Written by: Alice Sheppard
Do you dread the “doing something constructive” or arty things with your offspring? Don’t worry, so do most parents. It’s ten times more fiddly than it looks, so if we have to help we get as stuck as they do – and then there’s a pile of paper to clear up, glue on the carpet and goodness knows what else.
It’s good for children to draw and make things. Their little hands need to learn dexterity, and it’ll teach them to be patient as well as imaginative. But you don’t need your living room to look as if someone has put a bomb in the hamster bedding – leave the panoply of glues and paints and gummy things to their school! Here are our five best ideas for non-messy creativity.
Old-fashioned is often best: magnetic drawing boards
Do you remember those? You twiddled a knob to go up, down, right, left, and lines would slowly run along the screen, generating a picture you could later erase. They’re now all over the place, with proper pens and extra gadgets and switches, ideal for children as young as 3, and many places sell them for under a tenner. They’re excellent practice for writing as well as drawing. To learn to hold an electronic pen might well be a valuable skill for future graphic designers and artists: the paintbrush of the future . . . their road to be the next xkcd creator, perhaps?
Cardboard kits: model dolls’ houses
An 11-year-old I know spent many happy hours building one of those out of a ready-to-assemble kit. Much scissors-and-glue misery was saved by pre-cut slots, and all the pieces had a place to be put away. It may take several days to build, and may have to be done carefully and in the right order, but should be very rewarding – and be a part of their bedroom for years to come. If it all seems a little too pink and your child quite rightly dislikes gender stereotypes, they can put their own toys in the house to correct the balance!
Draw with water . . .
The Water Painting Doodle Mat and the AquaDoodle come with a pretty pen you fill with water. Draw on the mat and a pattern appears that slowly fades away (so if they do something special you’d better take a photo!). No mess, no paint that could be swallowed, and it can be rolled up and taken along in the car or the train. Some varieties come with pictures or letters to trace, or different areas producing different colours. It could be schoolwork or fun, art or even a board game for the rest of the family to play.
. . . and build with foam!
Forget the glue: this foam kit sticks together – and unsticks – by wiping with a damp sponge (included). For some excellent three-dimensional freedom, you can snip or reshape the pieces of foam to make whatever creations you want! Complete freedom can be exciting but bewildering: where do I start? The box set comes with instructions for simple models to start with, for your offspring to try as many or few as they like. Like Lego, it can all be taken apart again; unlike Lego, it’s cornstarch, so will not attack your feet. A creation can be kept or dismantled – and once they stop using it altogether, it will safely dissolve in water: it’s environmentally friendly to boot.
A final mishmash of materials . . .
We couldn’t resist suggesting a few generic materials that don’t coat the carpet: Watercolour paints, surprisingly, are easy to clean, as are the brushes – and the box looks so fancy that an older child is likely to take its appearance seriously! Pipe cleaners can be twiddled into all kinds of shapes, and don’t stick to anything. Stickers are a delight to many children, and there are special sticker books you can buy – though children may coat the table legs with these, and some have even been known to eat them. Beads can be used with string, or be the sort that pop onto and off each other.
Chalk and slate, while powdery, were children’s drawing and writing materials for years. They could pretend to be Victorian children in the classroom, writing their sums on a slate, re-enacting What Katy Did or The Railway Children. This would be particularly exciting if you and they have walked anywhere containing these materials – the Welsh hills for slate, for example, or the Salisbury planes or Dover for chalk!
Whether you like “real” things out of the ground, or the latest gadgets from the internet, we think there will be something for you and your little mess-generator here.