Enjoying Tactile Crafts with Kids
By Jo Elizabeth Pinto
When my sighted daughter Sarah was a toddler, I worried that as her blind mom, I’d miss out on exploring arts and crafts with her. Coloring books, paint-by-numbers, water colors—everything marketed for kids was visually oriented. At least there was playdough, that last bastion of hope. Playdough was meant to be touched, molded, squished between chubby little fingers, and occasionally even tasted. But there were so many more projects and materials that seemed inaccessible to me, geared only toward the sense of sight.
Soon I started wondering how I could combine the visual aspects of arts and crafts with the tactile. My daughter loved color from a young age. She would reach for women’s bright blouses, neon hair bows, and sparkling necklaces long before she could talk. I was anything but a crafter by trade. But I decided if I could add tactile elements to Sarah’s artistic sense from the beginning, she would grow up with them as a normal part of her world, not as a special approach her blind mom needed to enjoy her art projects.
As soon as Sarah started scribbling with crayons and paints, I began cutting out triangles, diamonds, and other shapes from tissue paper and cardboard. I helped her glue the paper shapes around the edges of her paint and Crayon masterpieces, thus turning the flat pages into raised collages I could touch. I bought puffy, fuzzy, and sparkly stickers so she could add texture to her creations. The day she asked me to help her glue clean Popsicle sticks onto construction paper in the shape of a house so she could color between the sticks, I felt victorious. My preschooler was catching on!
The tactile aspect of Sarah’s art soon became as much her idea as it was mine. Arts and crafts turned into a visual and textural collaboration, and the gathering of the materials was often as much fun as the creation of the projects themselves. Anything we found could become part of art projects—pebbles from our garden, yarn and ribbon, dry leaves in the fall and fresh ones in the spring and summer, the acorns that dropped from the trees every autumn with their little top hats that came loose when they dried. Beads, dry beans, feathers shed by our parakeet, pine needles, stray buttons, bits of cloth, we used them all. Glitter and sequins became a focal point in Sarah’s arts and crafts repertoire from the time she got old enough to keep them out of her mouth.
At first plain school glue worked for us, but eventually we needed a strong multipurpose craft glue. We probably should have used a hot glue gun for some of the heavier items. But I’ve lost a few battles with glue guns in my time and have chosen not to engage in further conflicts. If you insist on hot glue, devote a small electric skillet to crafting. Leave a few inches of glue permanently in the skillet. When you need it, simply reheat the glue till it liquefies, then brush your items carefully across the surface of the glue and affix them to your project. Hot glue burns like molten lava and is not easily rinsed from skin. Don’t let children touch the glue or the skillet.
As Sarah got older, we built three-dimensional figures out of miniature marshmallows, pipe cleaners, and uncooked spaghetti noodles. Over the years we’ve made clay pots and Christmas ornaments, painted sugar skulls, fashioned jewelry and bead art, and experimented with tie-dying, sewing, weaving, and crocheting. Some crafts Sarah took up and put down quickly; others she has stuck with for a while. Some she has started, left, and returned to. She eventually got interested in drawing and painting without tactile elements, and I’ve encouraged her wholeheartedly in those endeavors.
Whether Sarah pursues arts and crafts as a hobby or simply views the work of others for pleasure, I believe her early introduction to its tactile aspects will add a new dimension to her experiences for the rest of her life. If she decides to craft or create art, the childhood memories of her tactile projects may influence the way she expresses herself as an adult. If she simply takes in art for pleasure, she may perceive what she views or touches on a different level than she otherwise would have.
I know this much—on our way home from school at age ten, she still stops on the sidewalk and says, “Hey, there’s a perfect pine cone. It’ll look awesome on the Christmas tree with glitter. And I see three little white rocks that’ll be great for something. I’m putting them in your purse.”
This story appears in my mothering memoir, “Daddy Won’t Let Mom Drive the Car: True Tales of Parenting in the Dark.” To find out about the memoir and my other two books, please visit my author Website at https://www.brightsideauthor.com.