Beth Harris first saw the product she'd end up creating a business around at a cookie exchange last year. And it wasn't a cookie.
It was a fort kit that one of her friends brought to engage the kids while the adults chatted and passed around those cookies. The kit helps make fort building, the kind that usually involves blankets and pillows and flashlights, a little bit easier and a little bit sturdier.
After the cookie exchange, Harris, who has long dabbled in crafts, got to work, searching online to see how they were made and making her own. Her boys loved them. Their friends loved them. Finally, she realized that she had something worth selling.
For the last couple of months, Harris has been churning out orders for her $35 Fort Kits for Kids. They include a large sheet with special loops and ties on each side and at the corners; large and small clips; suction cups; rope and a flashlight. It all comes in a handy drawstring backpack so the supplies can be packed up for easy storage or to take to a friend's house, grandma's or the park.
The veteran science educator turned stay-at-home mom, who has written five books on science fair projects, is always on the lookout for educational playthings for her boys - a grade schooler and a preschooler. These fit the bill.
The kits allow for open-ended play. It's a fort, a jail, a pirate ship, a castle, a quiet space away from adults or whatever the kids can dream up.
"There's so many things," said Harris, who lives in Raleigh. "It's engineering. You try to figure out where to put the corners. It's teamwork if they are working with other kids."
Harris has been busy making the kits and selling them at local crafts fairs and online. She's not sure what the next year will hold, but has started thinking about other products like pillows that she can sell along with the kits. She can create custom kits if customers want certain characters, colors and sports teams, for instance, for the backpack. (Harris admits making the kits partly supports her fabric habit).
Harris also does some work with the Department of Public Instruction and website design. She said she's glad for this new opportunity to add to her family's income. Her husband is a community college teacher.
The kits are something she can make on her own time. At craft fairs, she sets one up with a rug on the ground and books. Kids jump right in and get cozy. Their parents see them having fun and snatch them up.
"The kids are my best salespeople," she said.
Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.