Kids use their imagination to create
Ava Berry, Dena Hirschberg and their daughters first got mad, then they got creative. After buying nearly every art kit available as gifts for their daughters' friends, Berry and Hirshberg felt frustrated by products that hamper children's imagination.
How could kids make "a Louie Coutier armoire out of three feathers and a pipe cleaner?" Hirshberg asks. "A lot of the stuff out there has to look exactly like what's on the box," Berry says.
In response, the two Chicago moms started their own company, Made By Hands, in October. Their art kits, which retail for $17.95 each, are full of potential. There are four in the Make-Your-Own line-card kits, one for girls and one for boys, a puppet kit and a frame kit. Each is packed with the raw materials, such as construction paper, pop-out shapes, holographic paper and frames, but none comes with directions. That way, the moms say, kids focus on the process rather than the product. As Hirschberg overheard one mom say: "It's limited only by your imagination."
Berry and Hirschberg even built a better box to package their kits. Hand-painted by Chicago artist and children's author Charise Mericele Harper, the box itself is an original piece of art. Berry says it's simple and low tech, with a velcro opening. Kids don't need to ask for help, they need "a sense of independence and a little control over their lives," Hirschberg says.
Ella Berry and Marlee Nork, both 5, and Ella's little sister Lana, 3, serve as the company's quality control department. They tell their moms when a kit needs more hearts and offer firsthand research on how boys play in class.
Spurred by their mom's success, the girls have started their own business-the Friendship Company. They hold business meetings in Ella's bedroom, carry cardboard briefcases and flash business cards complete with titles-Lana is vice president of giggles.
The girls get paid for their contributions, Hirschberg says. "[Marlee] earns $1, and that's good money for a 5-year-old." The cash goes into her college fund.
Hirschberg says the card-making kits have a side benefit: They provide "a germ of civility." Kids are making cards as thank-you notes and letters for their grandparents. "As they play with it, it gets more and more complicated," Hirschberg says. "A 5-year-old can figure out you put two hearts together to make a butterfly. Older kids put them together to make a beautiful garden."
Make-Your-Own kits are available at Chicago area specialty toy stores. For information, call (773) 281-1400 or visit www.made-by-hands.com.
-- Jessica Herman