Preschooler Pandemonium

5 non-messy arts and crafts activities for your child

Water Painting Doodle MatEvery child needs to explore arts and crafts. Sometimes it gets messy (like it should!) And other times you just want the benefits without the mess.

Their little hands benefit from manipulating artsy materials. And creating a finished craft teaches kids valuable lessons in patience, creativity, perseverance, and how things work.

What’s a mom to do for those times you want the crafts without the mess? We put on our Thinking Caps (our Beanie hats, of course) and these are the products we came up with.

All the art, none of the mess

Wikki Stix

These little WikkiStix are soft and bendy and slightly tacky so they can stick together – but their stickiness doesn’t come off onto your little one’s hands. Kids can curl them up, twist them together, bend them all around and even stick them onto a page to create images and scenes, letters, numbers and shapes. And then use them again whenever they feel like it! No residue and no cleaning required.

Write with water

Does your little boy or girl love to write but make you nervous when the markers and crayons come out? Try this neat water painting doodle mat that comes with a pen you fill up with water.

As your child “draws” over different sections, colors appear, making it look like he or she is using markers. The pen is easy to hold and draws nicely.

No erasing is required, as the water dries and the writing/drawing disappears in five minutes. (If you want to preserve one of her creations, you’d better take a picture!)

Magnetic drawing board

A classic toy that makers got right a long time ago, magnetic drawing boards now come with all kinds of bells and whistles. However, the fun remains writing, drawing and using your imagination – all without any chance of spills, stains, or mess.

My son received one for his birthday when he was two and he is still using it every day at four. (He used to draw cars, now he practices writing numbers.) These are great for travel, as the pen is attached and can’t be dropped or lost.


We got this foam craft set at our local supermarket one time when my son was allowed to pick out a toy for himself. It took me a long time to actually bring it out to use it with him, because it just looked daunting. But boy was it fun! And it was much easier than I thought.

You basically use a little damp sponge (so the water can’t even be spilled!) to wet the foam pieces and stick them together to create shapes. You can press shape templates onto them, cut them, and even reshape them to really get creative!

Sticky Mosaics

Creating messy mosaics were so fun when I was little. Now my son can do it all by himself using stickers and a cute template. This sticky mosaic kit lets him use his tiny fingers to pull apart stickers to fill in the corresponding shapes on the picture. When he finishes one, it has a tab for hanging the complete mosaic and a spot for him to write his name and the date on the back. I hang them in his room, they’re that cute!

Disclosure: I (the blogger at Beanie Designs) have used all these products with my son, to great success. Beanie Designs is not affiliated with nor receiving any sort of compensation for the product links above – except for the satisfaction of being helpful to our customers. Learn more about Beanie Designs.

Do you have any more non-messy craft activities to add?

Preschooler Pandemonium

The power of dress-up play

Last minute pirate costume

Little kids love to dress up in costumes. From dashing superheroes in capes to dainty ballerinas in frilly tutus, a new identity emerges when little boys and girls dress up.

In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a full-on costume for kids to feel the excitement of a disguise. Our animal ear hats are a great way for babies to start. They know that something is different – Why are there little ears on top of my head suddenly? – and they thrill to look at themselves in the mirror.

In my circle of play date friends, many kids as young as three years old know Spider Man, Batman, and other famous characters.

However, my son had never been one for dressing up. With vague disinterest, he would wear dutifully anything I put on him (a fireman’s hat after visiting the fire station, a train engineer’s hat and scarf at a friend’s birthday party, a homemade Pinocchio costume last October). Though he always passed by the costumes if it were his choice.

It wasn’t until preschool that my little boy really had to dress up.

It started with summer camp. His Montessori teacher was so enthused about dress-up play that she herself dressed up most days, and there was a mandatory dress-up day for the kids once a week.

We pulled together a pirate costume one morning from odds and ends around the house )pictured above). A t-shirt with a panda bear’s face on it sufficed for animal week. And his Pinocchio costume won him an award and rave reviews.

Now, at four years old, he has a favorite TV show: Super Why. When he found out he could wear a costume to dress up like Super Why, he nearly jumped out of his pants then and there! When it arrived, I had to put it on him immediately, and he even wore the mask for the rest of the day.

I must say I’m glad he is showing interest now. I think the excitement of dressing up should be part of every child’s young years. outlines some of the reasons why dress-up play is so important for our kids.

If dress-up play is already a staple at your house, drop your favorite tips for the rest of us in the comments below!

And, finally, in case you’re just getting started, here are some of our other hats for dressing out of the ordinary.

Toddler Tenderness

Handwriting – get your baby or toddler ready now

If you have a baby or toddler, you may feel like learning to write is a long way off. But did you know that some things you do now can help ease your little one into writing letters later on?

Some kids really struggle with writing the ABCs when they reach their school years. No wonder! It requires a massive coordinated effort from a young child: everything from holding the pencil correctly to remembering which way the d and b are supposed to go.

My sister has passed along some tips from an occupational therapist who works with kids struggling with handwriting. These tips focus on building the muscles and motor skills needed to let your child hold and move a pencil and maintain the posture needed for basic handwriting.

Upper body strength

  • Let your child play on playground equipment, climb ladders, swing on monkey bars, even push a swing.
  • Teach him or her the crab walk or wheelbarrow walk.
  • Do activities on a vertical service, like on an easel, chalkboard or even paper taped to the wall.
  • Throw and catch balls of different sizes.

Fine motor skills

  • Let him or her tear up paper for recycling.
  • Play with spray bottles, water droppers, or squirt guns.
  • Find toys that require fine motor skills. Choose ones that really hold his or her attention. For our son, it’s Automoblox cars. For yours, it might be Legos. Tweezer or tongs are great, as well as play dough (see how to make your own play dough here).

Visual-motor coordination

  • Practice shapes and letters with sidewalk chalk, shaving cream on the side of the bathtub, in sand or dirt, with finger paint as well as crayons on paper.
  • Teach concepts like top/bottom, right/left, in/under, etc. This will be helpful as you encourage formation of letters from top to bottom, left to right.
  • Work on making simple shapes like a line, circle, cross, x and a square. Then use those shapes to create a picture or scene.

My favorite tip

Encourage the proper tripod grip by giving your child a short piece of crayon to work with (after she is no longer putting things in her mouth, of course).

Who would have thought, right? There are so many products designed to make it easy for children to hold (triangular chalk, fat, round crayons), but those are not really appropriate for small children, nor for learning proper writing basics, according to occupational therapists.

Preemie Love

Baby milestones in perspective

My baby boy has his six-month checkup this week. I’m nervous.

He may be oblivious to it, but there’s a lot of pressure to perform.

At his four-month checkup, the pediatrician told me I was probably focusing too much on my older son, and that’s why my baby wasn’t rolling over yet. (Ouch!) Now with the big half-year milestone in view, he’s supposed to be sitting up, passing things from one hand to the other, and probably more things I don’t think he can do yet.

With the pressure on, I’ve been trying to help him get the hang of supporting himself when he is propped up on the floor. At first he just folded over forwards. Now he balances upright for a couple seconds before toppling sideways.

My baby boy was six weeks premature, yet he is subject to all the same expectations as the bigger babies who got an extra month and a half over him in the womb. If they would use his adjusted age, he’d be four and a half months. To be honest, he’s probably somewhere in between developmentally.

Sometimes I hate opening those email updates that talk about all the wonderful things may baby is supposed to be doing at this point in time. My first son, who was four weeks early, NEVER liked stacking things, and I don’t remember him ever staring at his hands.  I kept waiting for him to do those things. (No matter, it’s a useful service. And there’s always a little disclaimer at the end that reminds you that every baby develops differently.)

But still, it plants the seed: Is something wrong with my baby?

In truth, babies do develop differently. Though he’s not sitting on his own yet, and rolling over is still pretty rare, he loves standing up (holding my hands of course). And he’s nearly potty trained. Don’t those things count?

The problem is that babies everywhere go through a progression of skills they acquire before they can go onto the next thing. That’s why rolling, then sitting, then crawling and finally walking are so important. You generally don’t get one before the other.

Still, I’m in no hurry. It seems the past 6 months have flown by, and I’ll be just fine if my little boy isn’t walking when he turns one. As long as things are progressing, I figure we’re fine.

I’m just hoping the pediatrician agrees with me tomorrow, as we struggle to show off our best almost-sitting-up performance.