The Art of Arts & Crafts

Advice on creating and maintaining a dynamic arts and crafts program

Crafting an arts and crafts program for your camp may not be brain surgery, but the subtle precision and patience of a surgeon is often needed for a healthy program to take root.


A well-organized plan of action, a cache of ideas and finding the resources that spark the ideas are the key components of a successful and dynamic arts and crafts program.

Start at the Beginning
Before the camp session begins, take inventory. In the usual sense of the word inventory means keeping track of the material items you need to stock for any number of programs.

Though keeping an eye on what materials you do or do not have on hand is important, it's equally important to inventory the needs of the campers. Constantly evaluate what activities the campers like, and those they don't like.

Have them fill out evaluations after they've completed a craft activity. Ask craft-interest questions on registration forms to gauge interest. Look for trends and common threads to help make choices about which activities to add and drop.

"Before camp, flip through magazines geared toward that age group, because it will give you a better idea of what their trends and colors are," says Maria Nerius, Palm Bay, Fla., craft expert for CreateForLess, Beaverton, Ore.

Once you've decided which activities will be part of your arts and crafts program, organize the activities in such a way that will benefit both the counselors teaching the craft and the campers learning it.

"When I have helped people get ready for camp we would figure out the age group of the children, and break them down into levels," says Jamie Rothschild, vice president of Sunshine Discount Crafts in Largo, Fla.

An important concept to keep in mind is that independence levels fluctuate from younger to older age groups. Younger children should be given fewer choices and fewer steps to do in the process, and vice versa.

"Normally with younger crafters you want to have some direct one-on-one with them, some of the steps will already be done.

You allow the older crafters to have more decisions or color choices," says Nerius. "The worst possible thing you can do, especially with younger crafters, is to do something where there might be failure -- that's frustrating for them and they tend to walk away from it. For example, if you have crafters under the age of 10, most of the items should be cut out for them, because they tend to get frustrated with that."

Keep class sizes down to facilitate better one-on-one interaction, and to allow easier viewing of the demonstration before the kids do it themselves.


"Crafts are usually best done in groups of 10-15 kids," says Karen Holbrook, director of product development for Janlynn Corp., Indian Orchard, Mass. "With anything over 20 it's hard to make sure everyone gets to see what's going on and that everyone gets attention, unless there are more teachers."

Rothschild adds that a good guideline for gauging the amount of time you'll need for a craft is for every five minutes it takes you to do it, it will take about 30 minutes for a group of children to learn and complete the project.

Another way to get things moving and moving more smoothly is to involve the kids in setup and cleanup. This helps serve the organizational purpose, plus increases the campers' involvement.

"In group crafting, make kits, so that everything you need is in a zip-lock bag," says Nerius. "Another way to do that is to say, 'Here's a zip-lock bag and a paper plate; put everything from the zip-lock bag onto the paper plate.' That way you don't have people losing pieces."

Nerius also says it's a good idea to keep a running inventory of what you're using as you go along. Have a master list of the items and check them off as they're used.

Something New, Something Old…
There are literally thousands of crafts to choose from to arm your program with, and narrowing the field can be difficult. However, there are those that are in vogue with kids, for one reason or another, and others that are simply timeless, transcending generations and tastes.

Take scrap booking, for instance. The art of capturing memories in unique and creative ways is nothing new, but people are coming up with new twists on an old genre.

"If you have photos you can put them on colored paper backgrounds and decorate it with stickers that fit in with the theme and enhance the photo," says Robin Stotler, marketing manager, Stickopotamus, Clifton, N.J. "And, they don't just write the date, but they add a little story about it using colored markers."

Along those lines, Nerius recommends using motifs to interest the kids. Themes like school and sports are typically winners with kids, especially teenagers. Have them make something they can use during the school year to decorate their lockers, like scrap book pages, signs and pennants.

Because teens like any form of communication, postcard and stationary decoration is mentioned, as well as decorations they can use for their cars, perhaps as rearview mirror danglers.

"The best crafts are things that kids can put their own personal touches on so that everyone's project doesn't look the same," says Holbrook. "Give the kids guidelines, techniques and supplies and then let them know that they can do it this way or personalize it."

"There are things you can do for crafts that break out of the bounds of the classroom," adds Holbrook. "You can get the kids into the woods to collect leaves, grasses and flowers for a project. Have the supplies in a box and do the craft on picnic tables or whatever. You can adapt any kind of craft activity to whatever facilities you have."

Crafts are a great way to foster positive group dynamics, team building and team problem-solving. Going beyond individual projects to group projects can also create more interest.

"Have a good idea of what you're going to do and how that interacts with other things going on at the camp," says Nerius. "Is there a way that the craft can reinforce something that's being learned during the day or that week? A lot of times people end up learning things they wouldn't have sat still for otherwise. It really reinforces and gives you unity in your group."

Rubber stamping, paper crafts (like origami), soap making, candle making, painting, hair embellishments for girls (like barrettes and scrunchies), photography, cooking, candy making, blow pens and clay sculpting are all mentioned as popular with the kids, relatively easy to do, and easy on the budget.

Many of these crafts have the added impetus of technology -- like polymer clays that can be molded, baked and turned into erasers -- and gels that can be turned into candles and don't require the same hot temperatures used in typical wax candles.

Stickopotamus' Stotler mentions sticker innovations, like three-dimensional and liquid stickers, that bring movement and interest to a typically flat scrap booking or gift bag project, among other crafts that can be embellished.


The Right Resources
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of an arts and crafts program is ideas for projects. Thankfully, the resources for ideas are easier to find now than they ever have been.

Just do a search on the Web for arts and crafts and you'll turn over a lot of stones. A word of caution here, though. There's a lot of information, but it's sometimes not perfect.

"You can get an Internet search down to age group and materials you're working with -- it's just really incredible," says Nerius. "If you find a project you really want to do, do it once, so that if you need to, you can tweak it so it works." Most factories provide projects on their sites as well, as do many of the arts and crafts advertisers in this magazine.

"If you're using paint, read the label and go to that company's Web site. More than likely they'll be happy to send project sheets with a photo of the finished project and step-by-step instructions," adds Nerius.

Rothschild mentions and as two examples of factories that provide crafts projects on their sites. She also mentions arts and crafts magazines and books as excellent resources.

It's a good idea to go beyond the crafts realm and look for ideas from general magazines like Family Circle, and children's magazines.

Take some time and comb the Internet, the newsstand and your local library and you should be flush with a myriad of projects that can appeal to all age groups and genders.


Project Sampling
Following are a few projects provided by Karen Holbrook, director of marketing and product development for Janlynn Corporation, Indian Orchard, Mass.

Silk Painting
Great kids project because it's so easy to do. Small projects like cards, hankies and sun catchers take less than an hour to do. Using silk paints, the crafter just touches a loaded brush to the silk, and the paint flows to the design outline and stops. It's a lot like filling in colors in paint by number, only easier. Finished projects can be framed, hung, ironed-on to clothing as appliques and much more.

The child tucks yarn into a pre-printed, die-cut board with a special tuckable tool. It's quick and easy. I've found that both boys and girls love these kinds of projects. They're available in two sizes -- 3.75" x 3.75" -- which can be finished in less than an hour, and 8" x 10" which could be finished in 2 to 3 hours. I've done classes where the kids have created small tuckables and I've given them a magnet to put on the back to make a refrigerator magnet.

Decorating Your Own Tote Bag
This is a great project that really encourages creativity. Simply provide each camper with a totebag to decorate, and have a table filled with all sorts of craft supplies -- stickers, paint markers, stamps, glitter glue, buttons, fabric, rhinestones, feathers, sequins, etc.

Computer Crafts
This type of project really encourages fostering a group dynamic. Have each camp group design and create their own logo and t-shirt. They can use photographs, clip-art, drawings, illustrations, or whatever they want. Use any computer photo manipulation or simple graphics program to create the design and then print it out onto Cold Peel iron-on transfer sheets and iron on to T-shirts. Then get some fabric markers and let each kid personalize his/her shirt, or have the other campers autograph it.