Some Thoughts on Store-Sponsored Free Activities for Children

As you’re reading this, my children are (probably) at Lowe’s (a hardware store) engaged in the store’s regular Saturday “Build and Grow” project. This time, they’re going to make “Spooky Stackers,” which is apparently a Jenga-like stacking game made out of wooden pieces.

On the first Saturday of each month, Home Depot does a similar thing, hosting a children’s workshop that gives kids some hands-on experience with making things.

Michael’s, a craft store chain with multiple locations near us, has a series of in-store events for families that they call “Show IN Tell” where kids can stop in and make a craft project of some kind.

Last Saturday, the local Barnes and Noble had a Star Wars craft day, where our kids did some origami art, colored some pictures, and got a free bracelet.

All of these activities are free. They don’t cost a thing once you get to the store.

Naturally, when we first discovered these activities, we encouraged our children to try them out. After all, they were free and they encouraged our children to do some worthwhile hands-on things. I’ve never felt that any of these activities weren’t worthwhile.

Anyway, we took them to these activities fairly often for a while. Our kids enjoyed them, as they often became a part of our Saturdays.

After a while, though, we began to see why the stores host these activities. They get parents in the store for a while.

Let’s say I would take my oldest two kids to the activity at Home Depot. The activity would take an hour or two and they’d have several employees and parents helping out. It would be a pretty neat activity, with our kids making something they could take home.

Here’s the catch: during the activity, I’d glance around the store and eventually I’d think of a thing or two we needed from around the house. “We’re out of light bulbs for the entryway,” I’d think. “We could really use some touch-up paint for the burgundy wall in the family room.”

Unsurprisingly, before we left the store, I’d end up buying those things.

I did need those things, but they weren’t necessarily urgent purchases and I certainly didn’t spend any time shopping around for them. I likely ended up spending some money I really didn’t need to spend.

Once I realized that “catch,” I started using a different approach. I started keeping a “hardware store” list. Whenever I figured out something I needed to pick up at the hardware store, I’d add it to this list.

Then, if I knew I was out and about with the children in tow, I’d make sure that my hardware store visit coincided with that children’s activity. I could be sure that the things I actually needed were on my list, meaning I wouldn’t fall prey to impulse buys, and my children would have a good time, too.

These activities are very nice activities for kids, but as a parent, you should always be prepared before you enter a store. If you wind up impulsively buying things, then the activity really wasn’t “free,” was it?

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