Crafty Gifts with an Eco Touch
By Beverley Paine
One of my favourite past times as a homeschooler was lingering in shops that supply art and craft materials, including sewing shops, and toy stores that stock craft or science kits. Back then it was hard to find quality kits for my children, so I had the extra pleasure of buying all the bits and pieces and making my own kits, which generally ended up as either birthday or Christmas gifts. I'd also keep a few tucked away as 'rainy day' project packs or for those days when the dreaded 'boredom' bug struck.
Making craft kits was so much more satisfying and fun than buying ready-made ones. Our home-grown kits tended to contain better quality and sturdier materials, with generous quantities so that the children did not run out of materials before their enthusiasm waned - and I could tailor them to the children's interests or current passions.
If we bought those mass-produced craft kits, more often than not the children would make something interesting from the packaging materials, such was the abundance used to display the item and make it attractive for purchase. I liked to keep things simple: stuffing goodies into brown paper bags so that delving into them meant pulling out surprises, or I'd cover recycled boxes with our own fancy packaging, made from some of the children's old artwork.
Craft kits provide excellent opportunities for children to learn new skills, though they are often sold as ways to keep a child occupied and busy. Children quickly see through this ulterior motive and won't bother exploring the materials, instead probably making a mess no one wants to clean up! Quality, well-thought out and well-prepared craft kits will engage your children's imagination and help them develop hand-eye coordination, organisation, problem-solving and dexterity skills.
By supplying enough materials to 'have a go', craft kits can also be an inexpensive way for a child to try a new hobby. Make sure you include enough materials to create at least one complete project. The best kits are those that don't just make 'one' item, but allow the child to use imagination and create lots of different things.
When putting the craft kit together, think thoroughly through its purpose and remember to add any specialist tools, glues and binders that may be needed. If you are putting it together for a gift for a friend, you will probably need to add such items and perhaps even some quality scissors. On the subject of making craft kits as gifts, make sure that the kit is tailored to the skill level of the person you're giving it to, and that he or she actually likes doing crafty things. Otherwise it is likely to end up stored on a shelf in the cupboard!
Children often like some kind of guidance: what worked best for our family was for me to sit down and play with the materials beside the children. They soon began to come up with their own ideas of what to make from the craft kit. Provide instructions with your craft kit or a finished product to copy. Collect and cut pictures from magazines and start an 'ideas folder' - you can include some of these when you put together your craft kits. Alternately, hunt online for downloadable patterns and instructions to add to the kits.
Sometimes I'd see at a market, for sale by a local artisan, a quality craft kit made from recycled or earth-friendly resources, that was unique, well-priced and perfect for one or more of my children. Often the products on sale would inspire me to come up with ideas for activities I could do with the children, or ideas for creating new craft kits. Talking with the artists and craftsmen usually meant finding new suppliers. Often I'd buy materials in bulk and create several kits. Where possible I'd use recycled materials: here in South Australia we have 'That's Not Garbage', a businessthat recycles waste from businesses and industry. In Brisbane , 'Reverse Garbage' offers the same service. Cultivate relationships with business people who are often happy to provide off-cuts and scraps for free. Opportunity shops are great places to hunt for interesting materials, too.
There are dozens of great reasons to indulge in creating crafty kits, but my favourite is that, instead of passively consuming, my children were able to actively create and had fun doing it. For years our house was littered with pompom caterpillars, God's-Eyes and creatures made from electronic components. As adults, they are ardent do-it-yourself people, keen to make and create using recycled materials rather than buy off-the-shelf. Making our own craft kits saved us money, and the values they helped to shape in our children then, are helping to save the earth now.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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