Internet sites have zillions of clever ideas for cute crafts for kids, but they put most of the work in the hands of adults. Instead, when throwing inexpensive neighborhood gatherings this summer, hand over control to the children.
Start with this simple reminder: It really is all about the box. And tape.
A sure-fire hit is wet sponges, a box of packing peanuts that become sticky in water and cardboard scraps as a base for building. What to do? Your kids will figure it out. Chunky sidewalk chalk and black paper also make a magical combination that costs pennies.
To let a few little friends turn your garage into a mini-forest, inspire them by reading “Where the Wild Things Are.” by Maurice Sendak. Let them use a variety of boxes and old sheets to make sailboats. Furry fabric scraps clipped with wooden clothespins make easy costumes. Let the partygoers gather sticks and leaves to make the forest. Their imaginations will easily create the “land of the wild things” without adult interference. Like Max in the book, end with a simple snack, such as green Popsicles or animal crackers.
Another book for inspiration is “If You Give a Pig a Party,” by Laura Numeroff. Kids ages 4-7 can bring their favorite stuffed animals and create the party after they arrive. Fun activities include using plastic hammers to pound golf-tee “candles” into pretend cakes of Styrofoam, and letting children hang streamers at their eye level – not at adult level. When adults relinquish control, colored masking tape also is a big hit.
Every pig and stuffed animal guest needs a decorated hat, beaded necklace and homemade invitation made from recycled stationery. Or go messy and let the kids make mud pies. Then borrow from another Numeroff book, “If You Give a Moose a Muffin,” and serve real muffins as a snack.
Fun dinosaur books are “How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?” “How Do Dinosaurs Play All Day?” and “How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?” by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague. Freeze plastic dinos in trays of water, then let the kids excavate them like fossils. There are zillions of dino craft ideas on the Web, but what can your kids come up with on their own with egg cartons, pipe cleaners and Styrofoam chunks?
Can you tolerate yucky stuff? “The Outside Inn,” by George Ella Lyon, is about a buggy, slimy outdoor restaurant run by kids. If you’re game, let your child and some friends dip plastic ants in ketchup or red paint and walk them along paper plates. Let the children use rolling pins to smash graham crackers and Oreo cookies inside plastic bags to make dirt. Add gummy worms to complete the recipe.
Other tips from parents and teachers:
• To create a stash of recycled supplies that kids will enjoy, save magazines, newspapers, egg cartons, labels, paper plates, plastic lids, oatmeal boxes, toilet paper and paper towel rolls, fabric scraps, refrigerator magnets, buttons, beads, dressing bottles, socks, wine corks, plastic soda bottles, paper bags and baby food jars.
• Set definite start and end times, even for casual gatherings.
• In case of allergies, do not serve peanuts or peanut products.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, is a mother and preschool teacher. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 704-236-9510.