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Five Great Activity Books for Parents Who Don't Give a Craft

We all know the importance of including arts and crafts in a child’s activities. We may even have aspirations of idyllic Pinterest-style projects, where our children produce perfectly crafted Christmas decorations and handmade toys. There are plenty of books with these kinds of projects for creatively ambitious parents. However, for many us, these kinds of projects always seem to be a short step away from necessitating us to construct a kiln or learn how to use a loom. Sadly this tends to go beyond the required level of skill and patience found in the typical child or, more importantly, the average parent. There are many of us who struggle to wrap gifts, let alone make them. So rather than attempting to master the technique of how to temper chocolate, we could instead learn to temper our expectations. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list for the less ambitious, or perhaps simply the less optimistic of us, of activity books that have a more practical approach to arts and crafts. Whether you’re looking for projects without the pricey art supplies, or those that are low on stress and high on entertainment, or if you’re simply hoping to limit the amount of household carnage incurred, these books should set you up nicely. 

Red Ted Art

Starting out on a craft project can be an intimidating prospect. As you scan down the list of required specialised items and lengthy processes, the various projects can quickly lose their appeal. Maggy Woodley’s book Red Ted Art is an excellent remedy for this. Her projects use lots of recycled materials from around the house which is perfect for parents on a budget, or even just those looking for a simple no-prep project. The projects are also mercifully short, increasing the chance that you’ll actually finish it before distraction sets in. Most of all, even with all the advantages of convenience and simplicity, the projects are enticing in and of themselves. Woodley has a real eye for bright and vibrant crafts that are full of character and a joy to create. Her book is a great place to start if you’re trying to make time for arts and crafts a more regular feature of family life.

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Paint By Sticker Kids: Zoo Animals

When looking to encourage creativity in children, most of us will head straight for colouring books and paint-by-numbers. These childhood staples are almost ubiquitous in setting up budding artists. However, they are not without their drawbacks. Whether it's colouring pencils with broken nibs or leaking markers, having the necessary art paraphernalia to hand can, on occasion, be something of a stumbling block. If you’d rather avoid these various hiccups, Paint by Sticker is a wonderful substitute. Much like paint-by-numbers, the pictures are made by matching stickers to corresponding their place, to create a larger image in collage. The process is somewhere between a logic puzzle and an art project, making it accessible to kids who prefer a certain amount of structure. The stickers are supplied with the book and (fortunately) withstand some repositioning if things go awry. That the book contains everything required makes it perfect to take while out and about. There are a whole range of books to try out, but for this list we couldn’t resist highlighting the Zoo Animals edition for its red panda page. 

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Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered

We would all like to believe that our child will be the next Da Vinci or van Gogh, but it can also be hard to deny that their rendition of the family cat is, at best, abstract. Luckily for us, master illustrator Quentin Blake is here to reassure that their artistic talent is simply undiscovered. Blake’s book is described as a sketchbook with training wheels, but it is a far cry from the dry, line-by-line instructions typical of most "How to Draw" books. Instead Blake, cheering you on all the way, gives wonderfully clear and funny instructions on the different techniques of drawing, the whys and hows of using shadows or creating perspective. He then leaves plenty of space for letting loose with creative and wacky ideas for drawings and sketches. It’s a book that will encourage as many giggles as it does doodles, which, when it comes to encouraging creativity, is no bad thing.

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Creating Really Awesome Free Things

If you’ve cut your teeth (or at least your coloured paper) on Red Ted Art, and you want some more craft projects, Jamie Dorobek’s Creating Really Awesome Free Things is another fantastic resource. Dorobek goes into even greater detail on the sundries from around the house that can be saved from the trash and turned into works of art. The book is broken down into chapters corresponding to the various rooms of the house, suggesting projects based on the craft "supplies" to be found there. Dorobek has a wonderfully relaxed approach to crafts, encouraging you to make do with whatever comes easiest. The projects are simple, with straightforward instructions that encourage children to take the lead and experiment on their own. This is child-led, budget-friendly crafting at its best, the crafts are vibrant and quirky, and the projects fun for all involved.

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Candy Aisle Crafts

Edible crafts are the easily the best kind of craft project.They’re collaborative and exciting for kids, and there’s a lot to be said for being able to eat your mistakes. Jodi Levine’s book is great for this kind of activity. She uses standard supermarket ingredients for her creations, so the projects are nice and affordable, which leaves plenty of room for error, do-overs, and sneaky snacks along the way. While an adult will need to manage the oven, the interesting and artistic parts are left in the hands of the kids. The book is split into ‘hard candy,’ ‘gummy candy,’ ‘marshmallows,’ and ‘cookies and cereal.’ It also includes projects such as monster s’mores and gumdrop animals. The projects occasionally get a little repetitive but there’s a lot of room to branch out and play around with the concept. They’re also the kind of projects that come out looking cheery and charming when they’re a little rough around the edges.

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Craftfail

Finally, to round off this list, we've added a bonus book, because even with the best intentions and the clearest instructions craft activities can, generously speaking, not go to plan. There is no book that is fail proof, or even child proof, and we can all find new and inventive ways to completely mess up even simple projects. If you ever need the comfort of knowing that others have ventured into the ugly side of crafting, then this book will certainly do the trick. Based on her blog of the same name, Heather Mann has collected a vast array of artistic catastrophes to hilarious effect. From a rabbit-shaped cake with a face to haunt nightmares, to the charred remains of what used to be a canvas, Mann’s book compiles the best of the worst, so that even if your efforts go badly, you’ll know, you’re in good company.

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I love to read, cook, and travel. My favourite books are anything Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer, but I also love non-fiction history and self-help.