How To Make Toys With Children
Although the Toymaker Kit is an adult craft, the BridgeWood team has noticed that many families want to share the experience of making toys. Helping children make toys can be beautiful, messy, wild, and FUN. But hang tight! There is only one thing that we can promise when you make toys with small children, and that is that you are guaranteed to get VERY unique toys!
To help you have a great experience and for the whole family to enjoy the toymaking process, we have compiled our best tips and tricks for assisting young children in making toys. Hang tight throughout this blog to see sweet children having fun making toys, the incredible mess that can be made and how a caring adult can make some easy tweaks to the toys in order to get a finished result that is full of happy memories.
But first… A story.
When BridgeWood first launched, a dear friend received a 36-block Toymaker kit. It arrived a couple of days before Christmas, and she couldn’t wait to make toys with her little ones. She texted me excitedly, sharing her visions of happy laughter around the table while making beautiful toys with her little ones. She had seen the inspirational toy pictures on the website, but she appreciated that her kids wouldn’t put together a perfectly ordered set. Instead, the toys would be colorful and chaotic, just like her family! It was just the way she wanted them.
That same night, she stayed up late to carefully watch the tutorial videos and practiced painting, stenciling, and sealing the end grain of a couple of blocks. She sent me a picture and, honestly, her first toys were pristine. They were beautiful and easy to do, and she couldn’t wait to teach her children!
The following day, she carefully set up the activity and called her children over to the table to make toys. Then, a couple of hours later, I started receiving these text messages.
“I am learning to let go of my need for pretty and let them have fun. It’s hard. 😬🤪”
“These blocks are going to be a mess.”
“I’ve given up following your tutorials, lol.”
I checked out the pictures she sent, and the blocks were turning out just as she had anticipated. Colorful and chaotic! Soon, she was texting back.
“I’m kinda excited to see the end product, and also a bit sad because I had the beautiful example sets in my head. Mine will not be “pretty.” Or coordinated Or anything else like what’s on your website 😂”
But then, she revealed deep wisdom.
“I tried to get them to do them like they’re “supposed” to, and it was getting frustrating for all of us. My stress level was through the roof, and the kids were not having fun. When I relaxed and came up with the idea to have them paint however they wanted, and I’d go through and sand and do the letters over the top of their creation, we all had a lot more fun…If I insisted on having them how I wanted, I decided that the kids would have bad memories of a grumpy mom and would always feel guilty when looking at/playing with the blocks. Or I could just relax, and everyone could have fun, and we’d have a very, very unique set that the kids will be proud of and excited that they painted them.”
My friend is wise, and I loved hearing about her experience making toys with her kiddos. We texted back and forth, working out how to preserve the charming, organic nature of her kiddos’ toys while also making them look like a ‘set.’ Later that night, after the children were in bed, she spent some time working on the toys and, wouldn’t you know it. They turned out great!
Here are some tips we discovered through this and other happy but chaotic toymaking experiences with small children. Read through them and let us know how your experience goes so we can continue supporting toymaking families and creating memories together!
Tip #1: It’s Going to Be Chaotic. Embrace it.
Making toys is easy and fun! Children love to jump into making toys with great gusto and enthusiasm. But gusto and enthusiasm don’t always translate to following directions carefully.
Know that children are likely to use too much paint, mix strange colors, paint multiple colors on one side, use their fingers instead of a paintbrush, only paint one half of a stencil, and do all sorts of creative reimagining of toymaking. They almost certainly won’t follow a pattern, and you are guaranteed to find they painted all six sides at once, gluing their toy to the table. You will most likely be disappointed if you want a controlled and gorgeous result.
It is best to relax and let the fun happen. We have discovered that if you try to control the process too much, everyone ends up grumpy and sad. As my friend said, “I found the fewer rules I gave them, the more fun we all had.”
BUT! There are ways to embrace the natural and incredible creative freedom children bring AND still get a nice result. Here are some more tips.
Tip #2: Have the Children Do the Base-Painting
Here is where children thrive and bring a lot of fun to the block party. They can create a fun palette of colorful blocks!
Give each child a foam applicator.
Help them choose two colors that will mix well, such as Mary Blue and Butter Yellow. Then, carefully put a small amount of each paint color on a paper plate.
Instruct them to use only a little bit of paint.
Then, let them paint! They might paint one block Butter Yellow. Another block might be Mary Blue. They might mix up the paint and create streaky, green, blue, and yellow ombre effects in the paint. It’s going to be wild! But let them have fun.
Have them use up their paint completely. Then, if they want to change colors, help them rinse their brush and choose two more colors. Repeat this process while they continue making toys.
Tip #3: How Many Sides?
Limiting the number of sides you want the children to paint is handy. For instance, you might have them only paint the two end grain sides.
This would look very cute. The children could do a variety of splashes, blends, mixes, and fun colors on the two opposite sides of the block. Later, an adult can finish the toys with sandpaper and stencil a star on the children’s sides of the block. They can then finish with stencils on the last four sides. The result would look crisp while also capturing the wild freedom the children will bring.
Or have the children paint four sides! Or six! Just be prepared that the more sides the children paint, the harder it will be to get a polished, final result.
Tip #4: Prepare For A Mess
Lay down parchment paper on the table and have the children wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.
The student-grade paint is going to stain fabrics! If paint gets on the clothes, wash them immediately.
The parchment paper will prevent the painting surface from getting paint on it, making for a fast and easy cleanup.
Use gallon freezer bags to let the toys dry a finger-width apart. Drying the toys might take a while if the children are gloppy with the paint.
Tip #5: Appoint a Head Toymaker
If you want a polished result, appoint a Head Toymaker to ‘clean,’ finish and seal the toys.
Sandpaper, your detail brush, and an Exacto knife will do WONDERS at this stage!
If you only had the children paint two sides, it is almost guaranteed that the paint would slip over the edges. But you can get a crisp edge with some time with the sandpaper. This is a fun way to preserve the wild character of the child’s painting while also making the toys look neat and clean.
If the paint is gloppy, wait until it is dry and gently use an Exacto knife to scrape it smooth. You can also use the knife to carefully scrape off smeared paint around smeared stencils, making them look sharp and crisp.
Use the detail brush to make minor touch-ups in patchy stencils or to fix a crooked edge.
We recommend that you keep some of the messy charms made by the children! Don’t fix everything but keep some of those smears. Keep those fingerprints. Kids made these toys, and preserving their imperfections is part of the fun.
Cleaning up the children’s toys can take time. But the result can be charming!
Note: Do not let children handle the Exacto knife. This tool is for use by a responsible adult only.
Tip #6: Choosing Your Pattern
The easiest pattern to do with small children is the Old-Timey Love Letters. The letters can be upside down and sideways and still look just fine! And children love putting their names or initials on their blocks.
The most challenging pattern to do in any group setting is the Prisms. The stencils are more difficult to line up correctly. And children might struggle to be as consistent in following the pattern. We have noticed children like more artistic freedom than this elegant, simple pattern allows.
The Classic BridgeWood pattern is also difficult for children to keep track of the different sides, especially the patterned sides But children love to put the animals on the toys, which can make this a fun pattern to do with them.
Tip #7: Stenciling
If you want a polished result, have your Head Toymaker do all the stenciling after cleaning the children’s base painting.
Because the children most likely have used a wide variety of colors on their toys, you will get the most consistent look if all of the stencils are done in just one color. In my friends example, you can see she used white letters to tie together all the different colors her children used on the toys.
But if you want the children to help with the stenciling, it is best if you partner one child with one adult. Have them do the stenciling together. Older children will soon catch on and might be able to do the stencils themselves after some practice. But younger children will benefit from continuing one-on-one with an adult.
Watch for messy fingers! Children tend to grab the wet part of the stencil and then use their wet, painted fingers to steady the block. You end up with cute fingerprints, but keep baby wipes handy for easy cleanup if that is not the look you want!
This one-on-one time is a beautiful opportunity to connect with your little one! Enjoy the time together and have fun creating!
Tip #8: Baby Wipes!
Keep baby wipes handy! Not only are they great for keeping messy fingers clean, but if a mistake is made on a block, you can easily wipe most of the paint off quickly and easily. It can be a huge timesaver.
Tip #9: Buy More Toy-Safe Paint
Small children use copious amounts of toy-safe paint. You might find it handy to purchase extra paint in case you run out.
Tip #10: Have Fun!
Embrace the experience! When creating toys in a group, you will almost certainly not get a ‘perfect’ result, but that is quite all right.
A perfect day is a happy day spent laughing, marveling at how colors change as they mix, talking, and congratulating each other on unique blocks.
We sincerely hope you have fun and enjoy the unique and happy toys only a child can create!
As my friend said, looking at her unexpected results, “It’s bright and fun and different 🙂… I’m loving them!”