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Friday, March 23 News

Toy story: Creativity is serious fun at WAC's Family Art Day

Glitter, crayons and glue were flying as youngsters created art and toy projects midday Sunday at Westport Arts Center's "Family Art Day."

The program also included judging of the center's Toy Makers III competition.

The third annual event brought together dozens of families to craft projects like Paper Climbers, Nesting Creatures and Abstract Toy Collages. The activities were open to children of all ages and guided by artists who volunteered their time. Staff from toy maker Melissa & Doug, the event sponsor, were also on hand to distribute books and stage a puppet show, dress-up area and play station.

Parents like David Keisman of Westport said the session offered a good opportunity for children, like his 6-year-old son, to do something other than electronic distractions. "We like to keep my son away from screens, and he loves art," he said. "These kinds of activities are a lot more fun and interactive than video games."

Sarah Kelly, a WAC education manager, said art day programs take place twice a year, though this late winter session also ties in with the annual Toy Makers competition, a WAC initiative. "The day is all about toys, whether creating a toy or repurposing existing toys," she said. "It's one of the most popular family events we do during the year."

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Following are the finalists, listed by age group, in the Toy Makers III competition at the Westport Arts Center:

• 5 and 6 years old:
1. Caden Freyre: "The Clip Line"
2. Samantha Henske: "Mini Macks"
3. Clara Chi: "The Three Kingdoms"
4. Fan favorite: Samantha Henske: "Mini Macks"

• 7-9 years old:
1. Jojo Treisman: "Stamp Friend"
2. Maia Freeman: "Dog Party Blocks"
3. Gianna Amatuzzi: "Talking Cat Clock"
4. Fan favorite: Logan Goodman: "Dream remote"

10-12 years old
1. Eddie Kiev: "No More 'Are We There Yet?'"
2. Julianna Lukacs: "Pet Hospital Kit"
3. Kate Garson: "What Do You Know?"
4. Fan favorite: Caroline Russell and Evelyn Stevens: "Solar Panel Dragon"

For the Toy Makers competition, a call for toy design entries from children ages 5 to 12 was issued about a month ago.

Melissa Bernstein, co-owner of Melissa & Doug, reviewed the submissions -- about 50 toy designs in all -- and chose three finalists in each of three age categories: 5 to 6, 7 to 9 and 10 to 12. The finalists were invited to Family Art Day and each was asked to present and explain their design idea to a three-person panel that included Bernstein, WAC Education Committee Chairwoman Laura Maged and WAC Executive Director Peter Van Heerden.

The presentation format, noted Heerden, is like that of the ABC-TV series, "Shark Tank," which gives entrepreneurs a chance to present their product ideas to a panel of business leaders.

Tom Henske, father of Samantha Henske, a finalist in the 5 to 6 age category, said the event was an extraordinary one for his daughter. "She loves being involved in town activities and this is a great experience for her to be in a situation like this," he said. "We watch `Shark Tank' as a family and now here we are in real life."