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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Beat Boredom with Open-Ended Craft Projects

By Rachelle Doorley

When children come into my studio, I like to tell them that they’re free to create with their full imaginations. Invitations to create bring out innate curiosities about the world, from symmetry to patterns to color mixing to narratives. Wherever children take their art, my hope is that these activities spark creative joy for you and them.

Charcoal Marks
• Compressed charcoal
• Kneaded charcoal eraser
• Painter’s tape
• Paper with texture, such as watercolor or construction paper
• Small rag

Tape the edges of the paper to the table so it won’t wiggle while your child creates. Demonstrate how to use the tip and the edge of the charcoal for different effects. Invite your child to draw with the charcoal. Use the rag to blend the charcoal and use the eraser to remove it.

Variations Alongside the charcoal, offer white chalk pastel for adding highlights.

Experiment with pressure (pressing light and hard), blending charcoal with fingers, rubbing the side of the charcoal on the paper, or using papers of different textures (smooth, coarse).

Tips Break the charcoal into shorter pieces for small hands.

Charcoal can be messy, so cover your table with a cloth to collect dust.

If your child doesn’t like the feeling of charcoal, you can wrap a tissue around the end of it to keep fingers cleaner.

Have a damp rag ready to wipe dusty hands.

Circle Drawings
• Drawing paper
• Markers

Prepare the paper by drawing a grid of circles. Invite your child to fill in the circles with designs or pictures.

Tip Use the end of a paper towel tube dipped in paint to stamp circles on paper, then allow to dry for about an hour. You can also trace a cup, use a compass, or draw freehand.

Variations Working side by side, collaborate by taking turns filling in the circles.
Leave some space around the circles for adding other ideas to the background.

TinkerLab Art Starts: 55 Projects for Open-Ended Exploration by Rachelle Doorley © 2020 by Rachelle Doorley. Reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO,

Rachelle Doorley is a Stanford lecturer and the founder of the popular art and creativity website, She lives with her family in Palo Alto.