I really like simple toys. My son plays really well with a minimal selection of toys that is well organized. I like for him to have more open-ended toys that can be used in lots of creative ways… his basic toys get the most use, and it’s fun to see how he uses them. We have very few plastic and/or electronic toys for this reason.
I had seen peg dolls around the internet and loved the idea of them. Simple, basic, wooden. No batteries. Waldorf-esque. I had almost purchased them on etsy several times, because making them seemed like a Very Large Undertaking. I’m pretty crafty, but I’m not usually very artistic.
Well, in my usual fashion, I needed to have a project to work on last weekend. I didn’t have anything I was working on, which is rare. I really need to have a creative outlet, and since having children that has been less about writing (hello, how can I think straight anymore?) and more about being crafty and having “projects.” I told my husband that I wanted to paint the dining room, and may as well do the entry way and stairwell and upstairs hallway while we’re at it! He said, no, please, let’s just have one weekend where we don’t have anything going on. Okay. So I did some Googling and then went to Michaels and made all of these over the course of an evening and the following morning.
- wooden peg dolls
- acrylic paint
- varnish (or a clear protectant of some sort)
- paint brushes of varying sizes (don’t forget some teeny tiny ones)
- cup of water/towel for cleaning and drying brushes
- fine-point Sharpie (optional)
- a painter’s palette (or paper plate, or something else to put the paint on)
The wooden peg dolls come in various sizes and shapes. Our Michaels only carries two types; I used the larger ones (which came in packs of 2), although you can see the smaller ones in the photo below. They were called “man/game pieces,” if that helps. They were in the woodworking section of the store, hanging up on the wall near wooden letters and other woodsy craft items. I’ve seen other shapes online, some of which are more feminine-looking and look like they’re wearing dresses. We’ll see.
It’s really a pretty straightforward project. This post isn’t a “how-to” exactly… just be creative if you decide to do this. Think about what you’d like to make and the best way to approach what you want to make. Then paint. Let dry. Paint some more. Let dry. Varnish or protect in whatever way you choose; I used two coats of my varnish. I let them dry overnight before giving them to my son, but the varnish I used felt dry surprisingly quickly.
I used “craft smart” acrylic paint (69 cents each, whaaaat?!) and “Delta Ceramcoat” glossy varnish. Super inexpensive. Easy to use. Supposedly non-toxic.
Tips (some of which I learned the hard way):
- Do some testing of your supplies. The varnish I used did NOT work with watercolor paints (although that doesn’t seem to always be the case… watercolors are pretty and let more of the wood grain show through, and I saw some other people have used them successfully). I had to do a lot of fixing and salvaging on poor Charlie Brown and Snoopy.
- Permanent marker isn’t always permanent, and it may bleed into the wood or streak with the varnish. I had success with a finepoint Sharpie, but I made sure to pick up some black acrylic paint for future endeavors.
- Let stuff dry. Don’t rush. This was hard for me. But it will make your life easier if you don’t have to fix bleeds and fingerprints and smears.
- I found the paints to layer well, even if you used a light color over something darker. Two or three coats and it was good to go.
- Don’t worry about perfection. I obsessed over the mistakes (I always want things perfect the first time, which is stupid) but my son doesn’t care.
- Keep it simple. Even if you’re doing characters, don’t drive yourself crazy getting every little detail! Less can be more.
- Have fun. Really. I found this surprisingly relaxing and enjoyable. I don’t paint often (at least not on a small scale like this, I usually paint things like walls). It was kind of therapeutic, even when I was obsessing over clumping, smearing watercolors. Remember why you’re doing it… to bring joy to your child. They don’t need perfection. You’re doing it for a good reason, so feel good about it.
I made my son his own super hero version of himself, which he has been getting a huge kick out of:
(my son’s eyes are much less beady in person, thankfully)
The star is a sticker. There’s also his initial on the back, which is also a sticker. I used a LOT of the varnish to get these on well.
I decided to make some characters that my son likes, but I do plan on making more of the very simple type of dolls that can be used as just a family/people, and aren’t assigned a certain character. I made one like that so far. And I kept most of their facial expressions fairly ambiguous (dots for the eyes, a pleasant expression with a half-smile, but not a huge smiley face or anything).
I plan on making a lot more of these. I made Super Why, and my son is already asking where Wyatt’s friends are, so those are on my to-do list. And I started making the cast of The Fresh Beat Band already. I have a lot of ideas… a knight, Little Red Riding Hood & crew, some princesses, an owl, some other characters, and lots of basic people. These are really fun to make.
This is how they are currently being stored:
Eventually I will do something more. I want to get a little tin so we can easily make them portable (and bring a few with us in the diaper bag or whatever). The gears in my head are also turning as I am thinking about how I want to approach making a dollhouse for them. But, for now, they are in the zipper pouch. I wanted them to be easily contained (hello, choking hazard for my 8 month old). My son keeps getting the pouch, taking them out, asking questions about them, lining them up, asking where Super Why’s friends are, etc. so it’s really fun to see him getting some joy out of something I made for him. He is just starting to really play creatively, so I really look forward to watching him play pretend with them… and hopefully they last a long time so my daughter can use them in the future, too.
Disclaimer: Just use some common sense when making these. Know your children. If you think they might put them in there mouths or use them inappropriately, hold off on making them. Supervise them. Only use supplies you are comfortable using around your kids (I had considered trying to coat them in beeswax or something, but there it is). Just use your head, and have fun, and be careful… these are addicting! I bought all the wooden pieces our local Michaels has, so now I’m waiting (im)patiently for them to stock up again so I can make some more.😉