Cheap Kids' Crafts

Cheap kids' crafts, as most parents and teachers know, keep young hands and minds busy. Fortunately, many grade-schoolers like projects that accomplish these goals. While pawing through the toy shelves, we found a number of cheap crafts that don't require a major outlay in order to put a child's creativity to good use. An added bonus: once cheap kids' crafts are assembled, they continue to provide opportunities for creative play and display.

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Our Top Pick

Paperoni Deluxe Studio
Our Picks
Paperoni Deluxe Studio

When it comes to getting the most entertainment value for your dollar, crafts are often a winner in the cheap toy category. An added bonus: cheap craft toys keep little hands busy and restless minds occupied, especially on those long, dreary winter days. The Paperoni Deluxe Studio craft toy is an example of this premise at work.

Paperoni Deluxe Studio crafting kits are based around small spiral rolls of colored paper. A modern take on paper quilling -- without all the work of actually winding the paper -- these cheap craft sets allow children to create their own masterpieces using adhesive templates or 3-D forms. In our Paperoni Deluxe Studio review, it was apparent that our child testers, along with a big sister, took to Paperoni right away.

The enclosed instructions proved easy for our young testers to follow and soon they were off, designing cats and dogs and deciding where to place the sticker "faces." The cheap Paperoni Deluxe Studio set we used for our Paperoni review came with a slew of pre-cut paper rolls as well as several uncut paper "noodles" and a paper cutting tool. The paper cutter seemed child-safe, if a bit flimsy, and it was a big hit with the kids.

Although our Paperoni reviewers jumped into their projects with enthusiasm, Paperoni's shortcomings soon became evident. As one Paperoni review on Toys R Us reports, the adhesive forms lost their stickiness the more they were used or touched, making them less than ideal for multiple uses. Reviews on Walmart are mixed. One father complains that the paper rolls kept falling off of the templates but other parents write in reviews that the cheap craft toy works as intended and keeps their children engaged.

For our young artists, the the Paperoni review experience was mostly positive. Our child testers had a great time creating, didn't get too frustrated when a paper roll or two fell off, and entertained themselves for a few hours.

The Paperoni Deluxe Cutting Studio we were using came with a 2-D template, a 3-D form, and two clear sticky templates for creating your own design or printing one from the company website. When the templates were quickly used up, the kit's usefulness was too. The ability to purchase extra blank templates might help extend the fun, but at just under $10 for the Paperoni crafting kit, we felt we got our money's worth. Still, the appeal may wane if you have to keep buying supplies.

Harumika Starter Kit

Harumika Starter Kit Review

Harumika fashion sets first hit the U.S. runway in the summer of 2009. These cheap design kits were already popular in Japan when Bandai introduced them to the western market, and if our Harumika starter kits reviews by child testers are any indicator, American girls find them just as captivating.

We undertook our own Harumika starter kit review by testing the Inspirations Starter Style Set, which comes with a miniature plastic dress form, stylus, fabric swatches, accessories, and sticker embellishments. Our 7-year-old budding fashionistas draped and styled the provided fabric squares and trims into their own clothing creations, using a handy tucking tool and the slots in the back of the form. While doing their Harumika review, the girls particularly seemed to enjoy crafting belts and necklaces out of the stickers included in the kit.

Overall, the Harumika Starter Style Set review was affirmative, although one of our child testers did say she wished the dress form had a head and limbs, making it more like a real person This is feedback Bandai must be hearing often because the company recently launched a line of Harumika mannequins, complete with wigs and extra slots in the arms and legs for making pants and jackets. The mannequin line retails for about $15 compared to less than $10 for the different starter sets.

Users of Harumika style sets overwhelmingly post positive comments in reviews. One 13-year-old girl posting a Harumika starter style sets review on Target's site likes that her inability to draw doesn't hold her back from creating fashions. On Amazon, a review notes that you can extend the life of your cheap Harumika starter set with trips to the local craft store. Young artists can also purchase Harumika Style Accent packs of fabric and accessories for about $6 each.

If you're looking for a cheap arts-and-crafts-style toy that can be used again and again, and added on to at little expense, then Harumika style sets may be the right gift for the holidays.

Mini Mandala Designer

Mini Mandala Designer Review

Mandalas are patterned, circular diagrams that have their origin in the sacred art of the Hindu and Buddhist religions. The word "mandala" means "circle" in the Sanskrit language. Despite their spiritual beginnings, mandalas have worked their way into mainstream, modern life due to their meditative appeal. Enter Ravensburger's Mini Mandala Designer, a cheap art toy that sells for about $10. We asked several children to join us for a Mini Mandala Designer review.

These small and cheap stencil kits come neatly packaged with a tracing pen, colored pencils, and drawing paper in a handy plastic case. Mini Mandala Designers allow youngsters to create their own mandala drawings using a rotating stencil wheel. We had our 7-year-old child testers try out the Romantic Mini Mandala Designer. Although these kits are intended for ages 6 and up, Ravensburger also makes Junior Mandala Designer kits (starting at $13/ month, Amazon) for children aged 4 and up.

As we started the Mini Mandala Designer review, the cheap art toy seemed straightforward enough but ultimately presented the steepest learning curve of any of the cheap toys our child testers vetted. Users are supposed to choose a stencil shape and then trace it repeatedly at different intervals around the stencil wheel to create a pattern. But unclear instructions even had the adults at our review session scratching their heads, struggling to grasp the concept. It took the 7-year-olds even longer to catch on, despite assistance from the grown-ups. Once the toy testers figured out how to use the Mini Mandala Designer, however, they enjoyed exercising their artistic talents. One of our child testers said during the review that she liked how the drawing process calmed her down and relaxed her.

It was apparent from our Mini Mandala Designer review that one drawback is the amount of dexterity required to use it. The stencils are small, making them difficult to trace cleanly, and the slightest jolt causes the wheel to turn mid-trace. A review on Amazon reports that it frustrated the child who received it last year as a Christmas present. In a review on One Zillion Books, the blog's author writes of having trouble finding a replacement pen for tracing when the original was misplaced. Despite such challenges, another parent notes in a review on Amazon that the stencil kit captivated her son and daughter.

The Mini Mandala Designer would be a suitable gift for detail-oriented children with an artistic bent, but it may discourage those with limited patience or unsteady hands.

Fashion Angels

Young tweens and budding teens often take an interest in all things fashion and beauty. The Fashion Angels Make-up and Hair Sketch Portfolio (starting at $9/ month, Amazon) will hit the mark with this target group in a way that's age-appropriate, according to Fashion Angels reviews. Wanna-be fashionistas can trace, sketch, and color away, using the included stencils and templates to give on-paper make-overs. Young artists get creative license to try out limitless looks without a parent ever saying, "You're not going to the mall looking like that."

To test the appeal of the Fashion Angels Make-up and Hair Sketch Portfolio, we once again enlisted the help of our child toy expert, eight-year-old Emma, for a Fashion Angels review. Right off the bat, she seemed disappointed that it didn't come with colored pencils. Once she fished some out of her mom's art stash, there was no slowing her down. She used the booklet's stencils and pre-printed templates to create a handful of drawings. Her girls had long, wavy hair and short, bobbed hair. She colored them with green eye shadow, long red nails, and metallic gold hair accessories. Each one got a name and a story. Based on our review, it was easy to envision this entertaining her for quite some time.

Online Fashion Angels reviews paint a similar picture. One mom who posted a review on Amazon says she enjoys designing looks alongside her seven-year-old daughter. Another review on the site pronounces it excellent on-the-go entertainment, and advises that gel pens make a good alternative to colored pencils. In a Fashion Angels review on Barnes & Noble, one grandparent writes that this portfolio was a great distraction for a bedridden grandchild. We didn't find any reviews that assign it less than four out of five stars.

At a cost of just under $10, the Fashion Angels Make-up and Hair Sketch Portfolio is straightforward fun for girls exploring the world of beauty. It would be an appealing travel or rainy-day distraction. Make sure to get a set of colored pencils or gel pens to go with it, however -- the portfolio has no entertainment value without them.

Awesome Origami

Awesome Origami (starting at $15) is a complete origami-making kit-in-a-box by Creativity for Kids, a division of Faber-Castell. The kit includes 100 origami paper squares, child-safe scissors, a glue stick, wooden craft sticks, and a variety of embellishments, such as rhinestones, feathers, and wiggly eyes. The photo-inclusive directions are straightforward and simple to follow, and projects are sorted by level of difficulty.

In an Awesome Origami review, our child toy tester, at 8 years old, was well within the manufacturer's recommended age group of 6 and up, but was challenged to create even the simple projects without the help of someone older. Despite the relative difficulty, she and her older sister enjoyed fashioning origami pinwheels and trying their hand at harder creations, like the "dancing man" their mom ended up finishing during their review. Our child tester seemed most enamored by the plethora of decorations and doo-dads the kit came with, and our Awesome Origami review ended with her looking forward to decorating her masterpieces.

Online Awesome Origami reviews are sparse, even though it's sold through several big-name retailers. Of the reviews we did find, the majority are favorable. On Amazon, the Awesome Origami craft kit earned an average of four out of five stars from seven reviews. Nine reviews at Barnes & Noble award the kit an average four out of five stars, but no written feedback was accessible on the site.

One Awesome Origami review on Amazon comments favorably on its staying power, noting that the niece who received the kit as a gift continued to enjoy it months afterward. Many reviewers also note that the kit allows children to give creativity free reign. On the down side, one writer who posted an review on Kmart expresses concern that the craft supplies would quickly be depleted but also relief knowing they could be inexpensively replenished.

For a fun quiet-time craft that inspires imagination and introduces a new art form to kids, the Awesome Origami kit may just fit the bill. For younger children or those without an abundance of patience, expect that you'll need to stay nearby to lend a hand.

Friend 2 Friend Friendship Bracelet Kit

Crafty kids and BFFs across the globe will find lots to love about the Friend 2 Friend Friendship Bracelet Kit (starting at $10, Amazon) by Alex Toys, according to Friend 2 Friend Friendship Bracelet Kit reviews we found online and in our own testing. A bracelet-weaving tutorial in a box, this arts-and-crafts kit comes with two color-coded foam looms, a rainbow of embroidery thread, and tools and beads for embellishment. The manufacturer recommends this toy for kids aged 7 to 16, although children on the young side of that spectrum will probably need help. In our Friendship Bracelet Kit reviews, our eight-year-old toy tester found it took some time to ramp up her bracelet-making skills, and she needed the guidance of her mom to get the hang of it. Once she got the pattern down, she said it was pretty easy and lots of fun to do.

Other users' experiences vary. One mom posting a Friend 2 Friend Friendship Bracelet Kit review on Amazon says her older teens found the kit challenging but another Friend 2 Friend Friendship Bracelet Kit review reports that a six-year-old was able to create her own jewelry with a little help from mom. Many adults found it a fun activity to do with or alongside their children, according to Friend 2 Friend Friendship Bracelet Kit reviews, and some note they even bought one for themselves. For those who find the directions unclear, one Friend 2 Friend Friendship Bracelet Kit reviewer commenting on Amazon recommends watching the instructional video available online.

Our child tester and several online commenters entertained themselves for hours with this kit, but there is a learning curve involved. The Friend 2 Friend Friendship Bracelet Kit scores points with crafty kids and makes an excellent travel activity, but can be frustrating for those without stick-to-itiveness.

Buying Guide

Cheap Kids' Crafts Buying Guide

For budding designers, try Harumika Style Starter Sets (starting at $7.75) from toymaker Bandai. Although nominally a cheap toy for girls, the Harumika fashion sets let any style-savvy child create high fashion by tucking and wrapping fabric swatches and accessories around plastic dress forms. This fall, Bandai released a line of Harumika Mannequins (starting at $17), complete with heads, arms, and legs -- features missing from the original dress forms but desired by many little consumers. You can also buy Harumika Style Accents kits, which consist of additional fabric and accessories, as well as purse and shoe kits to the Style Starter sets or Mannequins. A deluxe set, such as the Evening Gown Set (starting at $25), Bridal Collection (starting at $36), or Runway Showstopper Set (starting at $23) are upscale options.

The Friend 2 Friend Friendship Bracelet Kit (starting at $13) from Alex Toys gives children aged 8 and up a way to make friendship bracelets without the frustration that sometimes accompanies cheap crafts requiring lots of manual dexterity. A set of special foam looms enable bracelet weavers to keep track of strings and avoid tangles. Up-and-coming jewelry designers can string together colorful wooden beads with the Gleeful Garden Wooden Bead Set (starting at $10).

Future DIY-ers who like to build can saw and hammer to their heart's content with the Real Construction Starter Workshop (starting at $13) by Jakks Pacific. This cheap toy for boys or girls includes child-safe "tools" and heavy-duty wood-look foam and instructions for six starter projects, such as an airplane or a birdhouse. Replacement foam, called "kid wood," and fasteners can be purchased separately to extend the useful life of this craft toy, as can other child-friendly tools. Dinosaur lovers can forge their own prehistoric pals with a 3-D Dinosaur Woodcraft Construction Kit (starting at $6) by Puzzled, or with a foam construction kit by Blocco, such as the Vilociraptor & Pterosaur (starting at $20) or the larger Dinosaur kit (starting at $20).

Another cheap craft toy is Paperoni (starting at $8), a cheap craft set that lets youngsters create designs by sticking tiny rolls of paper to adhesive forms. Paperoni Deluxe Studio Bendaroos (starting at $6), flexible wax-coated strings that twist, roll, and stick into whatever shapes active imaginations dream up, is also a good cheap gender-neutral craft kit.

The Orb Factory puts out a line of Sticky Mosaic craft kits (starting at $17) with themes like unicorns and ponies, fairies, pirates, and dinosaurs that include small, adhesive foam squares for making mosaics on numbered templates. These cheap craft kits for girls and boys are aimed at the 6-to-10 crowd, but the Orb Factory also offers My First Sticky Mosaic kits (starting at $10) for tots aged 3 and up.

One benefit of giving the gift of a kids' craft toy is that many can be used again and again. One mom writes on the MomsTakeOnThings blog that she can stretch the fun of her daughter's Harumika fashion set with household fabric scraps. The Friend 2 Friend Friendship Bracelets also gets extended life with the purchase of additional embroidery floss, notes a parent in a toy review on Amazon. Even crafts that get "used up" leave behind a work of art for kids to show off or play with, as this toy review on notes about the Melissa & Doug Decorate-Your-Own Wooden Train that a young boy received. (See our full review and child tester video review for more information.)

Art and building projects have good educational value: They teach children about problem solving, awaken creativity, and hone fine-motor skills. Many children find crafting soothing, while others get frustrated or discouraged by projects that are too challenging or just not engaging. The Friend 2 Friend Friendship Bracelet Kit is a good example; some toy reviews on Amazon say kids (including teens) quickly learn the process and are thrilled with the results while others report the instructions are confusing and adult assistance is required. So know your customers and carefully choose a cheap craft toy for kids that caters to their interests and abilities.