Sunday, January 17, 2010

Penny Pinching Tips: Craft Stuff

Kids love crafts. Boys and girls of all ages get excited over the prospect of making something--being creative and using their hands.

Unfortunately, craft "stuff" is expensive, and when kids use it, a good portion of whatever you bought ends up on the floor or in the trash (or both, eventually).

I can't give you tips on how to get sheets of craft foam or toll paints cheap.

But if all you want is crafts for the kids, and you're willing to be flexible, you'll find most of what you need in your trash can.

The secret is to not throw it away in the first place. Instead of landfilling or recycling cereal boxes, toilet paper and paper towel tubes, cereal boxes, plastic lids, tubs, and containers of all types, clean them up (if necessary) and save them for the kids to use to make crafts. We have a big drawer in the kitchen called the "craft drawer" that the kids know is stuff for them to use for whatever they want. I just keep refilling it as we use up boxes of cereal, egg cartons, twisty ties, milk jug lids, etc. Anything that could conceivably be needed to make something I put in that drawer, and once every couple of days, the kids go to it.

So far, we've had rafts made of paper towel tubes and straws, castles from cereal boxes and empty gum cylinders (the kind that are supposed to be "a bank"), boats of various kinds, space ships, machines, maps, flags, capes, hats, and miscellaneous strange things I can't identify but the kids are really proud of and attached to. The cool thing is, not only do the kids make these things, they play with them for DAYS. So not only did we get a free craft, we got a free toy, too (plus the satisfaction of making something)!

In order to make this truly convenient and useful for crafts, it helps to keep scissors, tape, glue, and crayons or paints (or both) handy and accessible to the kids.

The crafts the kids make might not be as magazine-perfect as the ones you get from kits from the store, but they are creative, fun, and completely disposable (as long as the kids don't care) since they were headed for the trash anyway. Plus, as an added bonus, with no instructions, picture-guides, or "set of pieces" that are "supposed to go together", these nearly free crafts are FAR FAR superior in terms of educational value for the kids--they are 100% the creative product of the kids (instead of primarily the creative work of an adult somewhere and the handiwork only of the kids), they are great practice in problem solving, they develop artistic talents and handiwork skills, and they teach the kids how to take something and make something else out of it (an invaluable skill for adults, especially if you happen to be a penny pincher!).

You don't have to keep the "craft stuff" in a drawer in the kitchen. I find that convenient because that's where most of the craftworthy trash is made. We also keep a tray or drawer in the office area for scratch paper (any paper that is blank on one side) and for scratch envelopes (like the ones they send to return your bills in, which I never use because I pay all my bills online) that the kids know they are welcome to use. I also sometimes save bits of colored paper (useful for making beads, rolled paper crafts, mosaics, flags, and patches on other projects). You could also dedicate a shelf in a cupboard, a box in the closet, or a bin in the toy room for craft stuff. The key is that it's as convenient as the garbage can for you to fill, and as easy as the TV for the kids to reach and use.

If you find the kids need some ideas of what to do with the stuff, you can search online for "kids crafts" or any variation of that. There are literally HUNDREDS of sites out there with pictures to prompt your kids to action. Or you can pick up any object in the drawer and start turning it around and telling the kids what it could be ("Oh...this egg carton could make six ants, or a boat, or if you turn it this way, it's a mountain range....I wonder what it would feel like as a shoe?") and they'll probably be off and going fairly soon.

An added bonus: when I need something like a little string, a twist tie, or a square of cardboard for something I am working on, I have it on hand!

Things you might find in our craft drawer on any given day: rubber bands, cereal boxes, egg cartons, empty folders, squares of cardboard, bits of wrapping paper, small pieces of fabric, plastic straws, paper towel and toilet paper tubes, bits of cellophane, plastic lids, plastic containers of all shapes and sizes, bits of wire and string, empty 2 liter soda bottles, small sticks, plastic silverware, pebbles, broken crayons and chalk, empty raisin and salt cylinders, empty aluminum cans and their lids (but only ones opened with a "no sharp edges" can opener) and many many other "treasures" that used to end up in the garbage can.

Note: be careful to not put objects in your craft drawer that can hurt the kids with handling--like empty cans with sharp edges, anything made of glass, or broken plastics with sharp parts.

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