This is a part of Formula Fed and Flexible Parenting. It is an erratically maintained write-up of crafts that I try. I rate each craft based on a complex algorithm that graphs ease of setup and cleanup against its ability to hold the attention of a child. If you like to make your child's Halloween costumes, cakes from scratch, and other elaborate crafts, this blog is probably way too simple for you.

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Name:Alex Elliot
Home:MA, United States
About Me:Professional Mom of two cats, a dog, an ant farm, and oh yeah...two boys: a 6 year old and a 3 year old. Also found in my house is my husband who is known on this blog as The Big Giraffe.
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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Making Valentine's Cards

Those of you who know me, know that I am not a crafty mama. Those of you who know me well though know that I do more crafts with my kids than I'll admit. I think it's kind of like cooking. I cook pretty much every night, and it's from scratch and healthy, but I don't consider myself a cook. Basically every month I get a new issue of Cooking Light, and try most of the recipes. The ones I like I save, and everything else gets tossed in the recycling bin. Next month I do the same and use some of the saved recipes from previous months as well. I think like with crafts, it's because it's alright to do, but not something that I would like to be defined by. Also much like cooking, with crafts it depends just exactly how complicated the project is.

Every year up until now I have bought Valentine's cards from the grocery store. You know the ones that cost a couple bucks particularly if you wait until the day before your child's preschool Valentine's Day party? That would be the ones. One year I even bought them on clearance after Valentine's Day and saved them. Time is money though and the amount of time I spent trying to find them the following Valentine's was not enough to justify the dollar or two difference!

This year my older son (OS) announced he wanted to make Valentines. What?! I smiled and said sure confident that in another day or so this crazy idea would pass particularly when he saw the boxes of cards at the store. Unfortunately for me it did not and instead it turned into him nagging me to take him to get supplies. Monkey see monkey do and my younger son (YS) was also clamoring to make his own.

Here's what I came up with also to be cross-posted at Crafts for the Clueless.
  1. Set your own definition for homemade. Mine was that it's made in your home not that every single aspect has to be your child's own original work.
  2. Buy a container of heart shaped foam stickers.
  3. Buy a package of construction paper. Yes, you would assume that parents of small children would have this, but hey this blogger gives her kids computer paper for drawings. I personally recommend nipping the idea of only pink and red in the bud and focusing on how surely someone would love a valentine made from the black paper that always comes in packs of construction paper
  4. Buy a pack of Valentine's stickers. I got a huge pack for $1.
  5. Glitter pens add a nice touch. Do not however buy glitter unless you want to be finding traces of it for the next ten years. This is one aspect of crafting I have always remained firm about with my kids. I swear my parents are still finding glitter in the cracks of their kitchen table from my brother back in the 80's. Sure kids should use preschool and at someone else's house
  6. Try not to think about how much more money your "homemade" cards are costing than the cheap-o box of Valentine's at CVS even with a coupon.
  7. Use the base of the foam container to trace Valentine's. Ours happened to be heart shaped which worked out great, but honestly the kids would have been happy with squares or circles
  8. Cut out enough for each kid in the class. Place them on the table with crayons, markers and your new supplies and let them loose*. Tell them to make sure each paper is decorated.
  9. Drink a cup of coffee and just relax. No really, don't try to tell them how to decorate their cards. It's their project after all. Just be glad you used construction paper instead of computer paper because it's sturdier for all the decorations aka glitter glue.

I really did let them do whatever they wanted and other than help them start a few new glitter pens and peel a couple more complicated foam stickers at the beginning, I was able to sit back and relax. There really wasn't much to clean up either. I have to say it occupied them for over hour and the results were pretty impressive. Now of course I just have to fight the urge to write a note on the back of each Valentine telling the recipient they better treasure the Valentine because it was handmade after all!

A. Elliot's Lesson Learned: The term homemade is defined by the creator of the craft.

*Normally I would have used this as an opportunity for practicing cutting, but I was worried that it was just too much for them to do; in other words, they would cut out the shapes but I would end up decorating them! Seeing as OS does fine with scissors and YS is only 3 I decided to go ahead and cut out the shapes by cutting 4 pieces of paper at a time to speed up the process.
posted by Alex Elliot @ 6:04 PM   0 comments
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Saturday, March 17, 2007

St. Patrick's Day Craft

I discovered a new favorite craft today. To receive a high marking from me that craft must have the following criteria 1) Occupy at least one of my children for a minimum of 15 minutes 2) Have minimal setup and clean up. With this criteria, it's amazing that I find any crafts that I like at all.

After eating breakfast this morning, I went to check my email. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a member of my moms group, JB, had emailed the following craft to our listserve: Make green snow! All you have to do is fill a spray bottle with green water and have the kids spray the snow. Wait, a minute! I actually had the materials! All it takes is a spray bottle, green food coloring, and water.

I really recommend going out and buying a package of spray bottles if you don't have any. I bought a package about 10 years ago, and I'm always finding uses for them. I personally wouldn't use a bottle that previously held any sort of household cleaner, because you just never know if your child is going to drink the green water or eat the green snow.

OS was a big fan of this activity. The best part is that there is nothing to clean up.

A. Elliot's Ratings:
Ease of setup/cleanup (1-10 with 1 being most difficult): 10
Attention Getting (1-10 with 1 generating least interest; this excludes dogs): 10 (note the dog was actually very interested.)
posted by Alex Elliot @ 9:57 PM   2 comments
  • At March 21, 2008 10:10 AM, Blogger Kate said…

    As a reception teacher I can whole heartedly reccomend spray bottles! They are amazing and incredibly versitile, Have you tried filling them with paint and spraying black paper to make firework pictures... messy but lots of fun!

  • At August 11, 2008 4:43 PM, Blogger Shonda Little said…

    Total chaos would ensue if I let my two wild boys loose on this project. It does sound fun, though.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Valentine's Day Craft

I know this make come as a huge shock, but I'm not that into crafts. You might find this hard to believe, but I don't think anyone has described me as being "into crafts". Easily frustrated at moms group board meetings, yes, but Carrie Craft, no. To be honest, my favorite crafts are the ones that are done at my older son's OS) preschool. To clarify, they're my favorite because I'm not involved with the setup, cleanup or the possible temper tantrum when OS decides he's finished with the craft and doesn't want anything to do with it ever again. As such, I'm very particular about what crafts we do. Crayons, markers, and waterpaints are all okay on a daily basis. Anything more is for a special occassion or because I have a wave a mom guilt because I'm not doing enough crafts with my kids. This guilt is usually caused by other moms talking about crafts that they have been doing with their kids. The following is a craft that I really enjoyed doing with OS when he was about 18 months. Warning: there is a bit of preparation.

You need to cut a "vase" out of construction paper. (For the craft challenged you can just cut out a rectangle.) You will also need 6 green pipe cleaners, an ink pad (make sure it's washable) and scotch tape. Finally, you will also need to cut, let me give you a minute to sit down and take a deep breath while keeping in mind that this craft is worth it, large flower heads out of construction paper. You can make them plain circles or you can cut out circles with funky wavy scissors.

Take your child's hand and press it on the ink pad. Then press his hand on one of the "flower heads". Repeat until all 6 flower heads have a handprint on them (I did 3 with one hand and 3 with the other, but symmetry is not actually required). Next make sure you quickly wipe off the child's hands before he wipes them on the dog or a very angry cat. Wiping hands on a sibling may also be a possibility. Babywipes work well.

After the flower heads have dried, attach a pipe cleaner to the back of each with a piece of tape. Attach the other end of the pipe cleaner to the vase. Repeat until you have a vase of flowers. I also glued on a ribbon tied in a bow around the neck of the vase along with a heart doily (don't ask why I have that). I wrote "Happy Valentine's Day" and the year along with OS's name.

Although this project was a bit of a pain (OS was okay with his hands being stamped but some of the other kids who were over our house and did this as part of a, gasp, craft day I hosted didn't like it)and OS had stained hands for a couple of days, it is a really cute idea and I love looking at his little hand prints. A lot of kids gave them to their other parent or grandparent. I selfishly kept it for myself. Actually, what shouldn't I have a cute momento of my son's babyhood?

A. Elliot's Ratings:
Ease of setup/cleanup (1-10 with 1 being most difficult): 7
Attention Getting (1-10 with 1 generating least interest; this excludes dogs): 3
Liklihood that child will wipe hands on family pet: 6
Ability to became a great keepsake: 10

Valentine's Day Craft

This was in response to the CHBM topic: Nifty Valentine's ideas to make with your kids.

posted by Alex Elliot @ 10:48 PM   0 comments
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Monday, December 04, 2006


When all else fails I like to turn to "potching". I do this when my older son (OS) is going crazy and due to a major snowstorm or some other really good reason, we couldn't possible leave our house. I suspect I will be doing this a lot later this month as I (by that I mean my husband) attempts to potty train OS. I also usepotching if I'm babysitting for a friend's child and she is very upset. If your child can pull herself up, she can participate. It has never failed me.

So what is potching? Well, first I would like to give credit to my friend "JB" for the name. It's been in her family for a long time. It's a fancy name for filling your kitchen sink with water and soap and letting the kids splash around in it. I give OS cups, plastic plates and bowls, measuring spoons, a large spoon, eggbeater, plastic figurines (ie Little People) etc. He splashes around and pretends to make soup, coffee, you name it. JB actually has been known to give people "potching" kits that she puts together for gifts. They usually include an apron and the above mentioned items.

A variation on this is to fill a baby bath tub with water and put it on the kitchen floor. I haven't tried it yet, but since my younger son (YS) can just sit up, I sense an experiment with this variation on the horizon.

Sounds like the perfect craft, right? In many ways it is, because it occupies my child for a very long period of time. It's cheap. Everything is clean at the end. Nothing new is being made, so I don't have to try and find a "home" for anything. If I'm feeling really energetic, I'll use the soapy water to mop my floor when OS is done. Here's the down-side: I can pretty much guarantee that it will make a gigantic mess. The good news is that mess is just soapy water and wet utensils so it will eventually dry on it's own. It's not so good if:
  1. You forget that the floor is wet and you dash into the kitchen to grab the phone
  2. You have a child who is just learning to walk and who might wipe out on said wet floor
  3. You have a dog with muddy paws who will walk on the above mentioned floor.
The main reason I don't do it more often is that it has a prerequisite that is rarely found in my house: a clean sink. It's a personal thing, but if OS is going to play in the sink, I want to make sure that not only are there no dirty dishes (or sharp knives for that matter), but also there are also no tiny fragments from that day's breakfast (or heaven forbid the preceding night's dinner). My secondary reason is that I find it annoying to have to dry off and put everything away at the end.

A. Elliot's Ratings:
Ease of setup/cleanup (1-10 with 1 being most difficult): 7
Attention Getting (1-10 with 1 generating least interest; this excludes dogs): 10

posted by Alex Elliot @ 6:15 PM   0 comments
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Colored Salt

Yes, I know you're asking yourself, "Is there any craft that A. Elliot thinks is really great?" (Because clearly pondering about my blog is the most important thing you can be doing.) There actually are a few crafts that I would not hestitate to recommend. One of them is coloring salt.

I'll admit when I first heard of this at a meeting I attended, I rolled my eyes and thought "you couldn't pay me to do this craft". It just sounded way too complicated. However, after listening closely I decided that maybe it wasn't so bad after all. In fact after a little tweaking, I liked it so much I decided to have the kids do it at my older son's (OS) 3rd birthday party.

Here's what you need: small containers (baby food jars/containers are ideal), Kosher salt, colored chalk (the thicker the better. Those Crayola Easter Egg chalks work the best), funnel (optional).

Pour a small amount of Kosher salt in the baby food jar. Have your child stir the salt with a piece of chalk. For a toddler you can put the piece of chalk in a jar with a lid and have the child shake it. When the salt becames a shade that your child is happy with, take the funnel and pour the newly colored salt from the jar into a clean one. Repeat above steps with a new color of chalk. When it is time to pour out the new, colored salt, pour it on top of the other colored salt. Continue until the jar is full. For the more advanced salt artists, poke a hole through several layers of the salt with a toothpick to allow the colors to swirl. If your child is under the age of five, it is inevitable that he will shake his finished product turning all of the salt into an odd but uniform gray color.

The reasons I like this craft are that it's easy, it keeps OS entertained, and it is cheap. I have had a couple people inquire about resusing the salt. This goes past what I will do to recycle. However, you could put the salt on a coffee filter and pour cold water over it to "clean" it. I haven't actually done this, but hey, my year of organic chemistry with lab says it should work fine. Honestly, though one box of Kosher salt can be the source of many many colored projects if you choose.

I'm giving "ease of setup/cleanup" a 7 instead of a higher mark simply because you may not have the materials on hand.

A. Elliot's Ratings:
Ease of setup/cleanup (1-10 with 1 being most difficult): 7
Attention Getting (1-10 with 1 generating least interest; this excludes dogs): 8

posted by Alex Elliot @ 4:08 PM   0 comments
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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Toll House Cookies

I realize it's been far too long since I've posted. However, I did say that this sub-blog would be erratically maintained. Thus, I now present the long awaited new craft I have reviewed. It comes in bright yellow packaging with festive Christmas trees and Candy Canes on it....and I was very disappointed in it. What am I referring to? Nestle Toll House's Christmas Shapes Chocolate Cookies.

I bought the package because they looked so easy to make. All you had to do was take the 12 pre-cut cookie shapes out of the dough and put them on a cookie sheet. I made 4 extra cookies with the "scraps" from the dough sheet. Easy enough. I popped everything into the oven. My older son (OS) had been the one in charge of placing the cookies on the sheet and was eagerly awaiting the decorating part. In the mean time I looked over the package again for decorating directions. That's when I realized I had been bamboozled. On the package they show white and red frosting on the candy cane cookie. However, only red and green frosting comes in the package. They also show sprinkles on the ornament cookies. Again, sprinkles were not included. "Oh, well," I thought. "We'll be fine without those things." Indeed if you look at the end product, it seems obvious that the cookies were decorated by a toddler. I'm totally kidding. It looks like someone from the Chicago Art Institute decorated them.

OS was not able to squeeze the frosting out of the hole snipped in the corner of the frosting package without making a mess. This resulted in a temper tantrum followed by a mysterious rogue cookie flying through the air presumably with me as it's marked target. I was the one who got stuck decorating these cookies. I was not able to squeeze the frosting out of the hole snipped in the corner of the frosting package without making a mess either. Despite being a 30-year-old adult, my frosting efforts do not resemble the picture they labeled "decorating suggestions". Perhaps I should send Nestle some photos of my cookies and call them "mommy decorating suggestions." At least they tasted good.

A. Elliot's Ratings:
Ease of setup/cleanup (1-10 with 1 being most difficult): 9
Attention Getting (1-10 with 1 generating least interest; this excludes dogs): 4

posted by Alex Elliot @ 11:08 PM   1 comments
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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Painting with Trucks

After hearing a lot about this craft I actually got to witnesses it a couple of weeks ago at a birthday party that my sons and I had the privilege of attending. Let me say right off the bat so that there’s no confusion, my older son (OS) loved this craft. In all honesty that made me love the craft too. Particularly the part that it wasn’t at my house.

The theme of this birthday party was construction, and as such there were lots of fun games involving toy trucks. One of them was painting with trucks. The set-up looked pretty easy. A large collapsed cardboard box was put on the ground and a disposable aluminum foil pan was filled with washable paint. Here’s a tip on the washable paint that I learned from this crafty mom: add soap to it to make it even easier to wash off later. Finally, there were toy trucks placed in the pans. The idea was that the children could take the trucks, run them in the pan, and then run them on the cardboard. Sounds like a good idea, huh? Read on, dear readers, read on.

As with most crafts, I feel this craft would be best when done with a garden hose waiting patiently to be used to handle the cleanup; also a good thunderstorm. Now, for the first problem: My older son (OS) is three and is able to be pretty neat when he works with paint. However, the younger children, not surprisingly at all, took great delight in sticking their hands directly in the paint. Then they would grab the trucks. The result was that OS ended up with paint on his hands, which then ended up on his pants and then somehow on me, on the neighbor’s dog, and in many other locations, even though his hands were never directly in the paint. To be fair, the hostess did warn us that this was going to be messy and to dress accordingly. The second problem was what I alluded to above: the children took delight in using the truck paint as finger paint. This means there is the potential as with all finger painting crafts to have paint everywhere. So years later when your child is posing with his prom date in front of the fireplace…okay I’m totally kidding, but still you’re not going to want to do this craft on a nice tablecloth or by a pile of clean laundry.

I would totally do this craft under the following conditions: 1) it’s outside 2) I have access to a working garden hose to hose down my children, any pets and all equipment used in this activity 3) it is about to rain, so that I won’t even need to turn on the the hose 4) it is a birthday party. I have to hand it to the hostess; this really was a fun craft for an outdoor birthday party.

As for the people who kept telling me to do this with my child inside the house? I think they’re nuts. I wouldn’t do it. It’s just too messy.

A. Elliot's Ratings:
Ease of setup/cleanup (1-10 with 1 being most difficult): 2
Attention Getting (1-10 with 1 generating least interest; this excludes dogs): 8

posted by Alex Elliot @ 11:14 PM   0 comments
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Friday, October 13, 2006

The Egg Shaker

My post on rice made me recall this craft. When my son was about 9 months old, one of the parenting magazines described an egg shaker craft. We already owned a ton of rattles. We obviously could not manage without just one more, particularly one that I had crafted. How does the craft work? Basically you take a plastic Easter Egg and fill it with a little uncooked rice. Sounds easy, right? You bet. But is it a good craft?

The first problem was that I didn’t own any Easter eggs so I had to go buy them. You can’t just buy one egg, however; you have to buy a whole pack. I think I ended up with a million plastic eggs, 999,999 of which were subsequently donated to our church. Of course at the time I was the parent of an “only” child. If you have other children or nieces and nephews, there’s a pretty good chance you can get your hands on at least one egg leftover from a community spring time egg hunt etc.

The rice was easier to secure, since we already had that in the house. So what was the problem? For choking hazard reasons, you’re not supposed to secure the egg with a piece of tape (for the same reason that you’re supposed to take the band-aids from shots off your baby right after they leave the doctor’s office.) You also can’t use glue because babies put everything in their mouth so first they would lick all the glue off which would be a health hazard and second, with the glue gone, there would be nothing left to secure the egg just letting the rice free. Thus, I just gave OS the egg as it was.

Despite the fact that OS had numerous well-made rattles, he absolutely loved this egg. No surprise there really. He loved shaking it, and shaking it and shaking it, and uh oh…the egg opened and there was rice everywhere. Talk about a choking hazard. I closed the egg and OS continued to play with it. Then at some point someone stepped on it, or it dropped it too hard on the floor or maybe the dog got it, and now in addition to having rice everywhere there was cracked plastic.

The set up / clean up score is a little tricky for this one. If I had had the eggs to begin with, this would have been one easy craft. Likewise, if I had paid closer attention to what happened to the egg, the plastic wouldn’t have broken. However, I still had the issue with the egg opening, and rice appears to multiply when it comes in direct contact with the floor. Thus I think I would have to give it an average of 6.

If nothing else, I felt like a supermom because I had done a craft “with” my 9 month old.

A. Elliot's Ratings:
Ease of setup/cleanup (1-10 with 1 being most difficult): 6
Attention Getting (1-10 with 1 generating least interest; this excludes dogs): 10

posted by Alex Elliot @ 11:03 PM   0 comments
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Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Cool Whip Craft

I'm very excited to introduce a "sub-blog" to Formula Fed and Flexible Parenting called Flexible Parenting: Crafts for the Clueless. This will be an erratically maintained write-up of crafts that I try, see or hear others trying, or read about in a magazine. I will rate each craft based on a complex algorithm that will graph ease of setup and cleanup against its ability to hold the attention of a child (specifically AT LEAST one of my children). If you like to make your children's Halloween costumes, cakes from scratch, and other elaborate crafts this is not the blog for you. I'm posting the first post on both blogs. After that I will only post the crafts on the Crafts for the Clueless blog, but I will let you know when it is updated.

When my older son (OS) was 18 months old, an occupational therapist told me about this "amazing" craft. Toddlers really like different textures as well as different sensations like warm and cold. Her idea was to take cool whip (this can also be done with shaving cream) and to spread it on a table or high chair tray (presumably while the child is in the high chair) and let the child play with the cool whip. Alternately, (environmentally friendly people skip this sentence) you can cover a section of your table with saran wrap to make for an easy clean up. As an extra bonus, dye the cool whip using food coloring. To hit the ultimate level of excitment, she suggested that you then let your child smear the cool whip on the front of the dishwasher door. Yes, you did read that right! She also suggested filling the bathtub with jello, but I nixed that one as soon as she finished telling me about it.

I was okay with parts 1 and 2: buying cool whip and adding blue coloring. This was the very first craft that I had ever done with OS and I was quite excited about it. I carefully prepared it and put it on a low table so that he could have hours, or at least 15 minutes, of fun while exploring the neat texture of the cool whip, the cold sensation, the blue color and the sweet taste. OS had no interest in it whatsoever(although he loved doing it using shaving cream at community playgroup where it was a big hit with the kids). Not wanting to pressure him, I quickly backed off, but left the craft out for him to enjoy at his convience. Then I left to run errands. When I came back my husband informed me that one member of the family had really enjoyed my craft. I was beaming from ear to ear. I had achieved motherhood perfection by choosing the absolute best first craft for OS. My husband quickly burst my bubble when he said "Gandalf loved it!" Apparently our DOG had eaten it.

In terms of crafts, this one was relatively easy to setup. As a concern with using shaving cream, if your child gets it in his eyes, it will sting. Obviously you don't want him to eat it either. I have heard of people doing this craft with pudding as well. Particularly with chocolate pudding, this sounds like a nightmare with possible laundry treatment. The two parts that really made me the least interested in repeating it were the need to stock foodstuffs that I don't ususually have, and having a sticky child and table. My only tip would be to do it right before bathtime.

A. Elliot's Ratings:
Ease of setup/cleanup (1-10 with 1 being most difficult): 4
Attention Getting (1-10 with 1 generating least interest; this excludes dogs): 1

posted by Alex Elliot @ 8:50 PM   1 comments
  • At October 2, 2006 2:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I bet my dog would love this craft. Don't know about any human family-member. :-)

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