The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum canceled its popular “Hogswood Forest School of Magic” summer camp because of COVID-19 concerns, but it figured out a way to package some of the experience and send it in the mail. Call it day camp in a box.
With many Minnesota camps canceled, modified or moved to Zoom, Twin Cities museums, nonprofits and craft workshops are packaging STEM activities, magical science experiments and art projects for kids to do at home.
We tested a variety of kits on real kids (our own) to see if the camps-in-a-box could keep them occupied, and for how long. Now, if they could only figure out how to box up a camp counselor or two …
For engineering explorers
What it is: The Works museum in Bloomington makes STEM concepts fun and accessible with hands-on exhibits and design challenges. While currently closed, the museum is selling four “Engineering Kits” to make kaleidoscopes, catapults and creatures that light up or move. Kits include all the materials, access to an online instructional video as well as a Works educator’s Zoom “office hours” for troubleshooting.
What we tried: We made a Wiggle Bot to learn about electrical circuits by connecting a battery to a motor to make a plastic cup “dance.” The 10-minute instructional video was engaging and clear, but could have included more how-to close-ups. It was fun for both a 4-year-old and parent assistant (the kit also came in super handy when we had to do a minor emergency car repair and used a few of the pipe cleaners).
Time: It took about an hour, including time to decorate and play with the bot.
Details: Order kits online and pick them up at the Works in Bloomington or Turtle Lake Elementary School in Shoreview. Available through Aug. 21.
For aspiring magicians
What it is: The Arboretum’s education department created a series of fantastical science experiments and projects to explore the natural world for its “Hogswood” day camp. The boxed activity kit includes all of the materials and instructions for days of Harry Potter-style fun, with color-coded folders and carefully packaged zip-top bags.
What we tried: Activities include wand-making, dueling games and concocting potions like invisible ink and color-changing lemonade. One of our favorite activities was dissecting an owl pellet, which was part of the “Care of Magical Creatures” curriculum.
“You get to do a lot of stuff each day, and it keeps coming,” said our 6-year-old tester. “It’s kind of exciting. It’s like a witch school and a learning school all in one.”
Time: Several hours each day for a week. Some projects need more adult help than others, but instructions are easy to follow.
Cost: Pay what you can sliding scale of $75, $100 or $125.
Details: It’s suggested for ages 6-12. Pick up on certain dates or have it mailed to your house for $15 shipping. The Arboretum is also offering an “Outdoor Adventure Challenge” activity box.
For crafty Beatles fans
What it is: Kenwood studio Artrageous Adventures was set to offer a weeklong “Yellow Submarine” day camp at Sabes Jewish Community Center this summer, with art activities inspired by Beatles songs. Even though it was canceled, you can create the experience at home with their “Artrageous Boxed Adventure.”
What we tried: The box includes stuffed manila envelopes for each day of the week, with song suggestions, craft materials and even themed snack ideas. We made a strawberry magnet from Crayola Model Magic while listening to “Strawberry Fields” and turned a paper plate into a porthole while grooving to “Yellow Submarine.” Kid testers found some projects (and Beatles tunes — such critics!) more appealing than others, but we hit a sweet spot while crafting a heart mobile and bopping to “All You Need Is Love.”
Time: Several hours each day for a week.
Details: Geared to grades K-5. Pick up at the studio or have it shipped for $10. Artrageous also sells less-expensive single boxed projects and a subscription for monthly boxes.
For a mom-and-me experience
What it is: Local jeweler Larissa Loden created a mail-order Quarantine Craft Club with adults in mind, but decided to add several brightly colored kids’ club offerings. Each kit includes beads, stretchy string and other materials to make a bracelet spelling out sayings like “Be Kind” and “Shine Bright.” (Adults can order ones that spell out everything from swear words to “World’s Okayest Mom.”)
What we tried: The kits were a cozy way to spend time during a rainy afternoon and would be fun for a “slumber party” night. Our 6-year-old tester needed help only with the knot-tying and sealing at the end. The result was super cute. Each kit comes with a sticker (for adults and kids) and coloring page (kids only).
Time: About an hour.
Cost: $25 for a kids’ kit, $30 for an adult kit.
Details: The kits are restocked each Saturday.
For open-ended creativity
What it is: St. Paul nonprofit ArtStart, which runs the ArtScraps Reuse Center, began boxing up at-home activities as soon as distance learning began. The kits were so popular that it decided to create and sell dozens of themed “Creativity Kits” geared to different ages.
What we tried: Our 2-year-old tester tried out a “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” Toddler Creativity Kit, which came with an instruction sheet, a copy of the board book and little musical instruments to play while an adult read. It was a huge hit, inspiring multiple readings, and each time he got more into making different instrument sounds while yelling “Chicka Chicka BOOM BOOM!” Our 3- and 6-year-old testers tried an “Art and Color Kit” in pink. It included a collection of paper, fabric, stickers, beads and other supplies, glue and a pair of rosy-handled scissors. It kept the girls busy creating collages with minimal parental involvement.
Time: Half-hour to more than an hour, depending on age.
Cost: Most kits are $25, mini kits are $10.
Details: ArtStart will mail kits for a shipping fee, and also offers curbside pickup at the ArtStart studio if you call and set up a time.
For Waldorf-style fun
What it is: Linden Hills craft store and workshop Heartfelt is holding its summer camps via Zoom this year and also offering a lengthy menu of craft projects to go, heavy on wood, felt and other natural materials.
What we tried: Our 3- and 6 year-old testers tried out wooden fairy door kits — which came assembled and ready to decorate with little pots of acrylic paint. They happily painted away, were impressed by the sparkly colors and were excited to install them on backyard trees. Decorating a butterfly mobile with watercolor crayons and glitter turned out to be too advanced for our 2-year-old tester, but he liked playing pretend with the wooden butterflies.
Time: About 30 to 45 minutes for engaged kids, 5 minutes for a toddler.
Cost: Prices vary per project, from $10 to $38.
Details: Many of the projects are geared for specific ages, from preschoolers to age 10 and up. Call ahead (612-877-8090) to order and pick up. Delivery free in Linden Hills, for $5 to nearby neighborhoods only.