With the summer here and having yet more time with the children still home, my mind has started to turn towards making the most of the time we have left to nourish ourselves before being back out in the world again. We will no doubt want to do some summer craft projects as we usually do, but this year will feel very different. Because of having spent so much time already throughout lockdown working and making together and being fairly industrious, it would be lovely to focus on activities for bonding and baseline raising before we all return to school and work. For me this means activities that aren’t necessarily about having ambitious projects to complete or perfect, but that are more about the simplicity of spending time together in creative flow. Whilst we do love a good make in our house, the nature of the activities we choose change slightly when the intention is to really connect with each other through art and craft making.

Four features of crafts for connecting

We’ve enjoyed crafting in our house since the children were very small – through creative homework projects and because I’ve always worked and trained in creative disciplines, so it always felt quite natural. I’ve also led many groups with children and young people over the years and have discovered that some activities do lend themselves to connecting a little more than others. For me, there are four main features of craft activities that foster space for connection:

 They are usually,

–          open-ended – open to interpretation by each individual

–          not too ambitious/goal-focused – for example, trying to make a certain object in a certain precise way

–          simple – can almost be done without thinking

–          anything that can be done fairly independently, with just a little assistance when required – this aids getting into creative ‘flow’   

These kinds of activities are also ideal when tired or our baseline is low, as they can require little effort to set up & put away. In the family context, they are also great if everyone is feeling a bit of tech-burnout and needs time away from screens, but without having to do something too taxing (afterall, long periods spent on screens can leave motivation levels quite low and something gentle can help with transitioning to a more active state). The sense of getting into flow and having spent some time really connecting through craft can both be baseline raising, in my experience.

Simple & Independent Crafts

Activities such as pom-pom making are a great example of a super simple craft that can be done together, but also independently. For younger children there is some element of learning how to do it, and of course, there’s always the possibility of getting into a bit of a tangle (the opportunity to offer help is also a moment to connect)! But generally, it will be something that children have come across before and will excitedly tell me they already know how to do. Others might initially think that it’s “too easy” or they have done it lots of times before, but in a group setting making a simple pompom quickly becomes a different experience. Bit by bit, chatter will begin – something about the hands being busy with a simple, gentle repetitive motion seems to free the mind to wander off in different directions. This is soothing when alone, and in a group offers the space to talk freely and flowingly.

Colouring-in, or simple watercolour painting, are also examples of super-simple activities that in themselves might not seem very ambitious for an entire crafting session, but in my experience, always facilitate a time of bonding and chatting. It is a great way to connect and bond as it is generally so unthreatening, the chat can flow and open up – similar to what happens when driving along in the car together or going for a walk – the body/hands are busy in an almost automatic way that doesn’t require intense concentration, thus giving room for more natural, easeful and flowing conversation.  And if no-one is in the mood for much talking, why not pop on and audio book – like a classic children’s story that the whole family can enjoy – and simply settle-in to the wonderfully soothing experience of calmly working together side-by-side without having to ‘do’ anything.

Mandala colouring in particular is something that many know as a soothing activity with the symmetrical, repeating patterns within a circular shape… it’s also easy to turn mandala colouring into a more complicated craft project – for example; cut out your mandala and ‘frame’ by sticking to some coloured card, make several in different sizes and place them in a window, or make a frieze/border around the edge of a room – maybe your child’s bedroom. If it helps to motivate a child to do something as seemingly simple as colouring, turning it into a more goal-orientated project can be a good way to do this, whilst still giving to the chance to sit together and have the bonding experience that colouring can be.

I will never underestimate the value of simple crafts! In the group sessions where we would be working on a goal-oriented project (these are good too of course – they just have a different focus) – there would be way less general, easy chat, conversation and laughter, and more “how do you do this bit?” and “can you help me with this” and so on. Of course, these projects are often about learning a skill, or learning to make something to completion, giving a sense of accomplishment, and they also have value. It’s just that if providing a space for connection is your intention – the simpler and more open-ended the craft the better. I notice at home too, when the children and I set about an art session together; if I get too absorbed in my own goal of making something wonderful and finishing it at all costs, the children will often loose interest and disappear off and abandon me to my own crafting session. I have really learned that if I want it to be about spending time together, I need to slow down, simplify, not worry if it’s something that will be finished or not, and give the children room to interpret what we are doing however they like, rather than having too many instructions that they have to follow.

Open-ended crafts that are not too goal-focused

Some of the activities that we offered as part of the children’s workshops at PowerWood camps are good examples of open-ended projects that did have an end-goal in mind, but left plenty of room to for each child or young person to express and explore their own ideas and creativity – sharpie tie-dye tee-shirts, junk robot modelling (using discarded nuts n bolts & scrap pieces from IKEA), simple dreamcatchers made from willow and yarn, to name a few. All of these had a project goal – but the process was unique to each member of the workshop. They could find their own way, make their own designs with minimal instructions or interventions. We had some wonderful creations in those workshops! And plenty of calm and gently focused crafting time where the participants were able to chat to each other whilst they worked.

For some children (and grown-ups too!), if something is too open-ended a task, this can create the kind of ‘artists’ block’/overwhelm type of feeling – not knowing where to start or what to choose to create. As a kind of solution to this l like to have a few examples of the activity to hand, and give room to work directly from one of the examples, allowing it to be completely acceptable to just settle into making rather than having to come up with something new. Others will boldly set off on their own inventions, not once looking back at the example! The key intention when it comes to craft for connecting – is that either way is totally ok!

Sometimes connecting, through craft at home, can also take the form of supporting a child with their own ideas or design for something where they might not quite have the skills to do everything for themselves.  There’s often a delicate dance, of trying to match the ideas to practical possibility, and this in itself can be a fun way of working together. Again, if I’m conscious that I want this to be about connecting, I’ll make sure that there isn’t any pressure to complete the project in that session, so that we can just experience the ease of working together rather than the mission to accomplish!  Crafting together in this way is a wonderful chance to listen to our children’s ideas, which can often be surprising and delightful in equal measure.

Simple activities for connecting at home

Colouring, mandala colouring & making nature mandalas in the garden or park, mosaic, pompoms & simple yarn crafts, playing with watercolours, clay, play dough and polymer modelling clay, construction crafts (junk robots, making structures with sticks & yarn), pottery painting, super-simple drawing techniques like Kawaii drawing, flower pressing and arranging (but do collect sensitively), simple jewellery making and bead work, rock painting.

Hopefully after some time spent together working on the simplest of crafts, everyone can emerge feeling restored and uplifted and that they have really had some time to connect. 😊

Happy Crafting!

© Abigail Cole 2020

For more creative ideas visit www.forgetfulfairyartstudio.com

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