Making Crafts That Teach

Mertens she started Ticche & Bea, a company that develops toys and craft kits for children. She says it's her mission to encourage children to make crafts and create memories.

"Crafts have come a long way since I was a kid, and manufacturers are really thinking about how to both inspire creativity and help kids gain fine motor skills, which translate into better math, language and reading skills," Mary says.

"The earlier you can help your kids tackle fractions, the better. That's why I like the Playful Chef ($42). It comes in a great backpack and includes all the accessories that a child needs to make simple recipes. Kids learn to follow directions, but they also learn the basics of fractions, which I love," she says.

Design-A-Doll ($49) teaches youngsters the basics of sewing. The kit comes with everything that a young sewer needs to make the doll a multitude of outfits, but even more fun -- they get to create the doll's hair and choose her facial transfer -- really giving the doll the child's own unique look. "

When a child learns a skill like sewing or knitting, not only are they having fun but they really learn those good fine motor skills that do translate to the critical thinking that they need as they get older," Mary adds. The kit comes with an 80 minute DVD with chapters, so they can work on the doll in steps and have hours of fun with it.

The Clementine Art Studios created the Clementine Collage Kit ($38) from the classes that they teach in Boulder, Colorado. It has everything your child needs to create some of that wonderful refrigerator art. The kit comes with "no glue' collage boards -- great art without the mess. The packaging is all re-useable as well. "We need to show kids how much fun it is to create art,." Mary says.

Encourage some "first class" creativity in your child with our Handy Notecard Kit ($28). This retro-chic kit lets children create personalized postcards, birthday cards, thank you cards... or any card a little correspondent can imagine! Unlike other note cards packed in flimsy paper or plastic, ours is housed in a deliciously vintage, tastefully tailored case you can use for storage or toy toting long after the last card is sent. Each kit comes complete with 12 blank postcards, 12 note cards & envelopes, a set of 8 decorative "stamper" markers in fun shapes and colors, and a cute little Piggy Story charm

All of these kits are available at the Red Balloon Company in Chicago at 773-489-9800 or on

And Mary has a suggestion for a family project: a Memory Quilt. Are your drawers overflowing with rock concert, sports team or school t-shirts you just can't part with? Are great memories tied to each one? Then, clean out those draws but don't throw out the memories; turn them into a soft luxurious quilt or throw. Every time you'll wrap yourself up, you'll be transported back in time.

How does it work? Order the custom sewing package and you'll receive a template to cut out your material, a gift certificate, a gift card, and a mailing envelope to send it to us. Custom sewing Package costs $200.

For you "do-it-yourselfers," they'll send you all the cut pieces of the quilt (no cutting, can you imagine?) a cutting template, very specific directions, and a mailing envelope just in case you get stuck. DIY Package is $120. The quilt is bordered and backed in soft fabric.

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