I often set up art activities for my kids (this you know, right?) but make a special effort during play dates to have something up my sleeve. I do this, partly just because I’m me and art is foremost in my parenting toolkit, and partly because I think creative activities are especially great for ::
- Moments of transition
- For bringing together different personalities, energy levels, and ages
- Creating a shared purpose
- For refocusing attention during moments of strife
- For redirecting and diffusing strong emotions
- Just for fun!
So (almost) every play date ends up being an art play date at our house.
I think of the art activities I set up more as invitations to creativity (hey, it’s here if you want it!) than as anything else.
As for the actual set up, I may arrange an art activity or simply a few materials on the kitchen table, in the studio, or just have one “in reserve” on the counter or somewhere quickly accessible but out of the way.
This requires a little bit of planning and prep but not usually much at all (or frankly it wouldn’t happen). When making my to do list for the day, I often jot down an art idea or two that I think would work well for a scheduled playdate (spin art, salty watercolors, playdough with poke-ins, pinecone & pumpkin painting) and then, before or during the playdate itself, I’ll set out the materials.
I let the natural flow of the kids’ play and interaction unfold rather than dictating when or if they do the art activity. This usually means theres a good hour or more of play before doing any art.
When they are at a transition point in their play, one or more of the kids may wander over and discover the art activity. Or, if they seem to need direction, I might say, “I have some art materials [or a project] set up at the table if you’re interested.”
– Sometimes they’ll see the art activity set up and dive right in.
– Sometimes they’ll see it and kind of ignore it for a while during their play but make their way over when they are ready.
– Sometimes one child comes over first and creates quietly for a while by herself before the others wander over.
– Sometimes they all descend at once.
– Sometimes they don’t see it at all (if they are playing in a different room or outside, for example) until a natural break in their play or a period of strife, boredom, or transition and then get excited about the art.
I never push—just set the materials out as an invitation and possibility—but its very rare that they choose not to do the art activity.
I often have ideas for how I think an art activity will unfold but am ever aware that the kids may take it in a different direction.
For example, I thought Gigi and Daphne might try their hand at making skeletons with the light-colored masking tape on the black poster board. They traced the stuffed animals and had a great time looking at the bones and other body parts in our body book, but then decided to use the tape as “bandaids for booboos.”
I especially enjoy seeing how different children use the same art materials and set up and and come up with completely different finished artworks! (Maybe I miss the toddler art group just a bit…).
How about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and what works in your family with play dates.