Vacation Exploration: Grocery Store Gifts

grocery-store-gifts“I just want something interesting and educational….not just another piece of plastic.  You know?”

“I know they like to do art and science stuff…but the kits are expensive.”

“Help!  I need a present for my 4-year-old niece and I don’t have time to shop.”

These are all things I’ve heard lately as a parent and museum educator as we count down to the winter holidays. All of us have the best of intentions as gift-givers, but not necessarily the budget, time, or inspiration to back it up. The unlikely solution?  Your neighborhood grocery store.

As I strolled down the aisles of our local supermarket recently, I made up a game for myself:  how many cool art or science “preschool activity kits” could I put together using only items available at a typical grocery store?  I was thrilled to concoct several such kits in my head that I knew would thrill my own kids if they found them under the Christmas tree. Below are some of the winners. Notice my recurring suggestion of including a plastic tablecloth with each kit – it’s a lot easier to find time and space to do these activities in a busy household if you know that your table is protected and you can throw the whole work surface in the trash afterwards!

Fizzing Colors Explorations Kit:

  • Roaster pan (or two)
  • Turkey baster
  • Box of baking soda
  • Bottle of vinegar
  • Package of food coloring, assorted colors
  • Optional: disposable cups, i.e. Dixie cups
  • Optional: plastic tablecloth

Follow this link to figure out how it works:

Paper Marbling Art Kit:

  • Can of shaving cream (traditional white foamy kind – not gel)
  • Popsicle sticks or craft sticks (sometimes located in kitchen supplies aisle; sometimes found in art supplies area)
  • One package of food coloring, assorted colors
  • Paper plates
  • Plastic tablecloth
  • Optional: cardstock or heavy paper if available

Find the instructions for this crowd-pleasing activity at:

Candy Engineering Kit:

  • Bag of gumdrops, spice drops, or marshmallows
  • Package of toothpicks
  • Optional: Package of skewers, pretzel, straws, or another second building material
  • Optional: list of building challenges, such as this example from PBS Kids:

Tinkering Tray Kit:

  • One muffin tin (disposable or reusable) or a disposable chip and dip tray (grocery stores often have these in the seasonal section!)
  • Various art/office/kitchen supplies, such as:
    • Paper clips
    • Fridge magnets
    • Clothespins
    • Cotton balls
    • Toothpicks
    • Play dough
    • Post its
    • Chalk
    • Rubber bands
    • Erasers
    • Sponges
    • Kid scissors

Even though a typical household may have these things around, giving a kid their own special “tinker tray” with dedicated supplies that are just for them can provide hours of fun and exploration! For further inspiration, enter the term “tinker tray” into Pinterest and put your feet up.

Bubbles Exploration Kit:

  • Roaster pan (or two)
  • Turkey baster
  • Small bottle of blue Dawn dishwashing liquid
  • Slatted spoon, spatula or similar
  • Plastic tablecloth
  • Optional: pipe cleaners (often found in the office supplies/kids’ art supplies section)

Instructions: just mix up a big roaster pan of warm water and dish soap, and blow bubbles to your heart’s content!  With an adult’s help, see what else in the kitchen can be used to make bubbles.  Funnels? Forks? Potato mashers?  The possibilities are limitless.

Have a safe and happy holiday and don’t be scared to make a mess!

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