A friend of ours is a Martha Stewart craft maven. She has plastic drawers filled with different types of yarn, ribbon, paint and glitter. Every time my daughter plays in their crafting room, she comes home with a magnificent homemade creation.
When kids come to our house, we dig into messy art projects (on the table in the backyard), but I am the opposite of a craft maven. I believe in making things work no matter what they look like - hey, the bird still ate the peanut butter from the birdhouse even though it looked more like a lean-to. I glop on paint, wipe off smudges with my hands, and pay zero attention to detail. Maia, however, is more of a perfectionist (or just less messy).
"Mom, can't we just follow the directions, so it will look right?" tends to be her refrain.
So we started buying craft kits. These magic boxes showcase neon pictures of flowers and rainbows alongside beautiful children who are beside themselves with joy making fashionable bead necklaces. Maia appreciates the packaging and the directions, although sometimes the directions are remarkably unnecessary. See diagram A to tie a knot at the end of the necklace and begin to string your beads. Go ahead, decorate your pig bank with the enclosed red, blue and yellow paints, and he will come alive. Hmmmm...really?
Often we pay a steep mark-up for the packaging and directions. Many of the items are already put together for you to decorate with stickers or paint. We've made friendship bracelets, handbags, bottle cap jewelry, sticker mosaics, tutus, spinning tops, and pom pom yarn aliens via kits.
But it is a lot cheaper to use the paint and paintbrushes we already have in the house and even buy some new snazzy stickers. The string for friendship bracelets costs a fraction of the price of a kit and you can print directions from the internet. You don't have to be an arts and crafts maven or a genius to figure out most of these projects.
The last straw came when I broke down and bought a kit to paint glass flower vases for $15.00 after Maia and her friend begged and begged. Then I saw remarkably similar glass vases in the window of the dollar store. Later when we opened the package, we realized the tiny set of paints didn't show up well enough on the glass, so we had to use our own paint and brushes!
I talked with Maia about packaging and advertisements and commercials and made a new rule. Before we buy a craft kit, we read the list of what is included in the box and figure out if it's worth it. This wasn't so upsetting when she realized we could still do the same projects at home. Now when we get to the craft aisle, Maia knows she has to make a case for why we need the kit. She's becoming a skilled debater, but buying less kits is saving me enough money to resume my Dunkin Donuts habit.
There are some things I am not capable of throwing together without a kit (or just don't want to try): a pottery wheel or a science experiment to grow your own crystals. And there are times when we can't paint outside due to the weather, and I can't stop the kids (and myself) from spilling paint all over the house, so we head to our local paint-your-own-pottery shop.
I've also gotten smarter about buying craft items in bulk and storing them -- though in a shopping bag under the sink. Ebay sells lots of ceramic bisque figures and bowls (most say "ready to paint"). The prices start under one dollar, and you can plan ahead for holidays or long running obsessions (yes, they have footballs and tiaras).