Creative Steps Magazine Review by Andi Turner

28th September 2017

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I’m not a big fan of arts and crafts personally. And although having exactly the same education and exactly the same role models, my sisters can both knit and sew and crochet; use power tools, decorate and fix stuff: and I can’t. When we had to paint the ceiling in double art class in year 9 (I’m not kidding. It was made of tiles that looked like sliced hay bales and painted white) we were instructed to do it in absolute silence. 60 eyes glaring at the ceiling for 110 minutes. My head was saying “nick off double art next week” while my heart was screaming ‘I need straw, scissors and glue!” But Mr Neesham always went out of his way to curb our creativity and individuality and had only given us a pot of HB pencils. Yeah, art classes killed any passion I might have had for art back then. Needless to say, we don’t do that “let’s all sit down at the table and make Rudolph hand print Christmas cards” thing with the brown paint and red pompoms: where we have to put the child’s name on otherwise we’d never know whose was whose. Heck, even the kids don’t know. Or care. And I can totally relate. But don’t get me wrong – as I’ve matured I have learned to appreciate Pollock and Monet and Dali and even make a point of visiting exhibitions these days. And I have developed a love for painting on canvases, upcycling furniture, photography, poetry and writing. See, I’m not completely devoid of creative talent. I’m one of those people who couldn’t even buy a Trones shoe box from IKEA unless I could think of at least 3 other things I could use it for. I now have 18 of them and store everything from spare socks and pants to djembes and tomtoms in them, indoors and outdoors. I even use the white ones as dry wipe boards to record observations and next steps.

Now, the editor’s note at the front grabbed me right away because he was bang on topic with the 30 hour underfunding debacle. In fact, his note in every issue is always up-to-speed with early years current affairs. Then, as usual, I started reading from the back to the front (is this a left handed thing?) and my initial impression was ‘oops, this isn’t going to be for me’. You see, we are more of a process-over-product kinda setting and huge fans of Andy Goldsworthy and his environmental/nature art. When we want something brown to paint with we mix soil with water. And trees on a picture are, well, twigs and leaves and spiky conker shells we’ve picked up on a walk. They’re not even glued down very often either – kids’ art is transient – so we’ve got to be very quick to take photos before they sweep it all away and do something else. Nevertheless, for those who enjoy the kind of art that gets stuck on fridges you’ll be pleased to know that all of the activities featured are organised by age with links to key stages and specific outcomes and, since I work with the early years age range exclusively, I did little more than glance over. What did strike me was how clear the step by step instructions were so even a muppet like me shouldn’t [but probably would] mess up. And of course following instructions is a skill children do need to learn if they ever want to be able to build flat packed furniture or set up their wifi network when they’re moving into their own place and so they’re really no different to following a recipe for baking flapjacks so yes, I submit, these activities do have their place.

Some of the activities require some forethought but much can be scavenged from the everyday home or setting store cupboard or garden. Now, as I expected, there weren’t quite as many activities for the 0-5 age range and my heart gladdened. Because I like children to express themselves by creating their own art from their own imaginations from recyclables and scavenged treasures that Mother Nature has provided. So rather than following the instructions word for word we used some of the activities for inspiration instead. For instance, the apple tree activity in the Autumn 2016 issue was pretty, I admit, but we used clay and twigs and wire to make the tree and dried out, sliced crab apples. Moon rocket throw on the other hand is brilliant as is. Screwed up foil balls are so much better for toddlers because they don’t bounce or roll away and they’re so tactile. The sticky plum flapjacks recipe was blooming delicious only we added brambles too because my next door neighbour brought some over from her garden. The fuzzy chicks activity from the Spring 2017 didn’t result in anything that looked remotely like chicks but it was never going to when the kids mixed the yellow paint I set out with compost and mushy leaves. And we made leaf wreaths from leaves rather than from the templates provided but then again, if you don’t live near trees or parks or woodland,I guess they’d be pretty useful.

There are lots of very unique activities in Creative Steps and I particularly loved that alongside more traditional activities for Halloween, Easter and Father’s Day we have activities for Day of the Dead, Diwali, Holi and Eid. Also, it was lovely to see Mary Seacole rather than Florence Nightingale as the featured famous figure for a bunch of medicine related crafts. You’ll find hints & tips and further information boxes to extend learning and useful facts. There were lots of book reviews and competitions to enter and the advertisements were balanced so that they didn’t overwhelm whereas some other magazines just feel so much more about the ads than the content. Overall, it’s very well put together and has something for everybody.

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