I’m not really that crafty to be honest. Unless an item is useful for something, you probably won’t find me spending much of my precious time on it. That’s why candle-making is the perfect craft for me and my kids: It produces a beautiful and useful item for our home, while increasing our skill set. Plus, it’s messy and fun.
A Day to Celebrate Candle-Making
So, today is Groundhog Day, but for our Christian friends, it’s also Candlemas. Apart from the lovely religious symbols surrounding this holiday, it also happens to be a rough midpoint between the beginning of winter and spring. With Candlemas, we can officially start thinking about light returning to the Earth; longer days, more sunlight and, yes, growing things in the dirt.
Where I live, we aren’t exactly busting out our swimsuits (we aren’t even safe to do that in June!), but in our family, we like to celebrate this day with a bit of candle-making. Candles are not only a blast to make, but they’re a great emergency item to have on hand for both light and warmth.
Tips for Teaching Candle-Making to Kids
Candle-making with kids isn’t like candle making on your own or with your girlfriends. Candle-making with kids is … an experience. Hot stove, hot wax, lots of fingers and a thousand questions. Take a deep breath and find a happy place while I share a few tips how to make your and your children’s candle-making venture successful.
When I refer to “class” below, I mean any number of children that are learning to make candles under your tutelage—that could be a class of one. Also, this article assumes you have certain level of interest in candle-making, if not experience. I’m guessing, since you’re reading this that you’ve read some blog posts or books on candle-making and have an idea that it’s something you’d like to try with your kids. If not, do a bit of research on the different methods of home candle-making and see if there are any you’d like to do with your children. Then come back and read this because you’re going to need it!
- Pick one kind of candle to make and stick to it. There are tapers, votives and molded candles, but you can’t do them all with a group of children in an hour or less. I primarily work with homeschooled children, so I have to tailor my teaching to children of a variety of ages. Even if you’re kids are all the same age, they’re not all going to have the same attention spans. Pick one type of candle to make, and make that one.
- Set out all your supplies ahead of time. Double-check that you have everything because you run the risk of kids getting into stuff they shouldn’t and/or beating each other with their half-done candles if you have to go off to look for something. Ask me how I know.
- Start melting your wax on low heat in a double boiler before your class begins.
- Make sure everyone is aware of your candle-making rules. For example, if everyone is to stay in the garage while their candles are under construction, then make sure they know that.
- Set up a place to cool the candles before your class begins. Everyone will finish at different times, and you don’t want to have to leave the instruction area to keep finding places to hang/place candles.
Which Candle Should You Make?
4 to 6 Years Old: Rolled Candles
Buy pre-stamped beeswax sheets and some wick to roll taper candles together. (You can also buy candle-rolling kits.) Even with little hands, these candles take only a few minutes to put together, making them suitable for shorter attention spans. Plus, the sheets come in lovely colors and your little one will be so pleased at her creation.
6 to 12 Years Old: Dipped Candles
Call me crazy, but I really like to make dipped taper candles with this age group. I’ve taught troops of Cub Scouts and scads of school-age kids how to dip their own taper candles and the best part about it is that it keeps them moving.
I have a camp stove with two burners and I set up two, 6- to 8-foot tables on either side of the stove. I give each child about a foot’s worth of wicking and tell them to bend it in half, putting their finger in the bend so that the two ends dangle down. (I always use wick with wire in the center when I’m working with children because it will keep its shape much easier.) Then I have them form a line at the stove, where two double boilers of melted wax sit on low heat.
The first child in line dips his or her wick into the first vat of wax, then walks clear around the first table, stopping at the other vat of wax on the other side to dip the wick again. He or she then walks around the other table back to the first vat of wax. Each child follows this path: All in a line, around and around they go, dipping each time the come to the wax and chatting with one another in a merry, candle-making way.
Three things to note here:
- Keep your wax at an even heat, and instruct children to make a quick dip. If they let their wick stay in the vat too long, all the previous wax they’ve built up will melt off and they’ll have to start over. That can create tears.
- Until the wick builds up some layers of wax, children will likely need to carefully pull on the bottom of their wicks to keep them straight. Make sure they don’t do this right after they remove the wick from that wax vat or they’ll get burned. (Some boys end up doing this on purpose as part of their inherent knight-of-the-realm training that leads many young boys to be both brave and foolhardy.) Always have moms stay to help with children that get truly out of hand or are developmentally challenged in any way. Hot wax can be dangerous if the children can’t or won’t follow the safety rules.
- The walk around the tables is necessary for the candle to cool enough to take another layer of wax without it melting right off. Don’t trust the children to wait a sufficient amount of time on their own. They’re eager and will be having fun, and they’ll want to finish quickly. Candle-dipping isn’t a quick activity; it takes a good 30 45 minutes to dip a taper worthy of burning. The tables are necessary obstacles in their happy candle making experience. Oooh, life lesson there.
12+ Years Old: Molded Candles
Making molded candles with this age group is my favorite because they have the dexterity and brain development to get truly creative and to follow along with more detail. (Though, that’s not to say that an older child won’t have fun doing rolled and dipped candles.)
You can experiment with dyes, scents and paints for decorating your finished candles. You can even provide craft knives so they can carve patterns. Experiment with adding pressed flowers to the very outer layers of their molded candle, too, or add layers of different colored wax to make rainbow candles. Mold candles in sand or ice, creating wonderfully interesting patterns and shapes.
One of my favorite things to do with the older kids is to have them bring their own molds to class. Any sturdy, upcycled container will do as long as it doesn’t leak. I like this exercise because it helps children to look around their rooms and homes for items that they would otherwise throw away or recycle and determine to put it to use instead. A small milk carton, an orange-juice bottle or a glass jar that previously housed a candle can all be used as a mold.
Making candles with kids might seem daunting, especially if you’ve never made them yourself. I give you permission to not do everything perfectly, but go ahead and do a test batch on your own one night while your farm sprouts are sleeping, or get together with your friends for a candle-making party!
Make sure, though, that you share this super-fun experience with your children. It will take some set up and planning, but that’s always true of raising homestead kids. Candle-making every year will improve everyone’s skills, add to your emergency stores and provide a way to celebrate the slow return of the spring light with your family.
Get more candle-making help from HobbyFarms.com:
- Easy Peasy Pillar Candles
- 101 Uses for Canning Jars
- How to Clarify Beeswax in a Solar Wax Melter
- Bayberry: The Holiday Good Luck Charm