Asbestos-Free Crafts

By Silvana Clark

It was the early summer of 1990, and a time of innocence in the craft world. A time when I had the greatest intention of running high quality, safe day camps in ten locations throughout the city.


I eagerly planned goofy games, trained staff and sought out creative activities. While planning the craft program, I came across a book describing a great project called Asbestos Papier Mache.

The directions read, "Mix 5 pounds asbestos with 3 cups water to create the paste for papier mache." Five pounds? Ha! I was the Queen of papier mache! I purchased asbestos in 25-pound bags. Then, with reckless abandon, I had 250 campers eagerly help mix asbestos and water so they could make papier mache creations.

Marketing Crafts
Times have changed and 25-pound bags of asbestos are no longer on my craft supply list. What hasn't changed is the need for campers to express their creativity through arts and crafts projects.

In today's high tech world, many children miss out on the creative process of molding, shaping, painting and gluing. Holding on to a joy stick or computer mouse is a sterile activity. Oh yes, the video game manufacturers stress how children are developing hand-eye coordination while playing video games. Just watch campers develop hand eye coordination as they string beads to make necklaces or make the ever popular craft-stick-pencil-holder.

Crafts can also be a marketing tool for your camp. How often have you planned an incredible week of camp with games, inspirational speakers, skits, crafts and maybe even a visit by a llama? Then when parents ask, "What did you do at camp?" their camper shrugs and grunts, "Nuthin'"

Ask any elementary school teacher and they will tell you parents want tangible evidence their child did something. It's the same at camp. If a child brings home a creative craft project, parents feel their money is well spent because their child has something to show for their time at camp.

If the craft is extra cute, you can be sure mom will tell a neighbor, "Look at this adorable planter Allison made out of an old shoe! I'll treasure this always! That Camp Happy Times is great!"

One of the best marketing/craft projects I ever did involved a year-round calendar. We set up 12 stations, one for each month. Children went from station to station getting their picture taken in a seasonally-appropriate costume.

For January, the campers dressed as Father Time. For March, each camper looked adorable as a leprechaun. Then each child embellished the pages with drawings and stickers. Naturally, the camp name appeared on each month as well as reminders of "Don't forget to sign up for next summer's camp!"

While the project was more involved than a typical craft project, I can guarantee you that no parent threw out a calendar with their child's picture on it.

Instead, our camp name was prominently displayed for 12 months of the year. As parents registered for camp, the number one question was, "Will the kids be making another one of those incredible calendars?"

When doing crafts, children are actively engaged in the activity, not staring blurry-eyed at a television screen. Campers interact with each other while collecting supplies or experimenting with different types of glue. At camp, nature crafts give opportunities to look for unusual twigs or rocks while discussing nature.

Working with crafts gives children a chance to explore various senses. They smell the musty earthiness of pottery clay. They watch what happens while mixing green and blue paint. Campers feel the lightness of feathers and the rough texture of sandpaper.

Most important, they learn to make something that is totally distinct and unique. After all, there's no reason a puppet can't have green hair, three purple eyes and polka-dotted skin.

As children work on a craft project, they develop creativity and problem solving skills. They figure out how to attach chenille stems to the cardboard figure of a moose. How can they make pink paint if they only have red and white paint?

There's a sense of satisfaction from creating a project. Young campers happily hold up their lopsided birdhouses and say to their counselor, "Look what I made all by myself!"

When crafting, children make choices totally under their control. Later those skills transfer to other areas of their life as they wonder, "How can I fix the strap on my bike helmet?" "What can I use to make this model of the solar system?" Their creative experiences working on craft projects forms the basis for creative problem solving in other areas.

Crafts appeal to all ages. Sure it's easy to get a first grader excited about making a life sized paper puppet. Yet teens also get involved in a craft project if it's presented by an enthusiastic counselor.

Many camps now encourage teens to bring 10-15 pictures to camp to create scrap booking pages. Kits are available for campers to build their own skateboards or decorate soccer balls. That's the beauty of crafts… something for everyone…

Pre-schoolers at day camp enthusiastically finger paint with chocolate pudding. An eight year old paints a three-dimensional fish with fluorescent paint, while a teen camper uses stencils to decorate a picture frame. Each project is unique and each lets a camper express his/her creativity.

So while the days of asbestos papier mache are long gone, the need to be creative has remained. Making craft projects gives campers the opportunity to slow down and express themselves with paint, paper and glue. Not only do children stop to smell the roses, they stop and create the roses (hopefully asbestos free!). Happy Crafting!

Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects and presents keynotes and workshops on a variety of recreation related subjects. Silvana can be reached at (615) 662-7432 or