Pros: Lots of quiet fun for the patient child
Cons: Small pieces, requires iron
Ask Bugs, my 4 1/2 year old, her favorite part of school and the answer is invariably “projects.” It doesn’t matter what the arts and crafts project is at school, she will try and convince her teachers to let her make two. So I am always on the lookout for projects we can do together. In this case I had to look no further than my parent’s basement for the Perler Box of Beads.
What is it?
Perler beads are small colorful plastic beads about 1/8” in diameter. Each bead has a small hole through the center. The beads are placed on plastic peg boards in any shape or pattern. The beads are slightly taller than the pegs and the hole slightly larger in diameter, making for a loose fit. To make the design permanent you apply a hot iron for 30 seconds, but the beads to need to be on adjacent pegs to make a one piece design. The heat from the iron slightly melts and fuses the beads together into one piece. Perler beads are tiny and should not be used anywhere near children under 3 and the set is recommended for children ages 5 and up. And of course an adult must operate the iron.
What You Get
This basic box contains 4000 beads in 12 vivid colors separated in a storage tray and three peg boards; a heart, a square and a star. Each board can be filled with 200-250 beads. As it has been 6 months since we first opened this set and have since added many more beads I can’t recall the original colors, but they are all bright colors. There is also reusable ironing paper, but wax paper works well too.
This has been an oft requested activity for the last 6 months. With younger siblings in the house, only one of whom understands “don’t put that in your mouth,” finding time to safely enjoy Perler beads is a challenge. But when we can find the time, Bugs is in arts and crafts paradise.
She loves to sit and place small beads one at a time on the small peg boards. Sometimes she will fill the entire shape, other times she will follow the samples on the box. This is an activity that requires a steady hand and tons of patience, things Bugs has an abundance of.
Tweezers can be helpful when making intricate patterns for slipping beads on and off of pegs. However tweezers are not easy for preschooler to manipulate. My daughter does much better just using her fingers, as do I. It is easier to work across the peg board instead of outside-in or inside-out to minimize the chances of knocking off the beads. Of course this requires a lot more planning when making a pattern. But dragging your hand over already placed beads makes it more likely that the design will be disturbed.
You also need to use care when moving the design to the ironing area. I have found it is much better to take the iron to the work area, move my daughter away and iron right where it is. Carrying the design more often than not results in upturned beads and fixing beads in the middle of the design generally results in disrupting more beads. It’s a vicious cycle.
Now What Do You Do?
So now that you have these nifty little designs what do you do with them? Well, many of ours end up on the refrigerator with sticky poster putty holding them up or stick on magnets. We have made lots of letters and numbers as well. Some designs we have strung up and use as “sun catchers” in the window, but this works better with lighter colored beads, which are available separately. It is possible to make 3-dimensional projects by joining individual pieces together, but this probably better suited for older children or even adults. If the projects pictured on the box seem limited you can purchase idea books and there are instructions available on www.perlerbeads.com. Of course you can also just string the beads together to make jewelry!
Perler bead projects are definitely something my daughter enjoys. It doesn’t matter to her that she doesn’t really make anything. For her the fun is in the creation of the patterns and shapes. Many of her designs simply end up in a kitchen drawer but that does not diminish the fun of making her projects. This is also an arts and crafts project I enjoy doing with her, a big bonus! My daughter is a bit below the recommended age range and I think for the average 4 year old putting tiny beads on small pegs would be too frustrating but this is certainly a great creative activity for school aged children, both boys and girls.
The Four Year UpdateEven at 7 and 9 my daughters still love Perler Beads. Over the years the girls are able to make more complex designs that now grace my cubicle walls. Perler Beads are remain a reasonably priced craft project for kids.