Just this morning I did a program called Easy Art! I'd been wanting to do a program like this for sooo long and I was excited about it! This was all about process, not product. It was meant to be a place where kids (ages 12-35-months) could get messy, be creative, and have fun! (In the newsletter, I wrote "dress for a mess.")
I had four "creative stations" set up (plus a grown up station for parents wanting to make hand and foot prints to take home, but it wasn't very popular). These stations consisted of covered tables, sitting flat on the floor, resting on a big tarp. Then, when the crowds (hah!) came in, I put on some music and let them move freely around the room, from station to station, making crafts and exploring with their hands. It totally worked!
Here are the stations that I had:
Edible Finger Paint
This was sooo easy and fun! Edible finger paint is literally just Greek yogurt mixed with food coloring. That's it! My age group started at 12-months and, with a 12-month-old at home, I know that sometimes things get eaten. Often things get eaten. I wanted to make sure that even the youngest kids in the program could really get into the finger paint fun, so I mixed a few batches of this up and it really worked well! Then I put out some watercolor paper (I needed something thick to handle this thick paint) and let the kids have at it. Easy as pie!
Another easy one: I put out different color construction paper, Elmers glue, big pom poms (picked the big ones out of this mixed bag from Oriental Trading), giant buttons (these from Oriental Trading), pieces of cut-up foam (I ordered these, these, and these from Oriental Trading, then just cut them into random shapes) and tissue paper circles (these from Oriental Trading). That's it. Maybe it was just all the STUFF in bright colors, but the kids really enjoyed this station. And spend a long time at it! And I loved seeing them get totally creative with this. I was a little worried that some of the parents might try to make this craft too "nice" (like, try to make a pom pom-button flower or something) but all the adults really sat back and lets the kids go to work. It was really great to see!
This was this little one's first craft ever!
Edible Marshmallow Play Dough
The edible finger paint was easy. The simple collage was easy. But the edible marshmallow play dough could have been a lot easier. If I was making one blob of this at home for one-on-one play, I actually WOULD call it easy. It's just marshmallows, coconut oil, corn starch, and food coloring. And each ball of it shown above took about 4-minutes to make. But scrambling to make a class set of this before the program (when you also have to clean up all the mess and three people called out sick that day so you're totally on your own with nobody to help) was a veritable nightmare. Also, I should have gotten another bag of marshmallows and made double this amount.
The edible marshmallow play dough recipe can be found here (or literally like 75 other places on the Internet. This is very Google-able). Some trouble shooting type things to note:
1. This (the picture shown above) is how much I got from one regular size bag of Jet-Puffed marshmallows. For a library program sized quantity, I should have gotten two bags to make double this amount. But (a) there is no way I would have had time to make double this amount before the program started anyway, so I guess it's for the best? and (b) it really did work out fine anyway. We didn't exactly not have enough, it was just more that the kids were forced to do a little more sharing and a little bit less "building" than they would have otherwise. But it was totally still fun!
2. The play dough got really firm, really quickly. This recipe is kind of meant for immediate play, I guess. I made 7 balls of dough (see picture above) starting at 9:00am when I walked in the building. (It was the first thing I did in terms of set-up.) When the program started at 11:00, most of the balls were already so hard they were difficult to work with! I gave them a quick microwave--about 4-5 seconds for two on a plate--and this seemed to help a lot, but then they needed to cool! Overall, I found that if the play dough was being actively played with, it stayed soft, but if I just let a ball of it sit out, it firmed up quickly and needed to be microwaved back to squishiness. Luckily, the kids were playing with this pretty much nonstop for the whole 45-minute program, so most of my microwaving was done in the beginning.
3. I microwaved one ball for, I guess, too long? I don't know what happened, really, but when I took it out of the microwave, it was SO HOT and SO STICKY. I mushed it around a bunch of times in my hands to try to get it to be more normal, but finally I wound up having to add more corn starch and that did the trick. When in doubt, add cornstarch!
With all that said, this was the most popular table by far! Everyone loved it! I would 100% do it again in the future with (a) more marshmallows and (b) more time.
Giant Paper and Crayons
Paper and crayons = If it aint broken, don't fix it! I made a last minute call to also toss just big, giant paper and crayons out on a table-- nothin' fancy at all. As a kid, I never discriminated between things like cool, homemade play dough (that took the all of the librarian's energy for the entire day to make), and just a plain old basket of crayons, so I figured these kids probably wouldn't either! And it couldn't hurt to have one more activity out. With the 1-3's age group, this was a perfect extra-- especially for the younger end of the age range! What's better than just a basket of crayons and giant pieces of white paper? (Maybe marshmallow play dough is slightly better, but this really is fun too!)
What worked least: While the post above might make it sound like the answer to this question would be the edible marshmallow play dough, that is not the case! While, yes, the marshmallow play dough was a headache (And a lot of rushing. And a lot of stressing. And a huge mess), it was seriously just SO MUCH FUN, that it was worth it! The fun outweighed the bad! What actually worked least was the foot and hand printing (not even mentioned above)! Mostly, because it just didn't get used.
Originally I'd planned my four stations to be: (1) The edible finger paint (2) the collage (3) the marshmallow play dough and (4) the "bonus foot print craft" (which was meant to be a strawberry footprint, borrowed from my Grandparents' Day Brunch n Craft). But, at the last minute, I decided to change it up. I decided to keep the "real" paint up on a high table (off the floor) so that the grown ups could use it if they wanted but that it was away from the kids, and to instead, use the big paper and crayons as the last station on the floor. I think, because of this, it just went largely unnoticed, even though I did point it out several times. I had to include it today it because I'd advertised a "bonus foot print craft" in the newsletter but next time, I think I'd skip it entirely and just make the coloring station a little more elaborate instead. Maybe I'd include different mediums like markers and colored pencils, in addition to the crayons. And maybe even some stickers. Why not!?
What worked best: The collage! It was awesome and just absolutely perfect for little hands and creative brains! I think the nature of the stuff I put out was perfect for inspiring kids this age, and also perfect for keeping adults away from trying to create something "pretty." Like I said, this was meant to be all about process not product. And it was! It was seriously great! I'm really happy with how it worked out.
All in all, I DEFINITELY want to do this program again in the future but with a few tweaks and more set up time for sure!