Arts & Scraps in Detroit has Hands-On Fun Learning for Kids

Content brought to you by Excellent Schools Detroit

Tucked on Detroit's east side is a mosaic-covered craft supply shop that's way crazier, more colorful – and, by miles, cheaper – than any big box.

In Arts & Scraps' snug retail store, walls of buckets and boxes teem with materials just begging kids to make art. Whether for class, or just for themselves.

"S.T.E.A.M. is now the thing," says store manager Deborah Bean. You know S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and math), right? "This," Bean explains, "adds arts to it." And, at A&S, the "E" goes double for "environment."

That's because every shred of stuff is salvaged, from ribbon and craft paint to raffle tickets and old CDs. It's all donated or recycled industrial material. In fact, this nonprofit, which has been at it since 1989, keeps 28 tons of such stuff out of landfills a year.

Repurposed craft material

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Of this weird waste, some items are now creative staples. Like sturdy cardboard cones. Once thread spools for manufacturing socks, of all things, they're reborn as anything from puppet bases to rocket ships. But the black sticky oval is the star.

Arts & Scraps

The 4-by-5-inch foam piece is car gasket scrap – and it's a "hallmark" product, as warehouse manager Matt Reaume puts it. "It's all inclusive. No tape. No glue."

Music to parents' ears! Just peel off the protector, and it's ready to stick "down" as decor – or "up" as joints (they're industrial strength, after all) for 3D artworks.

Some of the other stuff you'll spot? Mardi Gras beads, jigsaw puzzle pieces, acrylic paint, CDs (discs and cases), cassette and VHS tapes, old calendars, crayons, fabric scrap and samples, wine corks, bottle caps, raffle tickets Easter eggs and fake plastic grass, baskets, linoleum samples, die-cut foam in fun shapes – and loads, loads more.

A big bag is about the size of a grocery bag; a small, about half. Some items, like fabric, cost a bit more and can't be put in a bag. Why do you have to pay for the bags if it's a nonprofit? The fees are minimal but help keep A&S afloat, Reaume says. Even so, those funds only cover a portion: Operations are about $70,000 a year, he says, and the "proceeds" offset about $40K.

Another perk here: Kids can experiment with new hobbies, like jewelry making or sewing. "It's a good start place," says Bean. And, at a few bucks per bag, "A parent can't get upset" if a kid quits, "because you haven't spent enough."

A better way to learn

While A&S helps with many a school diorama and science project, too, the real lessons here are more subtle. And, Reaume points out, research is supporting the perks.

"Students will retain information much, much longer if they learn it, No. 1, in a hands-on way," he says, "and, No. 2, if they're able to utilize their creativity."

This was no accident. Created by retired teacher Peg Upmeyer, this organization is often sought for its class craft kits and complementary curriculum pointers.

Yet whatever the project, the key, says Reaume, is "the fun quotient."

Arts & Scraps helpful hints

That's a concept that fuels Scrap Junction, too. Located just left of the shop, this room is mishmash of machines, all made from castoffs. The Junk Xylophone has thick PVC pipes, for instance, cut to varying sizes and dangling from a wood table, all making noises when whapped with makeshift mallets. It's a cool intro to sound and octaves (auditory physics – tah-dah!).

Fancy a little history and geography? Try the puzzle map of Michigan. And budding tinkerers will love the Inclined Plane Wall, where they notch old roof gutters and dryer vents against a pegboard in zigzag patterns, ultimately testing how fast a tennis ball rolls at different angles.

Fun activities and ideas

The sky is truly the limit for what you can create. But here are a few ideas to get those juices going, thanks in part to both Reaume and Bean.

  • Rain sticks: Fill an empty paper-towel tube with small objects. Use stickies to affix plastic jug lids to either side. Decorate. Young kids love hearing different materials inside (pebbles vs. pennies, for instance). Shake in rhythm with a favorite song.
  • Make fish: Try a CD body, Mylar paper for fins and button eyes. Dive into the ecosystem, Reaume says: Ask if your kid's fish eats plants or other fish. Which needs sharper teeth? What can your kid use to create those? Then, show her a piece of foam and ask, "Is this good for a fish? Why?"
  • Robots rule: It's surefire: "You can put a whole bunch of things in front of a child and say, 'Make me a robot,'" Bean says. "All of the sudden, they can visualize it." Let them go, rules-free.
  • Puppets: Use a cardboard sock cone for the base and scrap fabric to build a body, topped with a foam oval head. Is it happy? Sad? How can kids capture that? Have them put on a little show.
  • Set the scene: Snag a spare box, foam stickies and scrap stuff to build a diorama. What would your kid's dream home look like? A monster party on the moon? The food chain? Utopia?
  • Mask it: Some foam stickies have openings that can strategically be eyeholes for masks. Gussy them up by pressing on feathers, Mardi Gras beads and torn paper bits.
  • Images of you: Can kids create a self-portrait? A picture of a dancer? Uncle Bob? Plant a little ideas seed, Bean says, but "Let the kids develop it. It's gratifying."

Whatever mission brings you to A&S, Reaume has this insight for parents – especially those who say, "I'm not creative" ("I can't tell you how many times I hear that!").

"All the parent has to do is to be as curious as the child," he says. "Youngsters are instinctively built to ask questions. Their thirst for knowledge is insanely greater than adults. But parents inherently have that same thirst.

"It's a really, really good opportunity for parents to connect with children at that same level."

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