It's inevitable during the holiday season: Kids get bored. But the doldrums are just the thing for unleashing children's creativity.
Give them a few ideas and supplies, and step out of the way.
Here, three crafts authors offer ideas for turning the blahs into hurrahs.
Brenna Maloney, a Washington mother of two, is the author of three sock-project books, including the new Sock It To Me (Stash Books, 2012).
She turned to sewing with stretchy socks five years ago to offset job stress. Replicating a favorite sock bunny that her mother had made her when she was a girl, Maloney then turned to crafting snakes, mice, sea creatures - and, more recently, evil clowns and snowman assassins.
Some of her biggest fans are preteens, who propose new project ideas and ask for help. "I work with [the kids] and bring them in on it," says Maloney, now an editor at National Geographic Explorer magazine.
For children who know how to use a sewing machine or would like to learn, Maloney suggests starting with a snake, turtle, or starfish; the snake project is posted at Maloney's website, www.brennamaloney.com.
"Think about the sock and how it's shaped. Turn it and twist it," Maloney says. She uses a sock pattern plus stuffing and embellishments to turn it into a creature.
Emily K. Neuburger's crafting projects evolve around storytelling. A former teacher, she offers art and writing classes for children out of her Amherst, Mass., home.
The projects in her book Show Me a Story (Storey Publishing, 2012) and at her website, www.redbirdcrafts.com, encourage children to play and experiment. She advises parents to put out interesting, new supplies, such as pinecones and paint, for children to explore.
Help them "begin that process of imagining new worlds and telling stories," she says.
For the holidays, Neuburger suggests children can share a personal memory or retell a holiday story using memory cards or story stones. Pictures from the story are glued to cardboard surfaces or small stones. Neuburger uses colored paper and fabric scraps to make simple images.
"Learning to know what to include in a story and what to leave out is an important storytelling skill," Neuburger says in her book.
She also recommends making a story grab bag: Allow children to search through magazines, maps, and catalogs and cut out interesting words, numbers, and pictures. Find other images online. Also, children can draw, paint, or stamp their own images.
Glue these storytelling prompts to cardstock (or cereal-box cardboard). Neuburger follows with Mod Podge to seal the images, but that step can be skipped.
After the images dry, place them in a bag. From there, children can pull cards to build a story together. It can feel like a game, she says.
"That element of the unknown and the randomness - kids love it," Neuburger says. "They have to work with it. There's humor."
If they can wield a pair of scissors, children can make the cute characters in Sarah Goldschadt's book Craft-A-Day (Quirk Books, 2012). It provides a crafting motif for each week of the year, and a simple paper cutout or small felt object each day. There's a new iPad app for downloading templates and instructions.
The animal patterns, including a penguin, dog, and raccoon, are most likely to grab children's imagination. After tracing a template, youngsters can use it to make ornaments, cards, magnets, gift tags, mobiles, and cake toppers.
Goldschadt, a graphic designer, recently shared some of her crafts with teenagers in an after-school program at a library near her New York home and was impressed by the youths' dedication to finishing their owl and bird ornaments.
"It was the most quiet they'd ever been," she says, "and they stayed longer to get it done."