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Meet Emily from Making with Mommy

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Introducing Emily from Making with Mommy! She is a preschool teacher and mum to two children who lives in North Carolina, USA. Her Craft the the Zoo series has been wildly popular over on Insta, so I was eager to find out more…

Emily! Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed for the Inspirational Educators series. Your #craftthezoo series has taken the Instagram kids craft world by storm, did you know you were on to a winner?

I’ve been so thrilled and amazed all year that others are inspired to join in with #craftthezoo! When my son and I came up with the idea for this project, I really thought it would just be something he and I did for fun, but didn’t actually intend it to be a weekly challenge style of project. It had a mind of its own though and as participation grew, we decided to take on weekly theme and to keep encouraging others to participate! 

The idea for #craftthezoo was born from O and my mutual love for animals and art! Our original goal was to make 150 different animal crafts throughout the year 2019. We’re near the 100 mark, now, which is wild! We have had a new animal theme every week and people can participate with us by creating an animal that fits with the theme in any artistic style they like and sharing it with #craftthezoo on Instagram. At this point there are over 2,000 animal crafts shared with the hashtag and its become a neat resource for project ideas!

Last month, we actually made the decision to end #craftthezoo as a formal challenge at the end of September. My son, O, has grown and changed a lot since we started this in January and we’ve gotten to a place where he was simply no longer enjoying the project and wants to be a bit more independent when it comes to the theme of the crafts we do together. I very much believe in letting him lead and never forcing him to be creative in any particular way. I know we will make more animals this year, just not with a weekly theme. I’m excited to see what he wants to create next!

Congratulations on the recent launch of your ocean play mats – they look gorgeous! Could you talk us through the inspiration behind them?

Thank you! I’m so excited about this new play mat venture and my Etsy shop, My Felt Play Mat ( My three-year-old, O, LOVES animals and animal-themed play. We do a lot of small world play at home and I just love seeing how it has helped his imagination and creativity flourish. I actually started developing the felt play mats to try and save myself some time. I love making small worlds out of sensory materials for him, but that can be a time consuming process and I wanted something he could independently get out that was “ready to go” when he wanted to do some small world play. So, I made his first play mat to serve that purpose. I love that they can be folded up to store or take on the go, and they are a great size for all sorts of different animal toys. In my shop I now have three large mat designs: ocean, farm, and jungle. I’m also working on a variety of other kinds of mats that are great for homeschool and classroom use! 

What 5 art resources do you consider essential for regular craft sessions with the kids? 

I think that the answer to this question can vary depending on the age of your kiddos. For reference, mine are 3 years and 16 months. The things we almost always use when we craft are: 

-Cardboard! I love using cardboard for so many reasons. It’s a great sturdy base that can handle lots of paint and glue without many issues. It’s also free and sustainable – we only use cardboard that has come in packaging in the mail. And finally, it’s great for both 2D and 3D art projects!

-Paint sticks! These are amazing for both of my kids. They’re so much less messy than regular paint and the colors really pop off of cardboard!

-Tacky glue! My son loves to glue, but he is pretty wary of our hot glue gun (for good reason!). Tacky glue is a great alternative that can hold a lot of items together and that he can use independently!

-Watercolors! When we’re not painting with paint sticks, we typically use watercolor paints. Again, they’re an easy to clean paint option, which I love. It’s fun to let kids explore mixing colors as they work with watercolors, too! There are lots of interesting neon and metallic watercolor paints out there now, which can add a lot of fun to a project. 

-Googly eyes! Sticking an eye on something ALWAYS makes it cuter, right? O loves adding eyes to his projects so we keep a stash of googly eyes near by most of the time. 

What are the essential items in your DIY toolkit? I’m guessing that a glue gun will be top of the list…

Oh yes! I love my glue gun. When we work with cardboard, I usually do the construction steps and a glue gun is key. When I’m looking to get crafty on my own, I love watercolor paints! I love that watercolors are so forgiving, haha. I have recently also started using a gelli printing plate and really love it! Kids can join in with it, too, but it requires acrylic paints so I usually do it on my own. For my felt crafts, it’s all about felt, buttons and embroidery floss!

It can take quite a bit of work to always be creating new activities. What is your favourite ‘go to’ activity for those days when you are exhausted? 

It really can. I think that Instagram can mislead moms sometimes into thinking that they need to create a new activity every day for their kids. I certainly don’t, though it can appear that way since we share new ideas every day. When we’re having a good day, we may do several different things, but many days we aren’t working with anything new. Often, I just dump and old sensory bin filler into our sensory table with cups and spoons for some good old scooping and dumping! It’s easy and almost always entertaining. Process art is also a good one for this – just put our paint and let them paint. Don’t have a goal, don’t worry about finishing, just let them work and enjoy 🙂 

As a trained preschool teacher, what advice would you give to parents about the benefits of crafting at home with the kids?

As a teacher, a mom, and an artist, I really believe that making time to create with your kids is so important. It doesn’t matter what you create or what the result looks like, just engage in the process together. For kids, there are so many important fine motor skills gained and practiced through crafting: scissor skills, pencil grip, pincer grasp and more! Crafting is a great way to get kids to engage in fine motor practice without even realizing it. Outside of these physical benefits, I really love creating with my kids and allowing them to see me be creative. There are so many things we can model by doing art with our kids: critical thinking, responding to “mistakes”, flexibility, bravery. Letting your kids see you do art with them and talking to them about what you are doing and why is something I really feel is important. I try to make some time each week to do a project with them.

Everyone has a favourite teacher. Who was yours?

This is a tough one! I feel lucky to have had a lot of teachers who I found challenging and inspiring. The one jumping out at me right now is my high school art teacher, Mrs. Warren. I was never a stand-out artist in high school, but I loved art. She placed such a high value on that love of art, rather than on the quality of anyone’s finished products, which I think it so important and wonderful. 

Finally, how can we find out more about Making with Mommy?

Come visit us on Instagram @makingwithmommy! You can also visit my Etsy shop, My Felt Play Mat

Sian Thomas

Sian Thomas

Sian is the founder of Teach Investigate Play. She helps parents navigate the early years by providing meaningful and simple activities. She also owns 'Get Set Social Media' - a social media consultancy for small businesses. From the UK, now living in Vienna (via Australia). About page has more!

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