One of the challenges most professional teachers escape, but their parent counterparts face head-on, is dealing with a mindstretching range of children that spans from unskilled, inarticulate, and eager tots to competent, awkward, peer-pressured teen-agers. In summer, the full cornucopia of ages is liable to tumble into your home, looking for something to do.
The following crafts are open ended enough to meet the needs of nearly any age groups (parents included), with the potential necessary for a teen's intricate artistry and enough sheer gloppiness to appeal to a two- year-old. On a pretty summer day, you can truck the children and materials outside for a carefree cleanup, but lay in a supply of floor-coating newspapers for rainy days.
Glop. This is gooey, drippy, slimy, repulsive, fascinating material that stretches see-through thin, pats pudgy thick, and can be cut with scissors. Start with about 1/4 cup white glue (a little goes a long way), and slowly add liquid starch until it congeals and pulls away easily from the container. The amount of starch necessary for coagulation seems to vary with the weather, but you will probably need at least 1/4 cup of starch. If you like, add a few drops of food coloring for a splashy effect.
Note: The glue dough is toxic -- not to be used with children who cannot keep it out of their mouths -- and will not last much more than a day.
Conrnstarch dough. This is a fine sculpting dough, drying to a hard surface. It also vacuums up easily if the pieces pulverize.
Mix 1 cup cornstarch and 2 cups baking soda together in a saucepan until blended. Add 1 1/4 cups cold water and, if you like, a few drops of food coloring. Stir until smooth. Cook until boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil a minute or so until the mixture looks like mashed potatoes and pulls away easily from the pan. Turn out on the counter and cool for several minutes: then knead until smooth.
This dough may be used to make beautiful jewelry:
* Beads. Roll dough into balls, varying the size. Pierce each ball with a toothpick, working it around to make a good hole. Let bead dry in a warm oven for 5 to 6 hours or overnight. Gently remove the toothpick and paint the bead if you want. String with a tapestry or crewel needle and a double strand of extra-strong button or carpet thread.
* Bracelet/armband. A child who can roll out a thin "snake" can make this. Pinch the ends of the "snake" together, or overlap. Let dry 5 to 6 hours in a warm oven, or overnight. Paint.
* Pin. Make a ball and mash it into a circle. Decorate with other bits of dough, pressing them gently to make sure they adhere to the surface. Attach a safety pin to the back of the circle with a dab of dough. Let dry, then paint.
* Flower stand. If the child is too young to manage a "snake," try this craft. Make an interesting lump and coat it with an egg wash (one beaten egg with one tablespoon water). Poke a few holes in the lump with a toothpick and let it dry overnight in a warm oven. When the lump is dry, stick a few straw flowers in the holes. This makes an attractive gift, providing a happy outlet for the child's natural generosity.
Fence weaving. Using old scraps of cloth, rags, twine, string, yarn, and construction paper, you can weave a chain-link fence into something that is, well, unique. Your teen will want something that looks organized, while your 18 -month-old will just want to poke something through the fence. Provide plenty of material, and either direct each child to his or her own area of fence, or make it a group project.
Emergency paint. If rainy days catch you with a watercolor set bogged in murky browns, try this last-gasp mix: 3 heaping tablespoons powdered milk, 1 tablespoon flour, 8 to 10 drops of food coloring, and 5 to 6 tablespoons water. The powdered milk gives the paint a glistening effect, particularly pretty on construction paper. It also makes the paper fragile, so store it in the refrigerator -- or throw out.
If you're out of powdered milk, you can make the paint anyway. Increase the flour to 3 tablespoons and decrease the food coloring to 5 to 6 drops. This is not the stuff that made Rembrandt great, but it will get you through the afternoon.
Bathtub finger paints. This is for those "Well, why not?" days. Fill your tub with barefoot kids of varying heights and squirt the tiles around the bath with shaving cream. The children can use this like finger paint to make faces, designs, and intriguing blobs on the tile. After the giggles subside, hose down kids and tiles. Both should be cleaner.
Two-way cookies. A yummy afternoon project kids can do themselves. Melt one stick margarine or butter (your job) and mix it with 3 cups oatmeal.Add 2/3 cup honey, 3 tablespoons cocoa (the unsweetened kind), 3/4 cup powdered milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/2 cup raisins, and mix thoroughly. Form into balls.
Now, if you can extricate this from the kids, either bake the balls on a greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees F. for 10 to 12 minutes, or chill them in the refrigerator for an hour or so. The dough may also be eaten as is -- a fact your children will quickly discover -- but tastes a little better after chilling or cooking.
This is a very sweet cookie. You may want to reduce the honey to about 1/2 cup.