Creative Gifts That Keep on Giving

Laura Reischel, AVP of Arts and Culture and Jennifer Farrington, President and CEO of Chicago Children’s Museum help you create gift kits that are sure to entertain delight the kids in your lives for years to come.

Have you ever given a terrific gift to a child, only to see it retired in the first week? Been frustrated by a pile of expensive toys that only get 20 minutes of play before being cast aside? This year, give gifts that will last and provide a child with more than just a few minutes of entertainment. By creating custom gift kits, you can empower children’s amazing creative abilities and hand them the tools for hours of self-expression. A unique, personally compiled gift kit ensures that the present you bestow will be more meaningful than anything you could ever purchase, while encouraging hours of open-ended play and art making. Here’s our guarantee:

Gift kits seldom miss.

A young friend of ours received a large tin of tacky, sparkly remnants for her second birthday. Five years later, she is still making glamorous costumes, tea party “tablecloths,” and magical forts for herself and her brother. The remnant bins of your local fabric store abound with funky fabrics waiting to be transformed into a knight’s royal cape—and hours of inspired play! 

Boy painting at CCM

We’ve come up with lots of ideas for affordable gifts to encourage creativity and open-ended play. Here are a few of our favorites to get you started:

Great Starter Kits

Build-It Kit. Most children have a natural desire to build and tinker. Even without tools, most kids will be able to make a special vehicle, structure, or sculpture.Materials: sand paper, wood, wood scraps, wood glue, small dowels, string, and tape.

Jewelry Kit. Boys and girls of all ages love to adorn themselves or a loved one with a piece of handmade jewelry. Stringing beads is not only good practice for fine motor skills but provides opportunities to explore color, scale, and pattern.
Materials: beads, scissors, self-hardening clay (to make homemade beads,) waxed cord (stiff enough to ease stringing,) and ribbons.

Stationary Kit. Writing letters is much more fun on fancy paper you’ve made yourself! Letter writing also reinforces literacy skills and the concept of communicating over distance.
Materials: plain paper plus a variety of colored, patterned papers, foils, doilies, lace and fabric scraps, ribbon, rubber stamps, stamp pad, gel pens. Make it real by including a book of postage stamps and a small address book with the names and addresses of a few family members.

Drawing Kit. Most children love to draw, but we don’t usually provide them with real tools and artist materials. Empower their creativity by giving just a few, but high-quality, supplies.
Materials: fine drawing paper, a sketchbook, a drawing pencil, charcoal or colored pencils, a sharpener, and pencil case.

Office Kit. Little kids love to role-play the real life work of the adults around them. Not only will this kit keep them busy for hours, it will let them practice literacy and math skills, too.
Materials: Post-Its, pens, mini stapler, mini scissors, tape, notebooks, highlighter, a simple solar calculator, a small box or two, and bubble wrap.

Photography Kit. Taking photos is fun, and assembling a photo album is even more fun. Sharing the stories represented in the photos builds storytelling and sequencing skills.
Materials: disposable camera, gift certificate for developing film, a simple photo album (we like Kolo brand), or simply collage over a dime-store cheapie.

101 No-Sew Costumes Kit. Like our friend in the story above, sometimes a simple square of fabric is all it takes to provide hours of pretend play. And when children pretend, they are doing much more than meets the eye—creating characters, plotting detailed stories, and extending their language skills.
Materials: Squares of fabric soft and pliable enough to be wrapped and tied. Don’t be shy–try tacky fabrics, chiffon, tulle, satin, sequined, etc. Cut the fabric to manageable sizes: 36” x 36” works well for children 3-7 years old. Extra strips work well for ties, sashes, and scarves.

Collector Kit. Special interests formed in childhood can lead to lifelong learning.
Materials: Sectioned box (sometimes in the sewing, tackle, or tool sections of the store), a magnifying glass, small tags or stickers for labeling, and a few beautiful items that will make this kit a keepsake. Items to try: a perfect shell, a foreign coin, an interesting eraser.

Your-Own-Idea Kit
Don’t be limited by our list. Think of your favorite hobby, make a list of the must-have basics to get started, and create your own kit!

Kits with Directions

These kit suggestions include directions to share with your special gift recipient. The projects aren’t as self-explanatory, but they still allow children to be creative.

Beading Kit. Older children and adults will love this recycling project. They’ll discover feelings of joy and accomplishment when following a sequential process resulting in a beautiful hand made bead.
Materials: old magazine pages, a pencil, white glue and ribbon or cording for stringing beads.
Directions: Cut paper lengthwise into long rectangular strips. Cut each one in half diagonally to create two long triangular strips. Place the wide end of the paper triangle on a pen or pencil and roll. Dot the end with glue to secure. Slide off the pen or pencil and hold secure for 30 seconds or until dry. Make a few more and string them up to make your own bracelet or necklace!

Make-Your-Own Patches Kit. Foster self-expression and individuality by providing the tools needed to turn those ordinary jeans into a one-of-a kind fashion statement.
Materials: fabric pieces, fusible interfacing, fabric pens, puff paint. Make it special with embroidery thread and needles for an older child (8+).
Directions: Cut fabric to size desired patch size and follow instructions on fusible interfacing. Adorn your patch with drawings using fabric pens. Older children may enjoy trying embroidery or adorning with puff paints. Add a name or personal symbol using a favorite color of embroidery floss or paint.

T-shirt Making Kits. This is a CCM classic and something the whole family can do together. Self-confidence will blossom when creating and wearing a personalized fashion statement.
Materials: plain white T-shirts, fabric crayons, standard white copy paper, iron, ironing surface (adult will need to iron)
Directions: Begin by sketching a few images on scrap paper to get warmed up. Once you’re ready to draw your tee shirt image use the fabric crayons directly on paper. Remember your image will flip and be reversed when you iron it onto the shirt. Follow ironing and drying instructions included on the side of the crayon box. Enjoy your personalized tee shirt design!

Decoupage Kit. Making something old new again is not just fun – it models reusing and recycling! Creative hands will rearrange and alter materials for self-satisfaction while creating a resourceful piece of art.
Materials: magazines, scissors, Mod Podge (school glue works too), a recycle object to decorate (oatmeal canister, box, vase, tray, any ugly thing that could be made useful or beautiful)
Directions: Find a container or object you’d love to give a new look. Next, sort through magazine and scrap papers for images that tie into a special theme. Try personalizing your object with old photos mixed with fancy papers or by using favorite colors. Coat your piece with Mod Podge and layer with papers.

Make-Your-Own-Oobleck Kit
Materials: 2 parts cornstarch, 1 part water, and bowl
Directions: Pour cornstarch into bowl. Mix the water with the cornstarch. The mixture should look like a solid, but when you grab a handful, it will become runny and drip out of your hand. If the mixture is too runny and will not form a solid ball, add more cornstarch. If it is too hard add a little more water (begin with 1⁄4 cup). You can make as much or as little “oobleck” as needed – just use the right proportions.

Make-Your-Own-Gloop Kit
Materials: Measuring cup, 1 cup of white glue (preferably Elmer’s Glue), Plastic container, 1 cup of Liquid starch
Directions: Pour 1 cup of glue in a plastic container. Stir in 1-cup liquid starch, adding a little at a time. Stir the mixture until it holds together like putty. (Test it with your fingers: if it is too sticky, add more starch in small amounts until it is smooth and rubbery.) Have fun pulling it, stretching it, and bouncing it. Store the “Gloop” in a plastic bag or an airtight container.

Make-You-Own-Playdough Kit
Materials: 4 cups flour, 3⁄4 cup salt, 2pkgs unsweetened powdered drink mix, 2 cups water, and 1⁄2 cup oil
How to: Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add wet ingredients and stir. If the dough is sticky knead in enough flour to make desired consistency. Store in an airtight container.

Other tips to help you put together your kits:

Send a personal message. Hand made gifts are special because they represent the giver. Model the idea you are promoting by making a your own gift tag. Draw on photo tags or cut down recycle cards and put your name on the back
Give the gift of time. If your sister’s family is not so crafty, include a coupon for your time to help get the project rolling.
Get kids involved. This is a wonderful opportunity to model the true meaning of gift-giving. Children will love to help create the gift kits, so don’t hesitate to involve them in every step of the process—selecting, packaging, labeling and, of course, card making!

Where to Get the Stuff:

www.joann.com Good supply of general craft products.
www.enasco.com  Go to Arts and Crafts section.
www.kolo.com  Simple photo albums.
www.pearlriver.com  Excellent selection of papers in Paper Products and Stationery section.

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