By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Montana Kid Kits donates a kit for every kit sold. The story has been corrected to state that Montana Kid Kits donates a kit for every order.
BOZEMAN – This month, dozens of packages filled with a planting pot, pipe cleaners, paint and other crafty items, all tied neatly with a bow, will be the centerpieces to quality family interaction around the Gallatin Valley. Montana Kid Kits, founded by Bozeman mothers Lauren Hein and Shaye Erickson, started in fall 2020 to offer these monthly craft packages to a loyal customer base as well as to community nonprofits.
The two high school friends recently reunited after Lauren moved back to Bozeman, and they found as mothers, they shared in a common problem.
“Shaye and I were just talking and we’re both moms and both know how it’s just so hectic and you don’t want any additional hassle or things to add to your to-do list,” Hein said. “But at the same time you want to make sure that you’re teaching your kid and giving them activities and things to do that are really developmentally helpful and feel good about them.” True to the creative nature of the company that this gripe would later give birth to, Erickson and Hein innovated.
Erickson, who taught Kindergarten for nine years, and Hein, who has a marketing background, felt both their areas of expertise could be put to work for families in the community. They got “back to basics,” according to Hein, taking technology out of the mix, and developed a craft kit with ultimate ease in mind—start to finish, everything a parent would need was included. Around Thanksgiving, they piloted their idea by passing out a few kits to close friends. Soon after those first families were posting about the kits on social media, Erickson and Hein were shocked when orders started pouring in—and they haven’t stopped since.
The kits, geared toward kids ages 3 and up, are designed to be hands-on to support fine-motor skill development. “As a teacher I try to make them geared towards education, so we base them towards standards or learning skills,” Erickson said. The kits each come with three crafts or activities, instructions and a breakdown of what lessons or skills the kit promotes.
For June, Erickson developed The Garden Kit, which includes a pot to decorate and plant in, a sunflower puzzle kit and the fixings for a pipe-cleaner dragonfly. The Garden Kit helps develop fine motor skills, patterning, following directions and creative play, among other skills, according to the kit instructions.
Gallatin Valley mom Megan Lovgren has been using the kits with her two daughters since the beginning.
“I feel like Shaye and Lauren have done a really good job of coming up with activities that are engaging for both parents and kids which I really love,” she said.
Lovgren is also a teacher and appreciates the educational component of the kits. She says usually she helps her kids get started and then leaves them to figure out most of the project on their own.
“I think from both a mom and an educator perspective it’s really good to let kids, you know, experience these things on their own, and still be able to do the activity with them if I so choose,” Lovgren said. Plus, she added, it provides for a bit of a break for tired parents.
Lovgren’s 5-year-old daughter, Finley, said she likes to share the kits with younger sister. Last month, she really enjoyed tying the bows.
“I’d say one of our biggest hooks … is we do have a pretty big giveback component,” Hein said. For each order, Montana Kid Kits donates a kit to one of their three local, family-based nonprofit partners including Thrive, Family Promise and the Boys and Girls Club of Southwestern Montana. Now, in their seventh month in business, Montana Kid Kits has donated 500 kits.
Vanessa Skelton, major gift officer for Thrive, a Bozeman-based nonprofit that provides mentoring and other resources to families, said the kits have been received with enthusiasm and gratitude. The Child Advanced Placement program, one of Thrive’s avenues of mentorship, pairs volunteer mentors with kids for one hour a week of interaction. CAP mentors have been able to use the donated kits to connect with kids. To a nonprofit, Skelton says, these donations are huge, especially during a pandemic when organizations have had to tighten their belts.
“We don’t always get to add in stuff like that, you know, because we, we don’t always have the extra funds that it takes to purchase things like that for even for CAP matches or for our families, so just having that at no cost means the world during a time where it was really hard to get the resources together to even pay for our programming,” Skelton said.
Lovgren said Montana Kid Kits’ connection to community causes “raises the hair on her arms.”
“I’m just so thankful that we know people in the community, like locals in the community, willing to give back to the community, they’re not just trying to make a buck,” she said.
Erickson and Hein operate Montana Kid Kits entirely on Instagram and say most of their business has come from social media and word of mouth. They said their business served a special purpose during the pandemic while families were at home together, but they also believe heightened values on family and spending time together will make their model relevant well beyond the pandemic.
Recently, they’ve been expanding their distribution of kits to bigger venues, like birthday parties, where the kits can be tailored to match the party theme.
“I think overall we’re just really excited about continuing to grow, which means we’re able to continue to donate more kids,” Hein said. “We’re just two moms who are trying to kind of put all this together and make sure that people can enjoy that time with their kids and also know feel good about when they buy, we’re giving on their behalf.”