Getting smart about art: Our top ten arts & crafts toys for holiday shopping
When it comes to kids’ art, there are two basic types of projects:
- Product-driven: Crafts with an end-point in mind.
- Process-driven: Completely open-ended art projects.
Which type of craft will best suit a given child depends on their age and their temperament: what skills do they have, and which ones do they need to develop? How patient are they? Are they perfectionists who get frustrated when a project doesn’t come out just right, or do they just get absorbed in playing with colors and shapes?
We’ve got plenty of great choices within both categories; this list features just a few of our favorites. Here are our Top Ten Arts & Crafts Toys for this year’s holiday gift-giving, but there are over 200 more on mbeans.com, so if you don’t spot one your specific kid will love on this list, keep looking, or just ask us for some suggestions – we’re always happy to help!
Product-oriented crafts help kids to practice fine-motor skills and learn specific techniques that they can apply to more open-ended activities; they also give kids practice in following directions, and result in items that they’ll want to wear, share, and show off. Think of these like the Thanksgiving turkey you drew in second grade by tracing around your hand: not every one looked alike, and you could express your individuality within the specific parameters, but you knew what you were going to end up with at the end.
When it comes to product-oriented crafts, fashion crafts are king this year, especially the Rainbow Loom! If you ask any kid who’s addicted to making these super-trendy rubber-band bracelets, there are hundreds of ways to make them your own – just check out all the homemade Youtube tutorials where kids teach their peers how to make Rainbow Loom fishtail bracelets and hexafish bracelets, along with more exotic ladders, triples, double braids, double X’s, sweethearts, starbursts, and more.
This is a great example of how kids can start with a product-driven craft with a very specific result in mind, and, as their skill level increases, begin to get creative on their own. And yes, if your child doesn’t already have a Rainbow Loom, they almost certainly want one. (Boys as well as girls are clamoring for them!)
The Loopdedoo Bracelet Making Kit has results that will look a little more familiar to any mom: it produces the same embroidery-floss bracelets our generation spent hours painstakingly knotting in summer camp. Only the Loopdedoo loop-de-does the work for you, and elegantly, too. So instead of spending a huge amount of time on the process, your little designer can spend the time spinning up unique combinations and designs, and making special gifts for her friends – along with friendship bracelets, she can make necklaces, zipper pulls, belts, and more!
For more exotic accessories, there’s the Creativity for Kids Feather Fashions set, which produces some truly eye-popping hairclips, headbands, ponytail holders, and more. Dyed in a variety of bold colors, these feathers add elegance to any kiddie ensemble, and this is a great activity for a sleepover or a playdate.
The Tapeffiti collection from Fashion Angels is a kid-friendly spin on the duct tape crafts that teens are going crazy for, and the Fashion Angels Tapeffiti Handbag Design Set is a great place to start. The 12 rolls of Tapeffiti decorative tape feature wild patterns including animal prints, flowers, and polka dots, and there are a million ways to combine ‘em while decorating the included clutch purses, cosmetic bag, and coin purses. Another great playdate craft activity!
For the littlest fashionistas, anything princess-themed will do, and the Klutz Make Your Own Disney Princess Tiaras are sparkle-licious fun! The tiaras are pre-made (you’ll need to punch them out from the cardstock for littler crafters), so the only thing there is to do is customize, and there’s no wrong way to make these crowns sparkle. Once they’re done, the adjustable tiaras are awesome for pretend-play.
While the Original Spirograph Coloring Book gives kids one kind of picture to color in (the lacy, intricate concentric designs that come from a Spirograph), what kids do with it is up to them. Will their Spiro-pics be symmetrical or asymmetrical, solid or shaded, two colors or ten? It’s an unusual-enough coloring book to boost it above the average, and coloring in the beautiful Spirograph designs is relaxing and absorbing.
Finally: it’s a very rare craft kit that allows kids to take it apart and start over again! The Orb Factory Magnetic Mosaics Kids set uses the same simple numbering system used in Sticky Mosaics to tell kids where to place colored tiles – but this time, instead of stickers, there are 2000 magnetic pieces to work with. It’s part art project, part puzzle, and with 20 design templates to choose from, it will keep little artists busy bringing pictures to life again and again and again.
These crafts are all about the act of creation, not the end product: experimenting with color and texture, expressing the little artist’s individuality, and developing their artistic talents and voice.
The Splash Art set from Reeve and Jones is about as open-ended as art gets, and you’ll love it almost as much as your child: there’s no mess! Kids can doodle freely with water, and when they’re done with one masterpiece, just flip it over to use another surface while the first one dries.
For even cooler doodling fun, there’s the Boogie Board 8.5 LCD Writing Tablet, which lets you write and draw with any utensil, including your finger! It’s sensitive enough to allow you to create lines of different thickness, so more serious artists can come up with some pretty neat effects. This is also the ultimate travel art toy – it’s great in the car or at a restaurant. And it erases in a zap just by pressing a button!
Finally, the Melissa & Doug Large Easel remains a perennial favorite for a reason: this big, sturdy wooden easel will make your little kid feel like a real artist. Along with the classic easy-loading paper roller, there’s a chalkboard and dry-erase board to play with when your kid doesn’t feel like getting suited up in a smock (and beret?). Round it out with the Melissa & Doug Easel Companion Supply Set and you’ve got a gift that kids will want to start using as soon as they unwrap it!
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