It’s a blustery West Coast afternoon, but my three oldest grandchildren and I aren’t worried about the weather. We’re warm and snug inside, rolling up our sleeves in preparation for a few hours of creative adventure. I’ve supplied the large table and the craft supplies; they’ve brought the unfettered enthusiasm and sky-high imaginations of four-, five- and seven-year-olds.
The rules are simple: be kind, be safe and have fun! There are no other expectations for our afternoon together. I don’t know how long my grandkids will remain engaged in this activity, and I have no preconceived ideas about what our crafting will produce. We are freestyling, operating without instructions, plans, or even Pinterest pictures to guide us. Our craft materials are our only source of inspiration.
The craft supplies themselves are rudimentary. We have three pairs of scissors of various sizes, rolls of scotch and masking tape, washable markers, crayons and sheets of coloured paper. But most important, we have a laundry hamper overflowing with materials otherwise destined for the recycling bin: cardboard boxes and tubes, plastic lids and containers, cards and flyers and other miscellaneous paper goods. In other words, a creative treasure trove!
Seven-year-old Kieran takes the lead. He wants to make a model replica of Ladysmith, our mutual hometown. I suggest that we might not be able to construct the entire town in one afternoon, but we can certainly start with our favourite buildings. Kieran immediately gets underway on a very impressive version of Ladysmith’s post office. His younger sister Dahlia and cousin Rhea are game to contribute to the town as well, but need a little help constructing their buildings. In four-year-old Rhea’s case, a box turned inside-out makes an excellent Aggie Hall—with the addition of a sloped roof of course. Five-year-old Dahlia has her heart set on making a “baby house,” which she decorates with a door, a window and a pipe cleaner balloon.
While Kieran continues work on the post office, I contribute a few more buildings for my granddaughters to decorate: two six-story apartment complexes (inspired by the size and shape of the boxes in our stash, rather than any actual Ladysmith structures) and a very basic model of our local grocery store. To jazz up the grocery store, we turn its roof into a park. Kieran supplies the bench, water slide and pool.
It’s hard work building a town from scratch, and after an hour and a half my three builders let me know they’re ready for a tea break. Assuming their interest is waning, I begin to tidy up our surplus materials. But no—they aren’t quite finished after all! Fortified by licorice tea and homemade applesauce, they’re ready for their second shift. Again, Kieran leads the way, suggesting a quick trip outside to hunt for sticks to turn into trees.
The second shift goes as smoothly as the first. Kieran adds a tree-house platform to his stick-tree, and then moves on to building a church complete with a steeple and pipe cleaner cross. Dahlia and Rhea turn their attention to colouring and cutting out decorations for their original structures.
Finally, the moment we’ve been working toward arrives. We position our structures and trees on a larger sheet of cardboard, and just like that our little town is complete. Well, almost complete. “We need people!” says Kieran. He’s right, of course. Happily, we have a bag of Lego people nearby, just waiting to populate our new community.
My twin daughters arrive to collect their children three hours after they dropped them off—and find them still engrossed in their cardboard town. By any measure, our first “crafternoon” together has been a success. Since I had almost as much fun as my grandkids, I assure them it won’t be our last.
If a completely open-ended crafternoon seems a little daunting, the internet is full of great ideas to get your creative wheels turning. That said, with the right materials at their disposal, your grandchildren might surprise and delight you with their own original ideas.
Beyond the basics like scissors, glue, tape, paint, markers and/or crayons, some of the best crafting materials are the ones you rescue from your recycling bin or wastebasket. Keep a box or two for potential materials: cardboard boxes of various sizes, paper tubes, interesting plastic packaging, greeting cards, scrap fabric, extra buttons, etc.!
Finally, experience has taught me that any activity goes better when I check my expectations and follow my grandchildren’s lead as much as possible. Set parameters for the essentials like safety and healthy behaviour, of course, but do your best to surrender the rest. You never know where your grandchildren’s creativity will take you, but it’s sure to be interesting!