Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The price of convenience

Ready-made craft kits, like the examples above, are convenient. They're convenient because they're available in local supermarkets, craft and toy shops and online. And they're convenient because if you're looking to buy a gift for a child who likes to make, the box always tempts with the promise of 'having fun' and 'creating lovely home-made things' without any preparation. But how many of these kits actually deliver enjoyable, let alone creative, experiences for our children? How many of them actually make good on their promise that a child can accomplish the craft activity easily. They never say how an adult will need to help them follow every complicated instruction, or take over completely for the fiddly bits. And how exactly does this 'following of instructions' foster creativity anyway?

We've accumulated quite a collection of these kits over the years. My children are given them as presents and on paper, they seem like such a great idea. We keep them in our rainy-day box, and if we are stuck indoors, or if I or one of my children are feeling poorly we occasionally choose something from this stash to do together. We picked out a couple of kits to try today, and yet again, they did not live up to their creative promise.

We tried an old-fashioned knitting doll and a make-your-own friendship bracelet kit. We very quickly abandoned the knitting doll as neither myself nor my six-year-old could master the weird wool manoeuvres. Then the friendship bracelet instructions told us we needed the ability to plait, and to thread frayed wool through tiny pre-cut slits in neoprene - way beyond my daughter's skills. I eventually persuaded her to abandon the instructions and just do her own thing. This she eventually did, but unlike when she was little, she felt she had failed by doing so, and very quickly lost interest in the project. 

If I was more of a radical I would throw away the instructions and packaging of these kits, and add their materials to our existing collection of art and craft resources. Then I would respond how I usually do when my children want to make something - which is to gather a few materials from our collection, the recycling stash or the kitchen, and let them experience making something in their own time, in their own way - with their own outcome. This would be a much better use of the materials, and a more creative experience. 

We have a lot of success with these kinds of impromptu creative sessions. For example, on Sunday when I set out some simple craft materials in the hour before dinner, my two children happily joined me in some cosy and creative pomander-making. And the contents of this experience? Just an orange each, some cocktail sticks, a felt tip pen and lots of gorgeous smelling cloves. We had a fabulously chilled-out time making patterns for our pomanders by poking holes into our oranges with a cocktail stick. There was no set of instructions to follow, we inspired each other by sharing our ideas, they honed their hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills, and they both decided when their making-time was finished. The pomanders are now looking and smelling marvellous on our display shelf.

I suppose because of the time of year, I'm thinking how lovely it would be to put together some home-made creative kits using the components of some our favourite invitations-to-create - to give away as Christmas gifts.  Whether I manage this or not, at the very least I'm definitely going to try not to use these creativity-free ready-made kits with my children any more; for me, the price of their convenience is too high.


  1. Morning Lovely! I agree and most of them are over-priced and over-packaged. I really like the idea of DIY shoe-boxes of fun though, maybe personalised for the child with drawings. I tend to make little packages up if I'm going on the train with the 3 children, so they can open up a little box of tricks to entertain them. The best things are, as you say, the ones that aren't too prescriptive.

  2. You could not be more right. I'm just about to start a clear-out of our craft cupboard in preparation for Christmas - apart from the candle-making kit, which really did the job, a lot of the beads and bits kits have just got split up amongst more freestyle projects. We're finding now that watercolour paints in the middle of a table give the greatest satisfaction.

    I need to do pomanders. Last year they went mouldy, though. What did we do wrong?

  3. One of ours went mouldy too. I think it's when the pomander doesn't 'dry cure' properly, and there's too much moisture left in it. Our most successful pomanders have been put on the radiator for several days - and then not stored away for about a month. The more orange is covered with cloves, the more likely it is to dry cure successfully too, apparently. Good luck!


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