The brightly colored box dropped with a thud out of the mailbag. "Kiwi Crate," read the label.
We peeked inside, intrigued. Tucked beneath layers of tissue paper was a treasure sure to spark a little someone's imagination.
There were the makings of pinwheels and stained-glass windows. Even a canvas tote, ready for tie-dye. Along with this came not an instruction sheet, but rather something called an "inspiration sheet."
"We don't want it to be too prescriptive. We give handrails in case you need that, but we try to make sure the materials allow kids to follow their imaginations," said Kiwi Crate's founder, Sandra Oh Lin, who launched her mail-order creativity-kit enterprise just a few months ago.
"I tend to be a busy, very well- intentioned parent. I like hands-on enrichment," said Lin, formerly eBay's general manager of fashion. "I found myself gathering up all these materials for various projects, and thought, 'Why not share this with all my friends?' "
So, for $19.95 a month, you can subscribe to a fully decked-out kit for a budding imaginer, age 3 to 6. Each kit includes materials for two to three projects, and has a theme: dinosaurs, say, or colors.
It's a swell solution for anyone pressed for time and ideas, but it got us thinking about a DIY version of the creativity kit.
We called Rebecca Neumann, an art therapist in Portland, Maine, who writes a blog called an Art Farm (anartfarm.org), which often delves into artmaking with children. She assembled a marvelous list of artful objects you could tuck into your own box and barely spend a dollar.
While Neumann loved the "magic" of the Kiwi Crate, she says you can re-create one with not too much effort.
Every home with a young child, she thinks, should have a special box or drawer where a child can find safe, open-ended materials for creating whatever he chooses. It's important, too, that this creativity corner be simple enough so a child is not overwhelmed, and be a lovely place to visit.
"That's a metaphor to the child for respect and value," says Neumann. "You are teaching, from the very beginning, that these tools require great respect, and artmaking matters."
If you fill that box with simple treasures found around the home, a child will "decide what she wants to do with it. Follow her lead," says Neumann.
Neumann refills her art box every couple of weeks, finely balancing a child's comfort in the familiar with the joy of discovering something new.
What's most important, no matter where the artmaking materials come from: "None of us are trying to create future artists, we're trying to support the life skills that come from the artmaking process," Neumann says. "We need to encourage this, and not put so many bookends on little people and their rich imaginations."
Excuse us while we go fill up a box with all the creativity we can find.