Blogger Ali Coghlan talks about the benefits of arts and crafts for a child’s development

ARTS and crafts — three little words that strike fear into the hearts of parents everywhere. 

Ali Coughlan with her children Harry (6) and Nicole (2). She says crafting promotes thinking outside the box and problem-solving skills.

We can handle childbirth, newborns, and sleepless nights, but show us the glitter and glue, and many of us will run for the hills. 

However, with huge benefits for kids and adults alike, there are many good reasons to give it a try. And, as craft blogger and author Ali Coghlan explains, it might not be as difficult as it sounds.

“When people think of crafting, they get scared, but it’s not about what you’re making, it’s about doing something together as a family — it’s like sitting down to have a family meal,” says Coghlan, whose book Get Crafty has just been published.

“I have three kids, and it’s hard to keep them occupied all the time. Life is so busy, with all the different distractions we have — especially technology and screens — so it’s nice to just switch off and get back to basics.”

Coghlan (33) started her career in TV production, working in Windmill Lane for 10 years — first as a runner, then moving into production and post-production. So what prompted the switch to all things crafty?

“My son Harry was born,” she says . . “And I realised it wasn’t going to work. We live in Wicklow and I was working in Dublin city centre, so I tried to think of other ways to have the right balance for family and work. 

"That’s when I began running craft parties and writing a craft blog.”

As I chat to Coghlan, she’s bouncing her 11-week old daughter Juliet on her shoulder. 

Harry, who is now aged six, is at school, and Nicole (two) goes to crèche three mornings a week.

During the week, she looks after the children while dealing with the administrative side of her business ( www.Craftea.ie ) and her blog ( www.GetCrafty.ie ), and at weekends she runs children’s craft parties in other people’s homes, while her husband Stuart takes over minding the kids.

“I work around the children but it’s nice to have your own thing, and to get out of the house sometimes.”

So is crafting something that suits a particular age group or gender? 

"I think crafts are for all ages. I started doing sensory messy play classes for babies from six months onwards — it’s the beginning of crafts really — they’re getting stuck in with gloop and glue. 

"I do parties for children aged from about five up to 12, and when I go to people’s houses, the parents always say ‘I’d love to do this myself!’”

On the gender question, the answer is interesting. 

“The parties booked are mostly for girls,” she says.

“When the mums book the parties, they often say, ‘There are ten girls and there’ll be a couple of boys, but they probably won’t take part.’ 

"They always assume the boys won’t be interested in doing the crafts, and every single time, the boys are interested, sometimes even more so than the girls.”

Regardless of age or gender, the benefits of crafting for children are clear. 

According to US research by developmental psychologist Dr Richard Rende, arts and crafts improve coordination between the left and right sides of the brain, aiding cognitive development, and also improve fine motor, language and social skills.

Coghlan explains further: “Crafting promotes thinking outside the box and helps kids with problem-solving skills. It builds confidence, and it helps with fine motor skills. 

"Everything they do when they’re crafting — cutting, kneading, rolling, sticking — helps with coordination and dexterity.”

And for young children who don’t don’t have language yet, art is an ideal way to express themselves, she says.

Sarah Kennington, senior occupational therapist with Stepping Ahead Clinic in Cork, agrees. 

“Arts and crafts can help children with fine motor control — how they manipulate things; how they use their hands and fingers to make things happen. 

"And by doing it through something fun like crafts, those skills can be generalised to things like dressing or writing. So through play, we can help to target other life skills.”

And what about children who just don’t like sticky stuff or using their hands?

“Yes, you could start with a really fat paintbrush and work down to smaller brushes, and as the paintbrush is getting smaller, the child is going to get glue and sticky stuff on their fingers,” suggests Kennington. 

“And then you might find the more they’re exposed to it, the more comfortable they become.”

So what would Coghlan suggest to parents who have a fear of taking out the paint and scissors?

“Start small,” she advises. 

“You really don’t need a lot of materials — there’s plenty of stuff you can use from around the house, like toilet rolls and old magazines. 

"You could go to your local €2 shop and pick up a few really simple things to start off with – there’s a list of those in my book. And there are loads of resources online.

“Yes, it’s daunting when you’re not really into it [but] everything that’s in Get Crafty is easy to do — there’s nothing complicated at all.”

Paging through the book, I have to agree — the crafts are straight-forward, well-explained, and beautifully illustrated with photographs of Ali and her children. 

Who knows, this Easter I may even be tempted to break out the glitter and glue myself.

Get Crafty, Ali Coughlan, €14.99, Mercier Press.

DIY bunny

Celebrate Easter by making some easy Easter bunny hats — the whole family will enjoy this quick craft.

What you need:

* 2 toilet roll tubes

* Pink paint

* Paintbrush

* Scissors

* Elastic

* Buttons

* Cotton wool

* Glue

* Stapler

* Lollipop sticks

* White felt

* Pipe cleaners

* Pompoms

* Hole punch

How to make it:

1. Start by making the bunny ears. Take two empty toilet rolls and cut them into the shape of bunny ears.

2. Paint the bunny ears pink and leave to dry.

3. Glue the pointed ends of the ears together and decorate them with cotton wool and buttons.

4. Punch holes in each side of the ears and thread through the elastic. Cut out a small square of white felt and staple each end of the elastic to it on either side. The felt makes it soft on the child’s chin.

5. To make the bunny face, twist three pipe cleaners together in the centre and glue to the top of a lollipop stick. Glue a pompom to the centre.

6. Now you are ready to hop around the garden like an Easter bunny!

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