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Crafts provide toddlers with an opportunity to explore with their senses and try new things—and crafts without messy paint and glue save mom's elbow grease for the multitude of other messes that seem to happen in a day. Use craft time as an opportunity to be together and bolster your child's developing self-esteem. Remember to always praise your toddler for her efforts, not the end product. "If parents give messages of love around achievement, kids might begin to think that in order to be loved they have to achieve," advises Joani Geltman, a social worker and child-development expert in Natick, Mass.
Let your kiddo make an imaginative scene with stickers, construction paper and toy figurines. This super-clean craft is simple: create a scene with tree, bush, flower and other nature stickers and then place animal figurines in the scene. You can use the craft later for imaginative play. With a single egg carton, your child can make caterpillars, turtles and insects, and still have enough left over to make egg-carton butterflies with pipe-cleaner stems. Turn a paper plate into an animal mask with a few sticky foam shapes, or form animals from pipe cleaners and penne or wagon-wheel pasta. Stringing noodles and other bead-like items helps young children develop fine motor skills, according to the California Department of Education.
Help your child make some of her favorite characters without any mess. You can create sock puppets and paper-bag puppets by decorating them with stickers, or pick up a build-a-stuffed-animal craft and stuff the new friend together. Make a pair of fairy wings from construction paper and a craft brad, and then decorate the wings with crayons, stickers and stencils. Attach a pipe cleaner to the brad so your youngster can attach the wings to her favorite stuffed friend. If your toddler happens to be her own favorite character, let her star in this craft activity: Lay out a large piece of paper, trace around your toddler and color the paper person, suggests the booklet "Every Day I Learn Through Play" from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Embellish your kiddo's cutout image with stick-on ribbons and foam shapes.
If your child's favorite time is story time, she's off to a good educational start. "Parents should make reading with their children part of the daily routine," advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, the AAP also explains that engaging your youngster by pointing to pictures and talking about the story are important for early reading skills. If you have a little time to prepare, a story block is an effective way to make talking about stories fun. Start with some blank sticker sheets and choose six scenes from your toddler's favorite story together. Let your child decorate and color in the pictures, and then cut them to size and attach them to the sides of a cube-shaped tissue box with tape or a glue stick. Roll the picture cube and talk about your favorite things from the scene that lands face-up.
Help your toddler get ready for the next storybook adventure with a one of-a kind placeholder so she'll always know where you left off. "Give your toddler strips of construction paper and a variety of stickers and make bookmarks together," recommends the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Keep the craft area neat and tidy while your budding gardener creates a garden of her own. She can make flowers to hang on the wall, a bouquet to fill a vase for the kitchen table, and then a few dozen more blossoms for any spare surface you can find. Use different materials to make the flowers, like three-dimensional Styrofoam shapes, egg cartons, felt, tissue paper and construction paper. Use pipe cleaners for stems and simply poke the pipe cleaner through, or wrap it around, the center of each flower. Parents should focus on the senses when working on crafts with toddlers, advises the Administration for Children and Families' Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center. Have your child feel and compare the textures of the different materials—which items feel soft or rough, squishy or firm. If your kiddo can stay tidy with crayons, let her decorate the petals a little. If crayons pose too much temptation to make a mess, stick with stickers and sticky foam shapes.