I give up. I officially give up trying to be a “crafty mum”. Because it never works. Inspired by my friends’ kids – who will sit peacefully, heads bent and tongues poked out in concentration, threading pasta shapes onto a length of wool – I’ve tried to creatively engage my own toddler and preschooler. It’s always ended disastrously.
I’ve put together an art-supply caddy, made my own modelling dough, and conjured up a gunky wonderland of glitter-slime in a tub. But the caddy stands empty, its treasure raided and dropped behind radiators all over the house. My toddler ate the modelling dough. And my preschooler reacted to the glitter-slime with genuine horror, then quietly asked if he could play with his iPad instead.
His younger brother reacted more positively, but that’s because he was planning on chucking the offending sludge down the toilet, clogging the U-bend with what looked like unicorn faeces.
Pinterest has lied to me. No children’s craft projects – no matter how simple – are fool-proof. Not for this fool, anyway. Shall we make a lovely birthday card for Daddy out of all this awesome coloured card? No, instead we’ll take all the cash out of Mummy’s wallet and use permanent marker to draw the world’s least recognisable dinosaurs on it.
I haven’t even tried the pasta-threading trick. I just know my toddler would attempt to eat the pasta, then start crying, and my older son would probably use the wool to turn the living room into a giant spider’s web, which we’d all become entangled in.
Sometimes I wonder how much of my kids’ reticence is down to mine. I’m ham-handed and clumsy, the sort of person who needs to watch three YouTube tutorials and have a lie-down before she can face the logistics of turning an egg-box into a crocodile.
The one time I did enjoy the creative arts was four years ago, when I joined a crafts therapy group for women with postnatal depression. We’d all sit there – blearily constructing Christmas wreaths or covering notebooks in felt and glitter – with no real thought for the outcome of the project. Some people made beautiful things; everything I made was destined for the bin. But it was the act of doing it – the sort of sensory meditation that comes with stapling silk onto a canvas frame – that was important, not how Pinteresty our creations ended up being. And it got me thinking.
While it might be time to retire my glitter glue, sweep the scattered sequins, dyed feathers and crayon fragments into the bin, and accept that we’re just not a crafty family – we don’t have to ignore craft entirely.
Instead, we do all our drawing on mess-free, wipeable scribble boards. Any actual craft project needs to be low-effort, with a clear objective (for my sanity as much as my kids’), which is where subscription boxes like The Art Tiffin and Mud and Bloom shine. They come with set activities, clear instructions, and all the equipment. All I need to do is have fun with the kids (and stop my toddler posting everything down the toilet).
My kids are creative in their own way – for them, sitting still and creating a picture of something isn’t as interesting as the scenarios those pictures conjure up in their imaginations. My older son may do the barest sketch of a dinosaur then lose interest in drawing, but we’ll play imagination games about that specific dinosaur for days and days afterwards.
I don’t see why I should encourage them to be any other way; they’ll learn art at school, after all.
Of course, my friends with school-aged children speak hauntedly of how, weekday after weekday, their kids will inform them that they have to build a papier-maché model of the known universe by the end of the week, or that the very next day is Dress As Your Favourite Cubist Painting – but I’ve decided that their father will handle all that.
In the meantime, I’ve deleted Pinterest from my phone.
• Robyn Wilder is a guest columnist for HuffPost UK Parents. Read more of her columns here.