Several stores around town offer free craft sessions for kids in hopes that parents will do a little shopping. We hammered, glued, and glittered so we could report on the activities, and picked up some light bulbs and magnetic letters at the same time.

Home Depot (www.homedepot.com) offers a new wooden craft project the first Saturday of the month. The wood and nails come in a kit, and hammers and glue are set out on a large table in front of the store. Sometimes we have to wait awhile for space at the table, and it can get hot in line.

We have been taking Dash since he was a toddler and he is now fairly skilled at wielding that hammer. We have made fire engines, calendars, and race-car tracks over the years. Dash still needs help interpreting the instructions of course, but so does his father, Rob. One of Rob’s favorite jokes is “there hasn’t been a good Jewish carpenter since Jesus!” I’m not much better although I grew up with handy parents. My expertise ends at hanging a picture frame. Luckily, the directions are pretty easy to follow and a couple of helpers are always there if you get stuck. For toddler Zora, we just let her pound on her project with the hammer, which she always enjoys.

When the project is complete, the helpers give you a certificate and a collectible pin (in case you need proof of your prowess with tools). In the past, Dash has received a Home Depot apron with his name written on it, but they do not seem to have them every time. The apron now resides in our costume box for when we bust out our tools and play construction. The projects are usually suitable for painting and decorating at home.

Lakeshore Learning (www.lakeshorelearning.com), a teachers’ supply store, sponsors a craft project most Saturday afternoons. Sometimes there is a line to participate, but it moves quickly. The project usually features craft items sold in the store. We’ve made felt purses and kaleidoscopes decorated with plastic gems and foam alphabet stickers, for example. Taking the kids to Lakeshore is a bit dangerous for me because the store has the coolest games, manipulatives, and art supplies, and I always find something the kids can’t do without. Join their club to receive coupons and notification of sales via e-mail.

Addison’s neighbors Maria and Victoria introduced us to Michaels (www.michaels.com) in-store events. It’s a great way for kids to sample different arts and crafts and find out which they might be interested in pursuing further. You can check out their website to look for upcoming events. Many of them center around holiday gifts. For Father’s Day alone they have seven different craft ideas. You can create a book, make a wallet, decorate a frame, handcraft a card or T-shirt. Some are free. Some you have to purchase the item, but decorations are free — still a steal since according to Maria, Victoria always uses her money’s worth of stickers to cover the nominal material fee.

The store sets up a craft table at the front. The couple of times we’ve participated there wasn’t much of a wait and the instructors were patient and accommodating even with toddler Addison, still a bit too young at under 2. Most crafts are designed for children 3 to 6, though some are geared toward the 6 and up crowd.

Michaels also sponsors an online kids club called The Knack, devoted to craft ideas complete with simple instructions that you can do at home. If you join, they e-mail a monthly newsletter and store coupons as well.

Unfortunately, just before this article was about to go to print, we found out that Maria and Victoria went to check out the American Girl card event at Michaels and were disappointed that there was nothing set up in the usual spot. The trip wasn’t completely in vain however. After talking to the store manager they were escorted to a previously undiscovered (at least by them) arts and crafts room at the back of the store where they found boxes of card kits just waiting to be made and Victoria was sent home with several in hand.

We highly recommend these store-sponsored projects. Aside from the fact that they are all free or low-cost, someone else does the planning, preparation and clean up!

See our blog for links to the stores’ craft project calendars as well as a calendar, helpful links and more adventures of our preschool- and toddler-aged children. Go to smatoz.blogspot.com.

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