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Kids: Inexpensive Art/Craft Projects and Birthday Parties

Countless inexpensive, interesting ideas for art activities with/for children

>Arts Projects
Whether or not your child seems to have innate artistic ability, s/he can have a great time working on an endless variety of two-and three- dimensional projects. They may be free-form or representational, with or without a function--and easy or hard to clean up after, cheap or expensive to produce.

These kinds of activities can be directed at first, but don't control your child's agenda! Let them mix improbable materials. Don't insist on realism, or on trying to guess what something is (unless you're invited to, of course). If you encourage your child's creativity, art projects may take on a life of their own even in children as young as three or four. My daughter and her cousin once spent an entire weekend building a "robot" out of a large cardboard box, paper towel cores for the arms, and gray paint. We didn't even know what they were up to for most of that time, just that they were working on an art project.

Do insist that all art work be done at a designated place, with good ventilation, newspaper on the floor, smocks around the kids, and a commitment from your artists to assist with the clean up--especially if they're using paint or glue. And make sure the art materials are well taken care of: tops on markers and glue bottles immediately after use, paint carefully washed out of brushes. Look for ways to keep the cleanup enjoyable for both of you, and remember that if you've chosen your materials carefully, it should all come out in the wash.

And, at least some of the time, participate yourself. The kids will get to watch you play around and have fun with materials, may realize that creative activities can be done even if things don't come out the way you want them to--or, if you have gifts in this regard, the kids can learn from your techniques--and it provides an enjoyable family activity that you can all work on together. Validate your child's interest by finding some space on your walls to display kids' art.

Start your child off with some inexpensive basics: a set of non-toxic markers (often cheaper in a discount store or buying club), one-side- blank paper (gladly donated by copy/print shops, law and real estate offices, schools, and anyone else who creates and has to dispose of a lot of paper), white and colored glue, a decent pair of scissors (children's scissors tend to be frustratingly dull and short-bladed), assorted fasteners, maybe some glitter, string, ribbon, or inexpensive beads and buttons. Buy crayons only if your child will actually use them; many kids prefer the greater vibrancy and easier application of colored markers and pencils, or even assorted colors of ball-point pens. If you buy paints, get only the primary colors (red, blue, yellow) and black and white--not only will you save money, but your children will learn about color mixing. For paint mixing and storage, acquire a bunch of 6-8 ounce reclosable containers (from yogurt, play-dough, margarine, or something similar).

Prepackaged art kits are usually overpriced, but it's easy to assemble one of your own. And that way you can replace the most popular selections without piling up more of the unwanted junk that's thrown in.

Save junk materials for art projects: milk containers, tofu or margarine tubs, toilet paper cores, used wrapping paper, cardboard boxes, packing peanuts (if there's no one under three and no cats, dogs, or loose birds in your house), an ounce each of half a dozen different kinds of pasta... Also let your kids find natural objects and incorporate them into pictures, collages, holiday ornaments, and so forth. Have your children make their own greeting cards, or, for a small payment, make ones that you need.

If art becomes a serious interest, special materials make great presents. And they won't sit on the shelf unused like so many toys do; rather, they'll provide daily opportunities for your child to exercise creativity. Some possibilities: fluorescent, color-change, or wiggly markers, fabric paint (and old clothes to decorate), a 100-sheet pack of neon or textured paper, or even a 500-sheet pack of regular copy paper, obsolete color swatches from a paint, wallpaper, or window treatment store, high-quality beads and findings (or a small gift spree at your local bead or crafts store) for a child who wants to make jewelry, acrylic paints, pastels, colored chalk...

Quality is important; the difference between working with, for instance, cheap face paint that has to be brutally scrubbed off versus a good brand like Caran d'Ache that comes off with a wet washcloth is measurable not only in terms of your child's enjoyment, but also in your own frustration levels. Emphasize the importance of proper storage and don't buy enormous quantities (kids' tastes are fickle!), but your child will enjoy it more and make better art more often if the materials are a joy to use.

Wood, Metal, Clay and...
Three dimensional projects work well for slightly older children. Even if your own skills are rudimentary, train them in basic hand tools: hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, saws, sandpaper, hand drills, and so forth. Obviously, activities involving these objects should be closely supervised, incorporate protective eyewear if appropriate, and terminate instantly if there is a breach of safety rules. Pick up scrap wood and metal from lumber yards, hardware stores, repair shops, and so forth. (Inspect these materials carefully. Discard material that seems to be contaminated and remove any sharp edges before your kids use it.) Buy a cheap generic set of assorted nuts and bolts. Find a couple of old tires--they can be used for sandals, play bumpers, toys, and much more.

Clay and leather may be harder to get donated, but clay, at least, is infinitely reusable if it's not fired. Or go in with other parents on a cheap bulk purchase from a potters' supply shop or ceramic studio--but store it well, so it doesn't dry out. And if you can't find a source, making your own play-dough is a snap with basic ingredients like flour, water, and food coloring. Get a recipe from any preschool teacher. For preschoolers, working with the material may be enough, and then it can be put away in an airtight container until the next time. Work with scraps of material, if you're handy, to develop sewing skills in your children-- make patchwork quilts, pillow liners, and the like. As an added bonus, all these kinds of projects also help develop a consciousness about recycling.

If your child is mechanical, find a local who works on his or her own car--or bicycle!--and might let her or him watch, ask questions, and try some simple tasks.

Then, of course, there's a whole range of commercially available construction toys that you can acquire at yard sales. Be on the lookout for wooden blocks, Legos and Duplos (or compatible generics), Erector sets, Tinker Toys, plastic straws with fasteners, sets of train or road tracks, magnetic blocks, snap-together toys of various sorts... Alone or in combination, these can create entire cities--and most of them will stand up to years of use. They're even fun for grownups!

Quick Thoughts on Birthday Parties
Note, too, that all the activities here can be adapted for inexpensive but memorable birthday parties--especially if weather permits an outdoor component. It's absurd to spend hundreds of dollars on a party for six-year-olds, and there's no need to go out and hire professional entertainment. That's like buying a prefab Halloween costume; tightwads can always find better and cheaper alternatives.

Recently, for instance, we did a birthday party for our daughter involving face paint and acting out a picture book as the main activities. Returning parents walked in on the performance and were amazed, yet it really wasn't much work and cost almost nothing.

Note: Other sections in this chapter discuss inexpensive kids' activities such as writing, music, computing, and sports

This report was taken from The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook--280 pages of great advice to save you money and increase your enjoyment of the fun things in life: travel, fine dining, live entertainment, and much more. To get your copy of this wonderful resource at the ridiculously low price of $20 (including shipping to the U.S. or Canada), visit Ordering Made Easy/Talk to Us.

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