STRESS FREE(ish) Kid Crafting
With a 3 year old's manual dexterity skills, having free range of various arts & crafts media can send shivers down even a tree-hugging-cotton-wearing-hippie mom. To prevent myself from feeling the urge to scrutinize every paint brush swoosh or clay squish, I adopted the "paper up the coffee table and let it go" ethos. I have a large roll of plain white paper (like the kind teachers make bulletin boards with, and the paper table cloth covers at restaurants, etc.) and roll out a piece to cover our extra-wide coffee table, tape it down, and let her go to town. I fold it up to re-use if it was only marker mess, but I can wad the whole thing up and toss it if it was defiled by paint blobs or smooshed up clay. The same could be done with old newspaper. When I was growing up, my parents had a basket for old newsprint. If there was a need for it that week, there was plenty, if not, it was put out with the trash. With the advent of the Internet age, we don't read the news on paper. You never know when you might want to spray-paint, use furniture-ruining glue, glitter, or a host of other messy things.
The coffee table is perfect kid-crafting height. She can plop down, and everything is within reach. She doesn't have to climb of kitchen table stools if she needs something. Best of all, I can keep an eye on her while working on the computer, or I can scoot her down and claim part of the table myself and work on my own project along side her. It's also in the same room as the "big tv" which is convenient too, because she can learn Spanish with Diego or build a word with her PBS Word World friends while she is also engaged in something constructive. So she gets her fix of TV without merely vegetating. The result is an amusing mix of dancing around, singing, answering questions posed by interactive shows, and drawing, coloring, or cutting up clay, stringing beads or "gluin' stuff" as she calls pasting foamy cut-outs on paper.
See--educational AND developing fine motor skills!