Considering last year I was a bit of a slacker when it came to Halloween, I'm pretty surprised that this year Halloween has taken over my life. This past month as seen wee witches running around my house cackling, ghosts and ghouls hanging from every room, and even a spooky tree, decorated with all the orange and black an eye can handle. This is almost Halloween overload, so much that a friend was compelled to ask if we were into Tim Burton chic now.
Of course, no one gets out until November, so I am trying to make the best of it. Good thing Halloween lends itself well to both crafts and parties. I like to combine them, particularly when my children get together with their friends.
Setting up crafts for a range of children, especially crafts that rely upon the individual creativity of each child rather than a set project, takes a bit of forethought. You could just toss all the supplies on the table and let 'em go at it, but I find the primal hoarding instincts of children kick in quickly and there are frequent small skirmishes that can quickly elevate to all out battles.
Instead, I like to set out a table for creativity, much the way I would set the table for dinner. Each child involved has his or her own setting, with a mat, paper, markers (or crayons or whatever is the main form of marking), and their own high demand tools, like scissors and glue stick, that are difficult to have preschoolers share without a professional mediator. (Especially glue stick. Having a younger child mash the stick and before grudging relinquishing the squishy, broken mess to an older child is tantamount to shooting a minor dignitary around here.)
For the more general supplies to be passed around the table, I keep small cups (ours are reused from single apple sauce servings) and split the little things up into several containers. Additional cups are kept close by for further divisions, if the need arises. This is also a good time to pull out any interesting materials from the recycle bin and see if the unusual materials spark imagination.
It is very rare that I have a specific project in mind, but to get the kids going, there is usually a predetermined vague goal or theme. Sometimes we just touch upon some of the more interesting things we've been learning about and the talk leads naturally into art ideas. This last time was to decorate our Halloween Tree (pictures coming soon).
One thing I have noted over time is that crafting and creativity can be a very personal endeavor. Some children can feel intimidated or overwhelmed in a larger group, and it's best to try to generate a feeling of privacy (having tall cups full of pens and brushes in front of the children create a small barrier from others' eyes and a sense of personal space) for them while giving them lots of time and space. These kids sometimes wander off when the other children are working at the craft table, but come back later when the table has cleared out and everyone is otherwise engaged. I usually leave the craft supplies on the table for the more private children and for those who have sudden inspirations later on and want to come back and work again.
Another thing to keep in mind is that group crafting is a dynamic adventure. Each participants ideas and subjects are influenced by what everyone else is doing, the conversation, even by the mood (light hearted moods create different sorts of drawing than one riddled with conflict). It's good to let the flow go naturally, but be on hand to steer any 'have to' talk or 'the right way' rigidity that comes with a certain age. I know some children upon entering school like to the Rules of school art activities to heart and have a tough time with our loosey goosey, trust centered household. Plus no one want their creative flow interrupted to hear about how they are doing things all wrong.
There can also be an interesting situation when children who come to your home have been raised with very different ideas about creativity and art. There is a lot ways of doing things out there, and what constitutes creativity, about how much control adults and children should have respectively, and even what art materials are appropriate for what age are all debatable topics. All I can tell you about that is to respect the difference (bit your tongue if necessary) and to help out any children who feel out of place or uncomfortable with your creative situation. And keep an eye out for any children who may have never handled scissors before or have had sharps restricted from them for good reasons!
Oh, yes, last thing: relax. Don't get hung up on the end results or even having end results. Creativity for children is much like play. It gets going and may have an ending (although, not the kind we may choose), but the whole point is to Do It and enjoy it as it is happening. And remember that broken crayons, felt pens with flattened ends, and brushes with the bristles broken out at right angles can be replaced, but the feelings that the child goes away with from his or her creative experience will be with them for a long time.