Expressive art and design: Tokens of friendship

Both girls and boys will enjoy making friendship bracelets, using their imaginations to create their own unique designs and deciding which friends and family to gift them to. Observe how they persevere and are proud of what they have made.

Making friendship bracelets is a great theme for early years. They are quick, easy to make and low on resources, and they also carry with them the message of sharing and friendship with others. Just make sure the children always make one for sharing and one for keeping, because they may find it difficult to share all the lovely things they create.

Try making the theme a week-long event by planning some similar activities such as threading bead or pasta bracelets using elastic thread, or organise a jewellery-making week, and make necklaces, badges and headbands which can also be given as friendship gifts.

All activities here are suitable for children of two years and older with a little help.

Food preparation activity

To make friendship biscuits you will need plain biscuits, icing sugar and decorations to make face shapes (hundreds and thousands, strawberry laces, raisins, etc.).

  • Mix some icing so that it is not too runny, then help the children put a dollop on top of their biscuit and smooth it out
  • Tell the children to try to make the face of one of their friends or a family member on their biscuit, helping as needed
  • Loosely wrap in foil to take home

Active learning

  • Children concentrate and become immersed while learning the meaning of left and right.
  • They practise their ‘keep trying’ skills.
  • Children make an object to be proud of – ‘enjoying achieving what they set out to do’.

You will need coloured yarn in a choice of colours and clip boards if available.

Cut three lengths of yarn approximately 60 cm long and double over. Wrap the folded end of yarn over your finger and tie a knot to create a loop. You can attach the loop of yarn to a clip board, or use a drawing pin and fix it to a table top in order to keep it nicely in place while plaiting.

Next, show and help children to make a plait, introducing the use of ‘left’ and ‘right’ while bringing yarn over from alternate sides. Once it is long enough, tie a knot at the end of your plait. Tie it round the child's wrist by pushing the end of yarn through the loop.

Tell children they might like to give their friendship bracelet to a family member – if they share them with friends at nursery they might want them back before the end of the session.

Make a few spare bracelets to replace any that get lost.

Playing and exploring

  • Children have fun exploring a range of techniques, colours and materials
  • They discover how familiar objects can be used in craft activities
  • They enjoy an activity that encourages their sense of achievement and imagination – ‘being willing to have a go’

To make cuff style friendship bracelets you will need cardboard tubes, paper cut-outs and stickers and glue sticks.

Cut the cardboard tube lengthways before cutting a section of tube for each child, producing a cuff style bracelet. Let children decorate their bracelet with any craft supplies you have available.

Finish by punching a hole on each of the open sides and thread a length of yarn through the holes, so the bracelet can be tied together. Older children might like to add a bead or two to the ends of yarn, and take time to have a go at threading.

You can simplify this activity by using cut sections of cardboard tube without ties.

An alternative activity is to supply strips of sturdy card printed with simple patterns such as hearts, flowers and diamonds. Children can colour them throughout the day before they ask the teacher to fix them into a wrist band with a piece of tape. I used this activity recently as part of a pre-school drama activity workshop. It was something for children to do if they didn't want to join in with the games, and it ended up being so popular that it was difficult to tear them away.

Simple activities like this are great for integrating children because they all naturally share pens, take turns and talk about their patterns. You can add little stickers or other simple decorations, such as sticky-backed gems which are not only good for encouraging creativity, but are also great for practising pincer-grasp movements. It is possible to make bracelets to reflect the change in seasons, or to mark special occasions such as Easter or Mother's Day by using designs and supplying stickers which reflect the occasion.

Extension Idea – Friendship circle action rhyme

With all the children sitting/standing in a circle, choose two children to skip round the outside of the circle together while everyone else sings the following rhyme and mimes the actions. At the end of the rhyme, the skipping children sit back down and two other children are chosen to skip round the circle, and so on. Instead of ‘playmates’ sing the names of the next children you pick to skip round the circle.

Down by the River

Down by the water where the green grass grows, There sat some little friends washing their clothes, They sang, they sang, they sang so sweet, They called to their playmates across the street. Playmates, playmates, won't you come to tea, Come next Saturday at half past three, Pancakes and teacakes and everything you'll see, Come next Saturday at half past 3.

Creating and thinking critically

  • Children show individuality and have their own ideas in decorating their dolls
  • They decorate dolls as members of their family and friends, making links
  • Children choose their own materials and decide how they want to use them

Make a friendship doll chain

This is a craft that never goes out of fashion, children really love making these.

You will need A4 paper, scissors, and coloured pens or pencils. Pleat paper into four sections, concertina style. Draw a person on the top layer of paper, ensuring the arms extend to the edges. Cut the figure out through the folds and let children help unfold the line of figures all holding hands.

Make lots more chains and ask children to add features and clothes using coloured pens before joining chains together in one long friendship chain to decorate your nursery.

They might like to decorate dolls as individual members of their family, or as friends in the nursery. You can also provide some googly eyes or stickers so children are given more choice about their design, and which materials to use.

EYFS Early Learning Goals

The activities are also a springboard to think about other goals. For example, the activities are built around sharing, being a good friend and kind to family members, which make them good for addressing the PSED learning goal: ‘Children play co-operatively, taking turns with others. They take account of one another's ideas about how to organise their activity. They show sensitivity to others' needs and feelings, and form positive relationships with adults and other children’.

There are many opportunities throughout the activities for children to practise their hand/eye control and coordination skills – plaiting, decorating and drawing, which can be used to cover the following learning Physical Development goal: ‘Children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements. They move confidently in a range of ways, safely negotiating space. They handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing’.

Key learning points

  • Children learn about friendship and sharing.
  • They use their imagination to decorate a range of crafts.
  • They practise left and right skills.
  • They practise small muscle manipulation skills through plaiting, threading, decorating biscuits, etc.

Key words:

  • Friendship, bracelet, cuff, wrist, plait, chain, sharing, threading, icing

Useful resources

  • Supporting Children's Social Development: Positive Relationships In The Early Years – Jennie Lindon, Practical Pre-school books. Includes information on enabling social interaction between young children in line with the friendship theme of the craft activities.

Picture Books with a friendship theme:

  • Will You Be My Friend? – Molly Potter, Featherstone education.
  • The Children's Book of Making Friends – Sophie Giles, Award Publications Ltd.
  • Sharing a Shell – Julia Donaldson, Macmillan Children's Books

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