If you're a parent -- whether you work during the week or are at home with the kids all day -- you know that you can never have too many easy, last-minute craft projects in your mental arsenal. When the toddler is screaming, the preschooler is destroying the kitchen and the first-grader is bored out of her gourd, you need to be able to rally the troops, stop the insanity and get their creative juices flowing with a good, old-fashioned project.
Of course, crafts are fun during well-behaved times of day, too, but they also serve the purpose of keeping the kiddos away from the TV and the computer (at least for a few minutes). And you don't have to go shopping for any fancy materials -- kids aren't picky. They'll be happy as long as they can create and spend quality time with you.
We've come up with a list of simple projects, most of which use household items that you probably already have on hand. They can work for almost any age group, and you can customize them for any holiday: Make red and green noodle necklaces for Christmas, maybe, or patriotic bedazzled sunglasses for the Fourth of July. And all of them would be equally fun for a solo rainy day or a birthday party.
So, what are you waiting for? Here are 10 easy crafts for kids.
10: Tie-dyed T-Shirts
Tie-dyeing has been around -- in some form or another -- for centuries, but it wasn't until the 1960s that it caught fire in its modern-day incarnation.
Most kids don't tend to keep white T-shirts clean for very long. But instead of tossing dingy tees into the trash, tie-dye them! You don't have to create fancy patterns or even use more than one color -- kids will think any design is cool. Whatever tie-dye technique you end up using, you're definitely going to need rubber bands, fabric dye (obviously) and a well-covered, preferably outdoor, table.
9: Mud Cupcakes
Chances are your kid likes slopping around in mud as much as he or she likes pretending to be a chef. So why not combine these two universal obsessions and create a mud cupcake bakery? Grab a cupcake pan or two, cupcake liners and some spoons and head outside to the nearest mud pit. The kids will be in hog heaven scooping mud into the cupcake tins and decorating them with sticks, stones and whatever else they can find.
8: Noodle Necklaces
Many a working parent has left for the office in the morning wearing a gigantic noodle necklace -- a classic kids' craft -- over their business attire. How many of them leave the thing on all day, we can't say, but it's a surefire hit with the preschool crowd. Just pull out some yarn and a box or two of pasta (tubular shapes like rigatoni, ziti and penne work best) and let the kids go to town threading their homemade "jewelry."
7: Button Bracelets
Little crafters can turn into big moneymakers. Etsy, the online seller of vintage and handmade goods, had 800,000 sellers and 14 million registered users in 2012 -- and it boasted more than half a billion dollars in sales in 2011.
This craft, like the rest, can be as simple or as intricate as you'd like, based on your children's ability levels. You can help younger kids string big buttons onto an elastic cord, and older kids can use the cord to "sew" buttons onto lengths of craft foam with tiny holes punched into it. Either way, they'll come away with a piece of jewelry that no one else has!
6: Shoebox Shoes
If your kids love stomping around in your shoes, they'll definitely have fun designing their own shoes -- cardboard shoes, that is. Take two shoeboxes (the closer in size, the better) and cut semicircular holes from one end of the top of each lid, just big enough for your child to slip his foot through. Then your kids can turn the boxes into ballet slippers, clown shoes, copies of Dad's running shoes -- whatever they want.
5: Royal Crowns
If you want to get really fancy with your royal headgear, there are plenty of crown templates online that you can print out.
If there's a kid who doesn't enjoy being king or queen for a day, we'd like to meet him or her. Making crowns (and playing with them later) is a guaranteed way to keep kiddos busy for hours on end. You can cut out generic crown shapes from construction paper or card stock, or kids can make their out their own designs. Then pull out all the stops for decorations: stickers, aluminum foil, jewels, ribbons, glitter -- you name it.
4: Jazzy Sunglasses
Children's eyes need sun protection just as much as adult peepers do, but not many kids wear sunglasses on a daily basis. But they might be proud to show off their own custom-designed shades. So let them go crazy: Embellish plain old sunglasses with sequins, confetti, rhinestones and buttons, anything snazzy that can be glued on. You can also wrap ribbon or streamers around the sunglass arms.
3: Jar Luminaries
Any craft that involves recycling is a great one in our book. This one turns old glass jars into shimmering luminaries. Wash and dry some clear glass jars, and cut lengths of aluminum foil to wrap around the inside. Then have your kids create a design by punching holes through the foil (of course, you might have to do some punching if the designers aren't old enough to handle it). Secure the foil inside the jar with some tape, drop a tea light into the jar and voila! A beautiful glowing light.
2: Ice-cube Finger Paints
Before you stick the ice cube trays in the freezer, cover them with aluminum foil and pierce each cube with a tooth pick or craft stick. They'll freeze into the cubes and provide handles so the little ones' hands don't get too cold and wet.
Now, we're not saying this twist on finger-painting is necessarily cleaner than the regular version, but it is a fun break from the norm. Drop some food coloring into ice-cube trays and fill them carefully with water. When they're frozen, let your kids paint with the colorful cubes. The cleanup crew will probably go through an entire roll of paper towels, but your kids will be begging for more painting time.
1: Potato-stamp T-shirts
Budding fashion designers will be thrilled to create their own T-shirts using nothing more than a potato or two, some cookie cutters and a little paint. Chop a baking potato in half, and then push a cookie cutter through it. Do the same with the other half of the potato and squeeze a few colors of fabric paint onto a sheet of newspaper. Dip the potato shapes into the paint, being careful to wipe or scrape off any excess, and stamp away onto a clean T-shirt!