A practical guide to basic craft skills for young children

I remember as a child sitting with my parents cutting out tiny labels for dolls house-sized bottles (they were model-makers). By age 7, I was using a scalpel to cut out intricate shapes and sawing balsa wood with a coping saw. Not once did I hurt myself (at least, not beyond a scratch), because I knew how to use these tools safely.

It wasn’t until I went to school that I realised other children had not had the same experiences as me – they would struggle to cut in a straight line with normal scissors or use a glue stick properly, and I saw how these simple things restricted their opportunities to be creative.

Children who are allowed, from an early age, to play and work through small difficulties (like navigating a glue stick) by themselves, become better equipped to deal with the way the outside world. They are more confident and less frustrated when facing new experiences and problems to solve. And what’s more, teaching the safest and most practical ways of using everyday tools will instil a sense of responsibility that they can build upon.

If, as a parent, you can resist the urge to ‘fix’ things for your little ones, you’ll see their confidence and problem-solving abilities grow with each passing day.

So with this is mind I’ve compiled a few helpful hints for teaching your children about basic craft materials – from paper and glue, to scissors and scalpels.

There are of course recommended ages for each of the activities I discuss, but really it’s up to you – you know your child better than anyone else – if you feel they are ready to try something new, give it a go, but only take it as far as you feel is safe for them.

Paper

Recommended age: 4+ years

What’s there to teach about paper I hear you ask! Well, you’d be surprised. Well, there are a lot of cool things paper can do, and playing with it can be a great way for children to work on those fine motor skills.

FOLDING

It may seem easy or obvious, but if you’ve never been taught how to do it properly, it’s likely your folds will be wonky and crinkled for life.

Teach your children to fold in squares – long edge to long edge, short edge to short edge. Reinforce the importance of patience, this isn’t a race, the better aligned your edges are the better.

If you fold a traditional size piece of paper like this and open it back out again you’ll have four equal spaces that you can use for sorting, counting or sequencing.

Illustration of paper being folded neatly in quarters

Want to get a nice smooth fold? Once you’ve aligned the two edges of the paper, use a flat palm to press the paper down and back towards the fold. Try and cover as much of the paper as you can with your hand. Then, once you have a basic fold, use your fingers to press the fold firmly. If you need it to be extra flat and smooth, you can even use your nail – running it along the crease.

Illustration of paper being folded in half

If you want to make a fan you’ll need to use an ‘accordion’ or ‘concertina’ fold. Fold the paper one way, then the other, then again the other way.

Illustration of paper folded in a concertina

TEARING

Now anyone can tear paper – it’s fun right! But there may be times when you want some control over your tear. Say you’ve lost your scissors and need to tear off the bottom of a form or create a square out of a rectangle – you can’t just tear willy-nilly, it needs to be straight.

In these cases the folding that you learnt about earlier comes in very handy.

The best way to get a perfect torn line is by folding your paper one way and pressing down, then opening it up and folding it the other day. You can do this a few times, then pull the paper each side of the fold until it begins to tear. The tear should follow the crease you’ve made in a straight line.

Illustration of paper being neatly torn

Cutting

There are a few different craft tools you can use for cutting, from scissors to scalpels and craft knives.

Scissors
Recommended age: 5+ years

Cutting with proper scissors (not safety scissors) requires the skill of hand separation – the ability to use thumb, index finger and middle fingers separately from the little and ring fingers. This can be difficult for small hands, but if you think your child is ready, there are a few things you can try to make it easier…

  • Pick the right scissors. Parents often this ‘safety scissors’ are best for beginners, but their dull blades make it difficult to actually cut and so can discourage children. Make sure you pick scissors that fit your child’s hands. You can also choose a pair with blunt ends for a bit of extra safety.
  • Teach safe usage. No walking with the scissors. And definitely NO running! On the rare occasion that your little one needs to move with the scissors, show them the proper way to hold them.  Blades closed, gripping the blade end in your hand, forming a fist around the blades and leaving the handle exposed.
  • Know what to cut. Set a few rules, like, scissors are only for cutting paper. Then, if your child feels the need to cut anything else, they’ll lose their scissor privileges.
  • Beginner task. A good starter activity is to snip several colourful straws into small pieces. Once your child has done that they can thread them onto string or yarn to make jewellery.
  • Following guides. Once your child has cracked basic snipping, you can start working on cutting out shapes. This is often the trickiest bit for beginners to get the hang of and just requires lots of practice. Draw shapes on paper and encourage your child to follow the lines with the scissors.
Illustration of a boy cutting paper

Scalpel / Craft knife
Recommended age: 8+ years

Letting your children use a knife can seem like a huge step, but it doesn’t have to be. If you start teaching them good habits and skills they’ll be set up for future responsible usage.

Here are a few key things to remember…

  • Where possible you should invest in knives with retractable blades. This means that they can be stored safely when not in use.
  • Make sure the item you’re cutting is held firmly on a good-sized cutting mat or board. If necessary, secure the item with pins or tape.
  • NEVER cut towards your body or hands. And don’t press too hard.
  • If you’re struggling to navigate a shape, make a series of shorter cuts, rather than long cuts, to keep control.

A little common sense: Never leave your child unattended with knives. Use your own judgement as to what age feels appropriate for your child to start using a knife.

Illustration of paper being neatly cut with a scalpel

Sticking

White glue / PVA
Recommended age: 4+ years

Common kiddie glue problems and how to fix them…

  • They squeeze too hard or not hard enough. If you keep ending up with gluey puddles or aren’t getting enough glue on the paper at all, then you should try some activities to focus on your little ones proprioceptive development. These activities would help your child learn about the amount of force they need to use during fine motor tasks. You could get kids to trace their names using glue (trying to avoid it getting too blobby).
Illustration of a child using PVA glue
  • They put glue too close to, or off the edge of, the paper. It takes coordination, visual motor skills and practice to solve this one, but it might help if you put a contrasting coloured mat underneath their work.
  • They put the glue only in one place. This problem usually relates back to the child’s visual spatial development – how they are able to perceive and use the workspace they are given. To help with this, you can use a cotton bud to help your children apply the glue near to edges.

Glue gun / PVA
Recommended age: 6+ years

Glue guns are fairly easy to use. Handled with care and respect, they can be used by children younger than our recommended age (with supervision obviously). You know your child, their strengths, weakness, and capabilities – use that knowledge to keep them safe.

It’s always good to practice with any new craft tool. With a glue gun you can practice lines and squiggles on a piece of paper to get used to controlling the flow of glue from the gun.

Illustration of child using a glue gun

Pros
Your project will be dry quickly and then you can use it, or hang it.

Cons
Glue guns and the glue inside them get hot – so you’ll need to be careful.

Well, we hope this has been helpful for all the budding crafters out there. There is always more to learn, but these basics should mean you can now get stuck into loads of epic activities! We’d love to see pictures of anything you make – you can share them on our Facebook page.

And remember, as with everything in life, practice makes perfect!