Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Best Toys $5 Can Buy

So you've seen GeekDad's list of the 5 Best Toys of All Time?

Genius, I tell you.

When my first child was a toddler, I pored over educational toy catalogs, amassing as many high-quality, wooden, open-ended toys as the budget would permit. Oh, and Thomas the Tank Engine trains. I loved Hearthsong, HABA, Magic Cabin, and the like. I was kind of a toy nerd.

By the time my third child came along, we were living in smaller quarters and on a correspondingly smaller budget (grad school!). The poor child rarely received new toys.

If you know Caroline, you know that she suffered IMMENSELY from this injustice. No imagination. IQ just fair to middling. It's a very sad story.


In her honor, I'd like to continue the GeekDad list (Stick, Box, String, Cardboard Tube, Dirt) with a few of our own kid-tested, mother-approved favorites.

1. Straws. You've heard of Tinker Toys? Granted, those will last longer, but give a child a 99-cent box of drinking straws and you might be surprised at the creations that will result.

2. Bubble Wrap. I personally know of at least two adults who tied a ribbon around a roll of bubble wrap and gave it to a child for Christmas, only to find that all other presents paled in comparison. Want to win the Cool Relative Award? Snap, crackle, pop.

3. Hammer. Nails. Wood. A friend of mine once gave her oldest son a pile of scrap lumber and some tools for Christmas. That's terrific ... but how about this? My neighbor, Emily, stopped by one day to dump a tree stump on our doorstep. "That's for your kids!" she called cheerfully as she drove away. Sure enough, they pounded nails into that thing until they had chain mail. Thanks Emily!

4. Duct Tape. Ian likes to remind me that it's just like The Force: It has a light side and a dark side, and it holds everything together. I can't begin to describe the number of things that have been manufactured at our house with this substance. Bonus: It now comes in fluorescent colors and funky patterns. Check your local craft store.

5. Aluminum Foil. Caroline has made probably hundreds of things from this, from origami objects to multiple pairs of shoes. We usually give her a roll for long car trips, and we've had certain houseguests bring her a roll when they come to stay. Isn't it endearing to have adults in your life who understand how your child ticks?

6. Fire. As in, matches and candles. Blah blah blah parental supervision blah blah blah responsible oversight blah blah blah. Don't send the authorities after me. But seriously, friends. Do you know how long my two girls can sit at a table melting candle wax, watching the shape of candles and flames change before their eyes, sculpting creations from wax, making fake sealing wax for fake letters, etc.? Answer: a very long time. In fact, I had seven girls at this house just yesterday doing this for a solid hour.



And time will fail me if I tell of water, reams of paper, recycled tires, and old silky scarves, the larger the better.

Wealth untold, right at their fingertips.

23 comments:

  1. A sack of 100 clothespins!
    Old sheets!
    Hooray for the "real" toys!

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  2. I love all these ideas! I would definitely have loved a roll of foil as a gift when I was a kid (or now, for that matter :) My heart goes out to poor Caroline with the immense suffering she has had to bear ;-)

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  3. Terrific ideas! A friend of mine and I were just brainstorming along these lines, so well timed post! This friend gave her kids a set of 1200 disposable cups and they were stacking for hours. We have done painter's tape instead of duct tape since it's more paint & furniture friendly:) I love the foil and straw ideas!

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  4. That dress is very chic, runway worthy! Just love the list! I'm going to try the straws. We use different colors of shiny tape to do hopscotch on the carpet indoors. Fun and as an added bonus picks up any dog hair left behind by the vacuum... Not that I don't vacuum several times a day...every. single. day;) Not really. It's fun and helps clean! I think we'll try a massive checker board... Gigantic checkers anyone?

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  5. Thanks for expanding the scope of my imagination away from big box toy stores. Very much appreciated!

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  6. love this! reminds me of being a kid---i wonder if i can get back to that kind of simplicity now that i'm oh-so much more complicated/demanding...

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  7. I love this! My husband and I are really trying to show our 3 children this Christmas that the season is not about expensive toys, or how many presents they are receiving... I LOVE to hear stories of children actually USING their imaginations with some of the most fun and exciting gifts they can receive - tin foil, straws, etc! Thank you for sharing your story :)

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  8. so. seriously. awesome. thanks for writing this!

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  9. How fun! I love the bubble wrap and the hammer, nails and wood.

    PS: My kids and I just spent hours playing with a cardboard box recently.

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  10. My sister bought my girls bubble wrap for Christmas this year. I can't wait for them to open it! It really will be the best present they get. :)

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  11. My mother-in-law gave my kids a roll of yarn. They made all sorts of stuff with it. My kids are 5 and 3.

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  12. Any one remember pipe cleaners? Talk about hours of fun. I bought bags of bright colored ones to use as "wine charms" for a family gathering (35-40). My thought was to wrap them around the stems of our wine glasses. Turned out, adults and kids alike, had more fun creating shapes of animals and just playing with the fuzzy coated wires. The ones I got were a foot long from Michael's. The simple things.....

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  13. Oh, but you missed toilet paper! Our house is often festooned with it, trailed off the roll by our 3 year old boy. It breaks when it catches under furniture but he is watching very intently as I tie it back together.

    Lest you think we're horribly wasteful, eventually we gather it all back up and use it for its intended purpose (minus the knots). Just not in the guest bathroom...which is now going to be stocked with pipe cleaners.

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  14. scotch tape and sissors have thrilled my kids when added to a stack of paper.

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  15. This is so awesome I can't believe it. Of course my kids would like this! Our Cub Scout group called them "genius kits", where you stick a bunch of stuff in a bag and make things, and I'm totally going to put together a box for each of the kids. Thanks for the idea!!

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  16. I'm loving all these great reader suggestions! Thanks for sharing, friends!

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  17. This is so great! My 2 year olds favorit "toy" righ now is water: a stool at the kitchen sink, a bowl full of water (and bubbless sometimes), slotted spoons and smaller bowls. She can play for half and hour! I do wonder about the wastfulness of this...

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  18. I was prepared for life by these toys. My simple toys and active imagination prepared me to be a newlywed (read poor and in love). Our tree topper that first year was a home-made paper angel.

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  19. My 4 girls unwrapped a package of computer printing paper for Christmas...I think it was their favorite thing! They love coloring books, but there's just something about blank paper. They also love to turn empty cereal boxes into "fairy houses"...complete with cardboard furniture!

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  20. Being the mother of 3 boys, I would be remiss if I let the opportunity pass to share our favorite use of a box of bendy straws. Brace yourself ... potty humor abounds in a houseful of young boys (AND nieces for that matter! ... um, and the occasional adult ...) Take the end of the long part of the straw and tuck it firmly into the middle of your armpit, then bend it (this ONLY works with bendy straws) and insert the short end of the straw into your mouth. You know where this is going ... then BLOW. Eventually, you will hear some of the most amazing and um, REALISTIC fake toots you have ever had the pleasure of trying *not* to laugh at. The grossest part is that the more time they spend blowing, the *moister* their pits get and more realistic the toots become. I am not exaggerating when I say that this little musical exhibition can go on for a loooooong time. It also never fails to bring on fits of giggles and pulls ANY kid out of a bad mood. I dare you not to laugh.

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  21. Oh, Amy! Let me tell you, that activity would be a BIG hit in our house! :-) I will file that away for when I need some anti-grumpiness artillery.

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