Electronic gadgets such as tablets and mobile phones have gradually replaced toys and other playing objects in many homes.
In some homes, tablets are the nannies or playmates that give parents some alone time or time to perform other tasks. Over the years, there have been concerns from experts on the negative effects long screen hours have on children but parents seem lost for alternatives and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 only increased hours children spend on these gadgets.
The question is: Do parents really have options to choose from when it comes to engaging their children and keeping them away from electronic gadgets?
Ms Rahma Harruna Attah is a mother of three and to her, arts and crafts is one of the ways to keep children off long screen hours while harnessing their creativity.
In 2019, she started The Art Castle, a small business that specializes in children’s arts and craft supplies. Her business was founded on her experience with her own children which she had shared with some close friends and families.
“I have been an artistic person from childhood so when I started having children, I thought of ways to engage them with art. Once in a while I shared our pieces on social media or with some friends and the feedback was positive. People were excited and wanted their children to try it out so in 2019 I opened it up and started creating and selling art crafts for children,” she explained.
Ms Harruna Attah guiding a child to accessorize her work
Ms Harruna Attah attributes her love for art to her family; her parents are both journalists and her older sister is a writer. She recounts that growing up, there was always something creative to do at home. She and her sister, created paper dolls and other craft from materials available at home.
In 2019 when she started creating and suppling art supplies on commercial basis, it was her side job but when the coronavirus pandemic struck in 2020, she lost her job and, therefore, dedicated her full attention to her growing business.
Before Covid-19, she organized art classes on weekends for children and also featured at some parties for children.
With the Covid-19 restrictions, there were no parties and she also had to suspend her art classes. It was the idea to deliver art supplies for children at home that changed her business.
Losing a job is devastating but in the midst of her misfortune was an opportunity to grow her business; schools were closed and children at home were becoming bored with watching television, online classes or playing games on tablets.
In a few weeks, her specially curated craft boxes had become a go to for parents who knew about them. Parents choose the type of box and supplies depending on the age of the child.
The varieties include the canvas paint box, Art Castle craft box, toddler craft box, Space Craft Box and customized boxes.
She said social media was very instrumental in spreading the news as parents shared the different activities children could do with the craft boxes online.
“Any parent who saw the boxes wanted one for their children. I believe we could have sold more if we had increased our publicity. Our first set of boxes sold out,” she said.
The Canvas Painting Box which can be customized comes with a canvas, easel, paint and painting brush, glitters, stickers, paper glue and pompoms
She attributes the success of the craft boxes to the alternative it gave parents and how excited children were to create pieces with the art supplies.
“So the boxes don’t come with manuals and this gives the children the chance to create their own pieces. I also advise that parents leave the children to bring their imaginations to life. This is how they learn and since there is no wrong or right way of painting, it gives them the confidence to be themselves.”
Promoting Ghana and Africa
In addition to the craft boxes and art supplies, Ms Harruna Attah has two coloring books: The Africa Activity Book and Monuments of Ghana. While the Activity Book talks about the different countries in Africa, the Monuments of Ghana is an illustration of some popular landmarks in Ghana.
The Africa Activity Book and the Monuments of Ghana are illustrations to help children learn about Ghana and Africa
“I realized that all the coloring books on the market were on foreign themes and the children only see them on television but can’t relate to them. So the idea was to create something about Ghana and Africa. In the Monuments of Ghana, we focus on eight of them so while the child colors he or she learns about these places and where they are located and the history behind them. With the Activity Book, they learn trace, color and create dots while learning about countries, cities, Islands and other facts about Africa,” she explained.
Future for The Arts Castle
Now that schools are back in session and the ban on public gatherings has been lifted, she is able to engage children physically at after school events, weekends and children’s parties.
Painting parties, she explained, had become a regular event on their schedule. At these parties, the children create different crafts based on the theme of the celebrant.
A set up for a kid’s party
Her plan is to own a creative space where she can teach children different forms of craft such as painting, sewing, colouring, building paper houses and dolls and other crafts. Personally, she has started perfecting her painting skills with a professional artist so she can teach children who want to learn.
Currently, parents can choose from the options on their website (theartcastlegh.com) or Instagram account – @theartcastlegh.
Does Rahma’s surname ring a bell right? She is the second of the two daughters of Abdul Rahman Harruna Attah, a veteran journalist and Ghana’s High Commissioner to Namibia with concurrent accreditation to Botswana during former President John Dramani Mahama’s regime and Nana Yaa Agyeman, a veteran journalist who now owns Sharecare Ghana, a non-profit for people with autoimmune conditions.
She is married to Mr Benjamin Elegba and together they have three children: Tumi and Tami — a set of twins — and Damilola.
Flashback: A child displaying her painting at a party
On encouraging children who have interest in arts, she said: “I’m grateful to my parents for not suppressing my interest in art. I specialized in tourism management and worked for many years in the industry but when Covid-19 struck and I lost my job, I had this side business which continues to grow. Imagine what would have happened if my parents had rubbished my art skills as a child. I would have added to the high number of unemployed graduates. We should give our children the opportunity to explore and support them in their chosen fields.”