A Low-Maintenance Parents’ Guide To Art Projects: 7 Lazy Ways To Encourage Creative Play

November 17, 2015

I have two little girls—a 5 year old and a 2 ½ year old—and they are both so very creative and energetic. I love these kiddos and want them to learn to relish beauty and take notice of goodness, to engage the big, vivid world (away from screens), and to thrive. But I don’t always want to, you know, buy anything or go anywhere or find my keys or put on shoes or move off the couch.

There are lots of options on the internet if you’re looking for ways to encourage creativity in your kiddos. But many of these options begin with something like, “Creative play with kids is so easy! First, go to Michaels or Hobby Lobby or online or what-have-you and buy these 23 items and then…” And by that point, I’m done.

There are days when I feel like I’m doing really well if I get through dinner without yelling more than twice, so making color coordinated placemats with Autumn leaves is way beyond my game.

I will confess here that I don’t really get Pinterest. I don’t have a Pinterest page. And I avoid crafty Pinteresty mom pages like I avoided the cool kids table in middle school. Because I experience Pinterest intimidation. Pintimidation. (Which should probably be in the DSM-5 because it’s totally a real thing.)

But over the last 5 years of having my girls (one of whom wants to be an artist when she grows up… unless she can be Elsa), I’ve found some easy ways to encourage creativity that work for really lazy moms like me. And I thought I’d pass these on as something like mom hacks for the Pintimidated.  So here are 7 ways to get your creative play on with very few supplies and with less skills (and without moving far from the couch):


1. Have an art wall.

We have a small house so this is actually a prominent wall in the middle of our living room/dining room. And it has become one of my favorite spots in the house.

Basically, you hang up twine and display things your kids make. That’s it.

Our rule is that they get to decide what goes on the art wall but if they put something up, they have to decide what to take down (to make everything fit).

One of our two year old’s first words was “Art wall!” which sounded more like “Ah WAH!” screamed over and over again with increasing volume until we cracked the code and hung up her art work.


What you’ll need:

  • twine or string
  • anything to clip onto it (We used clothes pins).


2. Make books.

For some reason, laying out typing paper and crayons is way boring, but stapling the side of said papers to make “a book,” suddenly becomes the funnest thing ever for my five year old. That girl loves her stapler more than Milton in Office Space. Here’s a photo of my favorite page…

She dictated the words to my husband: “Dance, Dance, Dance for your whole life. Don’t stop dancing and twirling for your whole life. Or until you’re dizzy.”

It’s good advice. And we have about 68 of these little books of wisdom around the house. Here is my oldest with a book she’s made…7

What you’ll need:

  • paper
  • crayons
  • stapler (Or you could punch holes and tie the pages together with yarn or twine, but again, we’re lazy and my 5 year old now loves her stapler and so she basically does this project on her own)


3. Color scavenger hunt.

This is what this involves:

Get crayons. Make lines on a sheet of paper. Send your kids in the back yard to find things with those colors. My kids taped their found objects on the paper but you don’t really even need tape. They could have just put the found objects in a bowl.

This game is really a win-win. They seem to think it is super fun. And you get like 15 minutes alone while your kids search for things.

Our last hunt went pretty well. Purple was a stumper. I put a purple line on the paper because I thought our rosemary plant had little purple blossoms on it. Turns out our rosemary plant went in the “brown” section because it was totally dead. But my resourceful children found a purple hair clip my youngest had left outside in the sandbox months before.FullSizeRender (9)

So send your kids outside to find dead rosemary and feathers and random trash on the ground in many different colors!FullSizeRender (8)

What you’ll need: 

  • crayons
  • paper


4. The Beautiful Game.

I take no credit for this game. My five year old invented it.

Here’s the game: You walk around (your house or your neighborhood) and you take turns pointing out things that are beautiful.

It’s totally simple and will leave you thinking “You know, they’re right, the rust on that mailbox is oddly beautiful. How come I’ve never noticed before?” We place this a lot now. It’s our go to car game (besides I Spy).

Five minutes of The Beautiful Game trains you and your children to pay attention to beauty and to the practice of noticing.

So, no rules. Just point out whatever you think is beautiful.

What you’ll need:

  • Imagination


5. Dyeing noodles.

This is the most involved thing on the list, and it isn’t that involved.

Take noodles and food coloring and rubbing alcohol. Put ¼ cup of rubbing alcohol in a ziplock bag, then put in food coloring (I don’t know how much because I just let the kids squeeze a lot in and it works) and uncooked noodles and seal and shake the bag.

That’s it.

We wanted to put our noodles on a string but couldn’t find one (and I’m not going to Michaels or Hobby Lobby, ever) so my oldest made a 3-D rainbow by gluing the noodles on paper and my youngest wandered around. So there you go. 1. Dye noodles 2. Wander around. That will kill at least 15 minutes.4

What you’ll need:

  • noodles
  • rubbing alcohol
  • food coloring
  • ziplock bag or other plastic container
  • string (totally optional)


6. Keep a bin or drawer of art supplies where your kids can reach it. 

(This is the easiest and probably the most important on the list.)

This may be obvious to all other moms, but it wasn’t to me. My friend Terri gave me this idea. Terri is amazing and has grown children now (and grandchildren). She homeschooled her kids decades ago before that was really a thing and they are now a race of beautiful, creative, successful people who rule the world. Her advice to young moms (besides “Don’t be anxious,” which is always good advice) was to keep art supplies within kids’ reach and then (and this is key) let your kids get bored and see what happens. So we have a drawer stocked with bags of colors, markers, scissors, and glue and magazine bins of blank paper and another magazine bin for completed artwork (because, in my house, recycling a scribble on paper makes my kids scream like we just set the Mona Lisa on fire).

Boredom + resources around that they can reach = things happen. And the great thing is that you can let them get bored without even getting off the couch.


What you’ll need:

  • A bin or drawer of art supplies where your kids can reach it

7. The grateful/happy list.

We had a large amount of junk mail, store coupons, and old magazines so we cut out photos of things that we are grateful for and/or that make us happy and glued/taped them to paper. My two-year-old didn’t really get it—unless random slips of colored paper is what she’s grateful for (you never know)—but she seemed to enjoy sitting with us and cutting stuff.

We keep our sheets up on the fridge to remind us of all the happy. Last time, my 5 year old put a photo of red wine on her happy list. I asked her “Why do you have wine on your happy list?” because, though I’m not the mom of the year, I avoid slipping kindergarteners wine. (I know, I’m a puritan.)* She said very matter-of-factly “wine makes me happy” so I didn’t ask any more questions.


What you’ll need:

  • Junk mail
  • Paper
  • Glue

So there you have it. We not-so-crafty-moms can still insert a little creativity and joy and play into a day. And make it way easy for the way lazy.

I’m sure other moms have ideas, so feel free to share them. I could really use  them.

* Also, fun fact, Puritans gave beer to their kids. They brewed special beer for them called “small beer,” which had lower alcohol content, but was, in fact, still beer. Little puritans started drinking it as soon as they were weaned. True story.  

FullSizeRender (6)

This post was written by Tish Harrison Warren. You can read more about Tish here, but you should know that she watched the movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas more times before she was six years old than most humans have in their entire lives, combined. And now she’s a priest. 


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  • Reply Beth November 18, 2015 at 10:42 am

    This is the best list ever!!!

  • Reply Betsy November 19, 2015 at 7:50 am

    I hate crafts, so I feel better just knowing I am not alone in not LOVING them. We do a lot of these already but I really DO need a big box of craft supplies for my kids. My next project! Thanks, Tish!

  • Reply Cuppa reads | The Art of Simple November 21, 2015 at 8:45 am

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  • Reply Rosemary November 21, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Haha!! I want to pin this…. it’s great advice. So good! Yay for lazy!!

  • Reply Shannon November 22, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Thanks for this! Saw the link on the art of simple, and really had fun reading it this morning while my toddler (who is recovering from a stomach virus in my defense) stares at the tv and I think about how I can encourage her creativity more haha. Really though this is great and actually follows through with the

  • Reply Shannon November 22, 2015 at 8:32 am

    …promise to be simple. (This was the rest of the post that got cut off above) 🙂

  • Reply Alissa November 23, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    Amen! Pintimidated and pintimidating should absolutely be a words. I’m using them from now one. This is a lovely description of our approach. My kids always want to “do projects” and it turns out that the simpler are better… plus, preschool kids can actually do the crafts when they involve “glue stuff on stuff” or “color something on this cool thing.” Most other crafts involve “sit and watch while mom tries not to curse while making something that doesn’t at all resemble the model.”

  • Reply Abbie November 23, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    Excellent!! Although I do love crafting by myself or with a friend, I don’t so much love it with my kids. (Maybe when they’re older?) So we’ve done many of these and will add the others to our list. I’d add water color paints – even the 6yo can get a cup of water, paper and paints for himself and his little sister!

  • Reply Evelyn November 23, 2015 at 8:32 pm

    Omg! I was laughing so much as I read this. This totally made my day. A lot of the crafting projects can get so complicated that you just end up frustrated, so I definitely love this list.

  • Reply April November 28, 2015 at 7:33 am

    So, I’ve tried a version of this. I left coloring books, blank paper, and coloring pencils within reach so my 2 year old and 4 year old could color whenever they got bored. Worked like a charm! They loved it.

    ….And then I discovered that when I wasn’t paying attention, they were coloring the underside of the table, too, even though I’ve been drilling “pencils are only for paper” into their heads since before they could talk. And I’ll occasionally find coloring marks on things in their bedroom, even though the coloring supplies are supposed to stay in the living room where I can keep a loose eye on them.

    How do you manage to keep craft supplies—especially glue and scissors! just thinking about that makes me shudder—out for them to use whenever they want without them destroying stuff? Is the difference that you have girls and mine are boys? They’re always breaking or ripping stuff. All of our books are taped up. And it’s not for my lack of trying to train them, I swear. They’re good kids but things just keep getting ruined when they get involved.

    I’d love to have an art corner they could go to whenever they want, but I also don’t trust them not to cause permanent damage in our rental apartment. 🙁

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  • Reply Kizzy December 13, 2015 at 2:24 am

    Wow some really great ideas here, I especially like the Beautiful Game, children see things in a completely different way to us, don’t they.

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