"A gift certificate to a hardware store is an invitaion to her to make a project. Before you give her something like this, you should be sure it is really OK with you for her to do this. Meaning, you realize it will be messy, there is a place where it's OK for her to spread out and work, you realize she will need close supervision to remain safe, and, you realize this will be time consuming for *you*.
That's the important part. Because without that, the gift is just mean. Like a dad who gets his kid a ball for christmas, but never finds the time to actually *play* ball with the kid. It would have been kinder not to give it to him in the first place. So, if you're clear and OK with what you're getting into, this is an empowering gift. It's empowering, because you are letting her have the tools, parts, and materials that grown-ups have: REAL stuff, of HER choosing.
Also, she has to realize that you have to approve her choices; there are things in the store which you will not let her choose. My son always wanted several feet of big heavy metal chain. The answer was ,"No." I shudder to think what he would have done (and wrecked) with it.
With her tweny dollars or whatever, she is empowered to **chose** -- she can look at everything in the store before deciding. And she might, literally. So, it might be good to go when they are not very busy, and be sure to eat and all that, first.
The hardware section alone will yield many treasures. She could choose some simple tool - say a screwdriver. Then she could get some screws. At home, you can help her screw them into a piece of wood, forming patterns. She can draw a picture first, then screw them in where she wants them.
Or, the same thing with her own little hammer, and different kinds of nails.
She could wind string around the screws she put in.
She could get hinges and screw those to things. She could make little doors.
She could get plastic-covered electrical wire and wire things together.
She could make a mobile out of her finds. She could chose ceramic tiles from the scrap bin and make a mosaic in the garden with them.
She could raid the color sample card rack in the paint department. Those are free. Then at home, she can cut those apart and rearrange them any way she likes. And do things with them that involve **glue**. Oooh!
The clerk in the wallpaper section will sometimes give you a book of discontinued wallpaper samples. You could get a piece of masonite, and she could cut those and you could help her wet and mount them - a giant collage.
She could get duct tape.
She could get rolls of contact paper and cut it into shapes and stick it on things.
The sky is the limit! I bet if you do this, that she'll surprise you with what she thinks up to make.
Elaine Seid Marshall"
Thanks for letting me share this, Elaine!