Chapter 1: PLAY TIME
Imagination is more important than knowledge.
-- Albert Einstein
In a child's world, a doll comes to life, wooden blocks are transformed into cities, and a pail of water becomes an ocean of fun. These types of activities -- creative play -- seem to be the most enjoyable for children and certainly keep their attention the longest. For example, I sometimes pause at my daughters' bedroom door to sneak a peek into their imaginative world. I recently watched my three-year-old put her "babies" to bed. Catching my eye, she held her index finger to her lips and whispered, "Shhh, babies night-night." My six-year-old, only a few feet away, was building a skyscraper with her blocks and Legos. Concentrating with the intensity of an architect, she paused briefly before placing each new piece on the structure. These creative moments stimulate a child's intellectual development, say the child-care experts. And some adults actually credit these early experiences with influencing their career paths many years later.
After repeatedly seeing my children abandon an expensive new toy for the box it came in, I finally learned that simple props found around the house could inspire the best creative play. The abandoned toy could be only one thing, but that simple brown box became their hideout, a crib for their babies, and a "car" to push each other around in. Many store-bought toys, especially the fad toys hyped by the media, can't hold my daughters' attention the same way creative play can. For example, my six-year-old and her friend recently complained of being bored; they had exhausted their toy supply in a matter of minutes. Looking around for something to occupy their time, I yanked the bedspread off my daughter's bed and draped it over three chairs, creating a tent. They shrieked with anticipation, disappeared under the bedspread, and played heartily for two hours. On another occasion, I lined up four chairs and yelled, "All aboard." As they boarded the "train," both girls were shouting out destinations they wanted to travel to. They took turns being the conductor, whose primary job was to take care of a stubborn passenger, our three-year-old.
Arts and crafts are fun and stimulating for young children, and the possibilities of projects are endless. Books, puzzles, games, and television (although, in my opinion, it needs to be used judiciously) are other favorite activities for most young children. Books provide one of the most important activities a child can engage in, from enjoying the pictures to learning how to read (see Chapter 4). Puzzles are another activity that young children are drawn to, from a simple four-piece puzzle for toddlers to a one-hundred-piece jigsaw for older children. Not only are they fun and challenging, but they help children learn sizes, shapes, and colors. Parlor games are fun and have a tendency to bring the whole family together.
To help bring order to the wonderful world of playtime, I have arranged the following activity tips into ten separate sections: Indoor Activities, Pretend Play, Outdoor Fun, Quitting a Favorite Activity, Arts and Crafts, Recycling "Masterpieces," Toys, Coping with Toy Clutter, Storing Toys, and Quick Cleanup. These innovative activities offer hours of fun and adventure for you and your children.
RAINY DAY/SICK DAY BOX: For a rainy-day activity or when a child is sick in bed, bring out a special box of toys and games to which your child does not usually have access. Karin Poe, Fremont, California
PICK AN ACTIVITY: Decorate a shoe box with your child and place in it strips of paper, each suggesting an activity which you and your child can do together. When your child is bored or you want to share some quality time, pull out a piece of paper and have fun. D.L., Tarsa, Michigan
A LIST OF THINGS I CAN DO BY MYSELF: Ask your children to list twenty or more things they can do all by themselves (reading, drawing, etc.). Save this list and present it to them the next time they say, "I don't have anything to do." It reminds them of fun projects they can accomplish all by themselves. Rebecca Robinson, San Jose, California
TREASURE HUNT: Make up three-by-five cards with a drawing of easily recognizable places in the house and/or yard -- such as crib, refrigerator, mailbox, etc. Help the child find the place pictured on the first card, where she will find the picture card leading to the next hidden card and the next, etc.; and on to the last place, where the "treasure" is to be found. Mr. and Mrs. Roland Giduz, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
A GUESS BOX: A small container such as an empty tissue box or round oatmeal container makes a great guess or touch box. Take turns with your children placing a surprise item in the box. The other person has to guess what's inside just by touching it. It's a fun game and great for language development. Janice Fonteno, Union City, California
JUNK MAIL FOR KIDS: Place unopened junk mail in a colorful shoe box, and save it for a "rainy day" or a "rainy hour"! When your child announces that he is bored, hand him his shoe box. He will spend considerable time opening, examining, and playing with junk mail. Junk mail often contains colorful stickers as well as interesting response envelopes which can be filled and licked -- the best part. Almost all junk mail contains forms for filling in your name, address, and telephone number. This is great practice for an older child. Make certain that none of this mail gets posted or you will triple or quadruple your volume of junk mail! Barbara Allen, Palo Alto, California
GARAGE FUN ON A RAINY DAY: During a recent rainy day, I moved the car out of the garage and brought in all my children's large plastic outdoor toys (small slide, seesaw, basketball hoop, etc.). Our garage turned into an outdoor-play area where the children spent the entire afternoon. Elaine Minamide, San Diego, California
"POOL" PARTY DURING THE SNOWY WINTER: We live in a snowy climate where winters can be long. Sometimes, I fill the bathtub, let the girls put their bathing suits on and get out the Popsicles, and let them play in the bathtub. I sit in the bathroom and read the newspaper or a magazine while they are splashing away. Emily Allen Martinez, Park City, Utah
$$ INEXPENSIVE BUILDING BLOCKS: At many lumber yards, cabinet shops, or construction sites, end cuts of wood in various sizes and shapes are available at little or no cost. When properly sanded to avoid cuts and slivers, a box of these pieces of wood will provide creative play materials for children to construct towers, bridges, cities, vehicles, figures, or whatever comes into their minds. Neil McCallum, Santa Cruz, California
$$ MARBLES ROLL THROUGH PIPE STRUCTURES: Children love to play and create with pieces of regular PVC pipe and an assortment of connectors. They enjoy connecting the pieces together to make engineering marvels. My children especially enjoyed making curving tubes to roll their marbles through. The pipe and connectors are inexpensive and available at most hardware stores. Buy one or more long sections of pipe and an assortment of connectors (elbows, T's, etc.). Cut the pipe in various sizes that will store easily in a box. Jim Stuka, Escondido, California
Let only older children play with marbles. They can be choking hazards for younger children
MOVABLE LEGO STRUCTURES: Our children construct their Lego sets on various-sized particle boards. Then, if we need to move the structure or clean under it, all we have to do is lift the particle board. The Lego structure always stays intact, and our children don't fuss about having to rebuild. Lorrie Rubio, Fremont, California
$$ CLOTHESPINS ARE ENTERTAINING: For an inexpensive game on a rainy day, try clothespins (not the spring type) and a plastic gallon milk jug. Babies can shake the jug and toddlers can empty it. Preschoolers can count the pins and fill and empty the jug. School-age children can make a game out of standing up straight, holding the clothespins close to their noses, and trying to drop the pins inside the jug. Kim VanGorder, Cary, North Carolina
HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES -- OUT OF SEASON: Holiday activities can be even more fun to do on nonholidays. For example, I always purchase an extra egg-dyeing kit during Easter. Then, on a rainy day I'll pull out the kit and my children will decorate eggs. My son and I recently decorated the house for Halloween -- in February. Terry LeMonchbck, Pasadena, California
WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, TRY A HOME VIDEO: One of the fastest ways of quieting children down is to turn on a home video that contains pictures of themselves or people they know. They will often stop what they are doing and just stand or sit in front of the TV and relive that moment. Scott Hill, Newark, California
Hook your video camera to your TV set so the children can see themselves "live" on TV. Watch them entertain themselves.
MAGAZINES ARE FUN: Toddlers love to play with old magazines. When my daughter was a year old, I put her on the floor with about ten old magazines and showed her how she could tear out a page and then tear it into pieces or crumple it into a ball. She had a ball! Cathy Jones, Cold Spring, New York
OLD TEXTBOOKS BECOME FUN ACTIVITIES: I let my children play with the old textbooks I had stored in the garage. They can scribble in them, cut out pictures, or just browse through them. Offering books they are allowed to play with cuts down the number of new books that get damaged. Khush Lodhia, Fremont, California
TOY CATALOGUES: My children love to look at toy catalogs from stores like Sears or Penney's. Denise Fulford, Southlake, Texas
Be sure your child doesn't put the magazines in his mouth. Some use lead in their ink.
DOMINOES FOR KIDS: After hearing my children tell me how bored they were the other day, I got out my domino set. I showed them how to line up the dominoes in creative ways, then how to knock them over by pushing the last one against the next one in line. They squealed with delight as they watched the dominoes fall in progression. They played with the dominoes almost all afternoon and always asked me to come watch the next "knock down." S.D., Tacoma, Washington
PHOTO ALBUM FOR CHURCH: We belong to a small county church that does not have a nursery. My three-year-old has quite a time sitting still through an hour long service. Books and coloring books weren't working long enough, so I purchased an inexpensive pocket-size photo album and filled it with pictures of siblings, grandparents, pets, animals, and neighborhood friends. I change the pictures frequently and only bring it out in church. My son loves to sit and look at "his book." (I also take snacks.) Sheryl Saxton, Tekamah, Nebraska
INDOOR WATER FUN: Children love to transfer water from one container to another using eyedroppers. Using food coloring, I make each container of water a different color. Children love this activity and it's also good for their eye-hand coordination and color recognition. Janice Fonteno, Union City, California
HIGH-FLYING POPCORN: An exciting adventure in cooking for young children is to pop corn without a lid! I would put a sheet on the floor of the garage where there was plenty of space, set the electric frying pan in the center of the sheet, add a tiny bit of oil and popcorn, and watch the action! Our safety rules required that children could not go on or touch the sheet and the popcorn could not pop off the sheet. Verbal explanations were given to both the children and the popcorn, complete with shaking finger. When all the popping stops, along with delighted screams, the frying pan is removed and the children eat the corn from the outside of the sheet in. A great rainy-day activity. Fran Thole, Santa Clara, California
An air popper also works.
Make sure that an adult supervises the process at all times and keep children at a safe distance. Not recommended for children under three years old.
WINNER PICKS UP THE GAME: One of the best ideas I have come up with (and one my husband and I still follow every day) is "the winner picks up the game!" In my house, the winner of any game played is responsible for picking up and putting the game away. The winner, still flushed with victory, cheerfully accepts the price of winning. The loser saves face by leaving the room or saying something like, "At least I don't have to put the game away!" This rule has been strictly followed for years in our house. It has eliminated hard feelings after the loss of a game and identified very easily who was in charge of cleanup. Sue Crockett, Charlton, Massachusetts
"I CAN'T HOLD ALL THESE PLAYING CARDS IN MY HAND": My children loved to play cards, but their hands were too small to hold the cards dealt to them. To solve this problem, I turned a shoe-box lid under the shoe box. The children placed the cards between the lip of the lid and the box to make a good card holder. Kelly Robson, York, Nebraska
AN INDOOR TENT: Once or twice a year, I set up my small backpacking tent in the living room for my children to play in. They love to sleep in the tent at night and play "camp" during the day. It keeps them occupied for hours at a time and encourages creative play. If you don't have a real tent, drape a large blanket or sheet over a table. Thomas Leslie, San Diego, California
LARGE BOXES CREATE A-MAZE-ING THINGS: I kept five children and the entire neighborhood fascinated with a room full of large boxes from an appliance store. I tied the boxes together and made a circle out of them, and I cut holes from one box to the other and made a tunnel. I also put in little windows. I put some of the boxes on one side of the main tunnel and made little trapdoors for the kids to crawl through. The boxes were heavy enough that toddlers could crawl on top of them without the boxes falling in. Dr. W.W. Walker, Gastonia, North Carolina
STAR IN YOUR OWN MOVIE: If you have a camcorder, ask your children if they want to star in their own homemade movie. It can be a small family production, or you can invite the neighborhood children over. Older children can write and direct their own script; younger children will enjoy acting out a favorite story or fairy tale. Save the video for posterity; your children will enjoy it even more as adults. Anonymous, Mi-Wuk Village, California
PICNIC WITHOUT ANTS: To break up the monotony of having to stay indoors due to bad weather or illness, we have indoor picnics -- sometimes with a theme. We spread a blanket on the floor, bring sandwiches, chips, fruit, etc. Sometimes I'll pack it up and we will "hike" around the house to find the perfect spot. We have had teddy-bear picnics, doll picnics, and Disney Day picnics. To encourage imagination on these outings, we imagine trees, creeks, fish, birds, even deer. This can also be done in the back or front yard. Stacey Ann Morgan, Oakland, California
FUN IN NUMBERS: Plan a two-month calendar of fun activities with three to five other moms (or dads). Each parent selects one or two activities that they plan and organize. Field trips and activities are more fun when shared with friends. Kathleen Waters, Fremont, California
SUMMER FRIENDS: Before your youngster says goodbye to his classmates for the summer, make sure you have the phone numbers and summer schedules of all his friends. If he gets bored during the long summer months, especially while the neighborhood kids are on vacation, he can invite some of his classmates over to play with. Also, you can call some of his classmates' parents to coordinate a few field trips for the summer. Activities are always more fun when they can be shared with a group. S.N., Portland, Oregon
SUMMER FIELD TRIPS: I recently planned a calendar of summer activities with two other parents whose children are close in age to my two children. We each agreed to organize one activity or outing each week for all of our children. So each Monday is my day to take the kids to a park, water slide, museum, fair, amusement park, movie, or some other fun place. The other parents cover Wednesdays and Fridays. One of the parents is even planning an overnight at her cabin in the woods. Although we each spend one day a week with four to six kids, we each get two days a week without kids to catch up on errands and other projects. Our "Field Trip Calendar" lists the activities and the cost per child. So far, all of us -- kids and parents -- have enjoyed this summer arrangement. M.B., Portland, Oregon
A MAGNIFIED WORLD IS FASCINATING: Purchase an inexpensive magnifying glass, and a whole new world will appear for your children. They will enjoy looking at various items through the magnifying glass. My grandson was worried about our regular ant invasions until I bought him a magnifying glass (at age three) to study insects. Also, we respect insects, animals, and people and kill insects only when we cannot catch them to let them outdoors. Patricia R. Hersom, Walnut Creek, California
CORNMEAL DELIGHT: Our house has a back deck instead of a yard, so my three-year-old's outdoor play is somewhat restricted. I filled a small tub with cornmeal and put it on a bench. It was just the right height for her to stand next to the tub and play in the cornmeal. She loved the feel of it on her fingers, digging in it, and "cooking up" all sorts of delights. N.M., Mi-Wuk Village, California
JUNIOR CARPENTER: My husband found that my daughter could feel helpful in his workshop if he let her pound nails into a sturdy cardboard box. The nails go in easily and she feels competent. It's also great for her motor skills and coordination. Anonymous, San Diego, California
Always provide adult supervision -- and watch those fingers.
HUNTING FOR TREASURES: When my children were two and three years old, they enjoyed carrying a small plastic pail with them on walks to collect treasures. Our walks were more delightful and relaxing for me since we slowed down considerably to hunt for, study, and discuss the treasures. Sometimes we would later glue the treasures to colored paper or cardboard (such as from a cereal box). N.K.M., Palo Alto, California
GO PAINT THE HOUSE: To keep preschoolers busy during the summer, I would send them outside with a bucket of water and a paintbrush. They could paint the steps, the house, and the sidewalk. When they turned around, the paint was dry and they could start over again. My adult kids still talk about how Mom sent them out to paint the house. Colleen Weber, Merna, Nebraska
THE LITTLE GARDENER: Children love to play in dirt, so I provide them with a large container full of new potting soil, small plastic planting pots, plastic flowers, and plastic scoopers. Children love to fill the planting pots with soil and plastic flowers. Arlene Stocking, Fremont, California
SPRING PLANTING -- FOR KIDS: Young children love to get their hands in dirt and they're fascinated watching things grow, so designate a small area of dirt in your backyard for their own exclusive garden. A large flower pot or planter will also work. A visit to the local nursery can be a fun learning experience, especially if the children are allowed to select what they will grow. You can start with seeds or small plants. Flowers or vegetables are always popular choices. Teach your children how to plant their new garden and how to take care of it. Join in their sense of awe and excitement as new growth sprouts from the soil or as they collect their own vegetables for the dinner table. Michael Mitroff, Niles, California
RICE IS BETTER THAN SAND: I empty a large bag of rice in the middle of a large blanket or pour it into a large box for my children to play with. They enjoy it more than they do sand. Marilyn Stein, Hampton, Virginia
CLEAN SANDBOX: My young children love to play in the sandbox that my husband built in the backyard, but it was a challenge to keep it free of leaves and cat droppings and water from the rain and lawn sprinklers. Our solution was to buy an inexpensive plastic wading pool and place it upside down over the sandbox when it wasn't being used. C.K., Eugene, Oregon
BUBBLEOLOGY: My son and I came across a great recipe for big bubbles: 1 cup Dawn dish detergent, 1 gallon of water, and 1 cup of Karo syrup (the light-colored or clear kind). Mix it all in a bucket, and then use tin cans (with the top and bottom cut out) to make great bubbles. The larger the can, the larger the bubble; the big institution-size cans made the biggest and best. The Karo syrup works like glycerin and may be less expensive. Debbie G., North Carolina
RAINY DAYS ARE FUN -- OUTSIDE: Instead of keeping them indoors on a rainy day, I help my children put on rain gear and let them go outside. They release some of their energy by jumping in puddles and splashing in the rain. When they're finished, I give them a warm bath, then serve them cocoa. Teena Hubbard, Irvine, California
SAND FUN AT THE BEACH: One of the best things we ever brought to the beach was our large garden shovel, which my husband used to dig a BIG hole in the sand. Our three young children spent most of the day playing in the hole with their plastic shovels and buckets and making castles and forts using the large pile of sand from the hole. Remember to fill in the hole when you leave. R.K., Coos Bay, Oregon
A POOL AT THE BEACH: My two older children love to jump over the small waves at our local beach, but my toddler and preschooler prefer the small inflatable pool I set up near my chair on the dry sand. I pour a few bucketfuls of ocean water in the pool for them to play in. They love it, and it's safer than the ocean. J.P., Los Angeles, California
CLEANING SANDY FEET: Before leaving the beach, I fill my child's bucket with water and carry it to the car. Then, I dip her sandy feet in the bucket and pour the remainder over my feet before we get in the car. Now I don't have to vacuum the car after every beach trip. B.C., Escondido, California
Another way to clean wet, sandy feet is to use baby powder. Sprinkle it on feet; the sand will dry almost immediately and can be easily wiped off with a towel.
QUITTING A FAVORITE ACTIVITY
THE FIVE-MINUTE WARNING: No matter what the activity in which a child is engaged, he or she has the right not to be abruptly interrupted to do something else. Just think about it; would you like someone to whisk you away from something enjoyable to do something odious? Just as you have the right to be informed, so does a child. Remind your child that a change in activity will occur. Then let him know when he has fifteen, ten, and five minutes to complete whatever it is he is engaged in before the new activity. Adrienne Pelker, Santa Cruz, California
"IT'S TIME TO GO": Children have a tough time leaving a favorite activity such as the playground at the park or the local swimming pool. Now, instead of nagging or complaining, I simply tell my children that it's time to leave. If they don't leave immediately, I clock the number of minutes it takes them to quit. The next time we do that same activity, I make my child wait for the same number of minutes before starting that activity. For example, if my son takes ten minutes to get out of the pool after asking him, he has to wait ten minutes before getting in the pool during the next visit. Mary Lea McAnally, Stanford, California
Make sure the child is old enough to understand time and responsibility.
"ON YOUR MARK, GET SET, GO": When my children are playing at the park or engaged in a particularly interesting activity, I give them a five-minute warning so they can finish up what they are doing and prepare themselves to go. Then, when it is time to go, I say, "On your mark, get set, go!" and we all run to the car. This way, leaving is fun, too, and they do not linger at the park. Sherry Niger, Bountiful, Utah
"THE TIMER SAID YOU MUST GO HOME NOW": When the neighbor children come over to play, they usually give me a message -- "I can stay for an hour." I set my stove timer, then when it is time to go home, I say, "The timer said you must go home now." It has saved a lot of arguments because a child can't plead with a timer. Patti Potts Johnson, Omaha, Nebraska
TIMER TO GO: When my four-year-old visits one of her friends on our street, I send along my small portable timer set for the number of minutes she is permitted to visit. I also set my stove timer for the same amount of time plus a few minutes (allowing for good-byes). I then keep an eye out for her as she walks home. She hasn't been late yet! J.M., Pleasanton, California
LEAVING A FAVORITE PLACE: From a very early age, my son threw a fit whenever I came to pick him up from Grandma's house. It was hard for him to abruptly stop whatever he was doing and get out to the car. I finally started using the pickup techniques used by his preschool. At preschool, the kids are all sitting by the door, ready to go and waiting for their parents to arrive. Then the teacher walks them to the parent's car and helps them get in. So now, I call Grandma just before I leave and they finish their activity and clean up. He is ready and waiting for me. When I pull up, Grandma walks him to the car, and away we go. Kathy Tubbs, San Jose, California
"IT'S TIME TO LEAVE": It's often a challenge for a parent to pry a child away from playing at a friend's house, especially if you're in a hurry. As soon as the host parent announces, "Laura, your dad's here to take you home," both kids run and hide. Then they find other excuses to delay leaving, which can take up to ten to fifteen minutes. I recently tried a new strategy that really worked. I announced that I would count to 20, then I would get in the car and leave. I opened our host's front door and said goodbye as I counted to 17. My daughter immediately came out of hiding and dashed out the door. She knew that I was serious. A process that used to take many minutes now takes only seconds. T.D., Denver, Colorado
ARTS AND CRAFTS
CRAFT BOX: I filled a large flat box with "throwaways" from my home and treasures from the craft store: berry baskets, paper-towel and toilet-paper tubes, Styrofoam meat trays, different-shaped spangles, dollies, feathers, plastic eyes, glitter, different-shaped wooden beads, and glue sticks. My five-year-old daughter and her friends have spent hours creating gorgeous masterpieces. A craft box also makes a wonderful gift for a child. Marie Levie, St. Paul, Minnesota
Be careful that a young child doesn't have access to small items he could swallow or choke on.
STAMP DAY: I save all free stamps, like Christmas or Easter Seals, and any free stickers which I receive. Every once in a while, we have what we call "Stamp Day." I give my kids a piece of paper, and they can lick the stamps or place the stickers in any design they want. They have fun and it doesn't cost a thing. B. Goke, Roselle, Illinois
$$ CHILDREN LOVE MAKING GREETING CARDS: Instead of sending store-bought cards to your relatives, make your own cards with construction paper and a recent photo of your child. The caption can be as simple as "Some one wants to wish you a happy birthday!" D.L. Tarsa, Michigan
COUPONS FOR MOM: Children love to cut things out, so I let my children cut out coupons for me. It saves me time too. Carol Smead, San Jose, California
$$ PLAY DOUGH RECIPE:
2 cups flour 3 tablespoons oil
2 cups water 4 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup salt
If using powdered paint for color, add to flour prior to mixing. If using food coloring, add to water prior to mixing. Then add all ingredients together and cook, at medium heat, till the mixture is sticky and gathers in a big lump (will pull away from the sides of the pan). Cool and knead out lumps. A.S., Fremont, California
NATURE COLLAGES: My preschoolers enjoy gluing treasures (pebbles, leaves, twigs, etc.) which they collect outside onto colored paper or cardboard. I cut up cereal boxes for an ideal weight of cardboard. Nancy Lee, Pasadena, California
A COLLAGE OF PHOTOS: Looking at a photo album of himself or herself is an excellent quiet activity for a toddler, one which always calms ours. I recommend covering the pictures with transparent contact paper. I arranged my daughter's album in approximate chronological order so she can watch her own development. I also included pictures of her family and friends. Melanie Lawrence, Portland, Oregon
PHOTOS FOR THE CRAFT BOX: My three kids have discovered numerous ways to use family photos that didn't turn out good or double prints that I didn't have a use for. They cut out faces on the photos and glue them on their computer-generated (they use Print Shop) or store-bought greeting cards for that personalized look. Some are absolutely amusing! My son has even glued faces from our photos on some of his sports cards. So instead of throwing those photos away, give them to your kids and wait for their masterpieces to appear. L.C., Portland, Oregon
YOU CAN DRAW ON THIS WALL: If your child loves to draw and prefers doing it on the walls, tack up a large sheet of butcher paper on an accessible wall to provide an acceptable drawing area. Peggy Crane, Cupertino, California
REMOVING UNWANTED CRAYON MARKS: The product Soft Scrub works great to remove unwanted crayon marks on plastic toys and other items. Beth Weis, Buffalo Grove, Illinois
REMOVING CRAYON FROM WALLPAPER: If little hands mistake your wallpaper for a crayon coloring book, fear not, there is hope. Heat the crayon marks with a hair dryer. When the crayon wax heats up, wipe it off with a damp cloth. If there is still a stain, use a damp cloth with a small amount of mild soap. B. Hoffman, Seattle, Washington
SHARPEN CRAYONS: A vegetable peeler works like magic to sharpen crayons. J.H., Portland, Oregon
"TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ARTWORK": I love to admire my children's art projects, but I cringe when they show me a drawing and ask, "Daddy, do you know what this is?" I usually guess wrong. "That's a great-looking gorilla," I once said admiringly. "But Daddy," my daughter replied with a frown, "that's not a gorilla -- that's you. Can't you tell?" Since then, my wife has taught me to respond to their drawings by saying, "Tell me about it," instead of trying to guess. Thomas Leslie, San Diego, California
NECKLACES YOU CAN EAT: My son likes to make necklaces on yarn using Froot Loops or Cheerios which he enjoys eating as much as making. Debra Randall, East Haven, Connecticut
MEMORIALIZING THREE-DIMENSIONAL ARTWORK: Some artwork is more difficult to save than others, especially the large three-dimensional pieces frequently crafted at preschool or kindergarten. I would put my child on the couch, surround him with his latest artwork, and take a picture. I would keep the picture of the child with his artwork in an album. Since I had a picture of the artwork, I wouldn't feel pressure to save the originals. It was fun to do and we still enjoy the photos. Kim Griffey, Shelbyville, Indiana
WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THAT ARTWORK: Both my son and I wanted to save all of his paper artwork, but we couldn't keep everything. We came up with two solutions to our problem. Now, when the refrigerator gets covered with his artwork we take a picture of him in front of it. Then we clear off all his masterpieces from the refrigerator and display some of the artwork in our son's own personal art gallery, the walls of our garage. The photographs provide a permanent but compact record of our own Van Gogh's creations, as well as showing how big he was at the time. K.T. Hom, San Jose, California
STORAGE TRUNK SAVES "MASTERPIECES": Save precious art and craft projects, selected schoolwork, report cards, etc., in an inexpensive storage trunk, available at most discount stores. You can store the trunk in your children's closet or in the garage. Years later, you and your children will have a great time looking through the memorabilia. Just make sure they take it with them when they move out. Anonymous, California
TAKE A PICTURE OF THAT LEGO STRUCTIURE: My six-year-old builds very detailed structures out of blocks or Legos that he is very proud of. Often, his two-and-a-half-year-old brother comes along and knocks down the creations, causing major grief to my older child. He even asked me if we could glue his creations together so they couldn't get knocked over. I explained that block and Lego creations are not permanent, and if we glued them together he couldn't build more things. Now, I take photos of my son's creations, which do make his creations permanent. Robin Bunton, Fremont, California
$$ ARTWORK WRAPPING PAPER: Use children's artwork as wrapping paper for friends' birthday gifts -- the gift is the artwork too. Pamela Nakaso, Fremont, California
HANGING CRAFT PROJECTS: Three-dimensional art and craft projects can make beautiful decorations. We hang fishing line from the ceiling and attach our child's art masterpieces to it. This is better than taping or pinning things to the wall. Patricia R. Shamshoian, Fremont, California
STORING LARGE CREATIONS: Children's artwork mounds up fast. Save the large pieces by rolling them up and storing in large cylinder containers (available in mailing-supply stores). Carol Smead, San Jose, California
BEDROOM ART GALLERY: Instead of decorating your child's bedroom walls with posters and fancy pictures, let her hang her own masterpieces on her walls. She will have the pride of seeing her own artwork displayed, and Mom will have an uncluttered refrigerator door. Melody Mueller, Fremont, California
WORTH FRAMING: To encourage my children's creativity, I purchased a few inexpensive acrylic box-style frames for their drawings. Every few days or weeks, we change the pictures in the frames. My children are encouraged by the compliments they get from guests who visit their toy room. Angie Satterfield, Patriot, Indiana
ARTWORK UNDER GLASS: Display children's artwork under glass on top of a table or desk (at home or work). Anonymous
$$ ARTWORK BECOMES STATIONARY: We have found a way to recycle the multitude of art projects our children bring home. The small paintings and drawings make enjoyable stationery and greeting cards. Polly Morehouse Griffith, Santa Rosa, California
A GIFT OF CHILDHOOD ART: I saved most of my children's art masterpieces from their early years. When they became parents themselves for the first time, I gave it back to them as a present. I framed some of the larger pieces and made a framed collage with the smaller ones. They loved it! Joan, Bethesda, Maryland
$$ MAKE YOUR OWN BABY GYM: To make an inexpensive "baby gym" (cost is $3-$4) buy a ten-foot length of 3/4-inch or 1/2-inch PVC pipe, four 45-degree elbows, and two T's. Cut the pipe into the following pieces: four 2-foot sections for the legs, one 18-inch piece for the crossbar, and four 1 1/2-inch pieces to place between the T's and the elbows. It comes apart easily and quickly for handy storage. Hang your child's favorite toys on it using Discovery Toys' Boomerings links or a similar product. D.L. Tarsa, Michigan
Be very careful that the toys you hang from the "gym" are secured safely and that there are no strings or ropes long enough for the baby to get tangled in.
"REAL" KEY RING FOR BABY: A key ring securely fastening spare keys will fascinate a baby. Peg Hartley, San Bernardino, California
$$ TOY PHONES: Don't throw your old phone away; give it to your child as a toy. A "real" phone is more fun than a toy one. Barbara O'Neil, San Diego, California
Remember to take off the cord. It could be a choking hazard.
TOY CHAIN LINKS -- 1,000 USES FOR CHILDREN AND PARENTS: Colorful toy chain links have many uses for children and parents; their only limit is your imagination. They are available in some toy stores and through Discovery Toys. Here are a few creative ideas:
A PARADE OF LINKED ANIMALS: My son attaches the toy chain links to his stuffed animals and makes a parade. Sometimes he attaches them to his waist and pretends he's a horse. Stephanie Beyer, Williamsburg, Virginia
SHOPPING-CART AMUSEMENTS: Toy chain links are a wonderful addition to any shopping experience. I hung a chain of links from the cart or seat belt to a bunch of toys that kept my seven-month-old busy and my shopping peaceful. Donna Carbone, Waterbury, Connecticut
SAFETY LATCHES: Parents can use toy chain links to close off kitchen cupboards and cabinets. Anonymous, Gurnee, Illinois
Be careful of the miniature toy chain links that could be swallowed by children.
Consumer Products Safety
TOY EXCHANGE WITH FRIENDS: Before buying a new toy, Nintendo, or computer software, it's always best to try it out to see if your children will really use it. A toy exchange with other families is the answer: trade toys with each other to consider if they would be worth a purchase of your own. Make sure each toy is clearly marked with the name of the owner and the date it must be returned. Carol Smead, San Jose, California
CHILDREN'S PUZZLES: When children play with jigsaw puzzles, have them put the pieces together on a large tray or poster board or in a shallow cardboard box. If the puzzle takes days to complete, it can be moved for cleaning or taken to another table or room. After the puzzle is completed, ask your child to turn it upside down so the back side is facing up. Using a color marker, draw a line up and down the puzzle, making sure that you mark each piece. Then, using the same color marker, draw a line up and down the puzzle, making sure that you mark each piece. Then, using the same color marker, place a mark on the puzzle box so you will be able to identify a missing puzzle piece with a certain puzzle. Use a different color for each puzzle. Ellen McKinney, Indianapolis, Indiana
$$ BROKEN AUDIOTAPES: Audiotapes are fragile and often get pulled out of their cassettes and too tangled to repair. To avoid having to buy an expensive replacement, make a backup copy as soon as you buy a new tape. Kim VanGorder, Cary, North Carolina
$$ BABIES LOVE KITCHEN "TOYS": We have the high chair in the kitchen, where the baby can watch what's going on and I can give him things to chew or play with while I'm doing dishes or preparing food. At seven months, he particularly likes Tupperware, spoons, measuring spoons, and things that roll around his tray, like large plastic containers with plastic blocks placed inside. Empty plastic yogurt cups make great stacking toys. P.H., Albany, California
1,001 USES FOR PLASTIC PAILS: The most used toys in our household, for both our children (ages two and five), are two inexpensive plastic pails. We seem to take them everywhere: on treasure hunts for leaves, twigs, and rocks; to the park and beach for sand play; and even on a recent vacation, where the children were happiest playing and digging in the dirt. The simplest toys -- the ones that can be used in many different ways -- are often the best. Anonymous, Wilmette, Illinois
OTHER KIDS CAN'T PLAY WITH THESE TOYS: This is a trick my mother useed when we were little. A lot of parents wonder why children get upset when other children play with their toys. It's the same thing with adults: if a neighbor wanted to borrow your old, beat-up truck, you might let her, but if she wanted to use your brand-new car, you might think twice about it. My parents allowed us to have two boxes of toys, a box of toys that no one else was allowed to touch and a box with toys that we didn't mind sharing with other children. It always worked for us. K.B., Reno, Nevada
KITCHEN "BEACH TOYS": The best beach toys can be found in your kitchen: colanders, basters, measuring cups and spoons, plastic containers, nonbreakable bowls, large wooden spoons, funnels, etc. B.C., San Diego, California
CLEANING PLASTIC TOYS: The easiest way to clean plastic toys is to run them through the dishwasher. Most will fit directly on the dishwasher racks, and smaller pieces can be put in a laundry mesh bag. Make sure the toys look sturdy enough to withstand high temperatures and don't have decals that will wash off.M.L.B., Eugene, Oregon
COPING WITH TOY CLUTTER
TOY ROOM: One of the best things I ever did was to turn a spare room into a "toy room." Now my two children have uncluttered bedrooms and a fun room in which to play with their toys. One of my neighbors installed an inexpensive carpet in his garage, which became the "toy room." D.K.P., Vancouver, Washington
CHILDREN'S "GARAGE SALE": Spring is a great time to gather up all those toys collecting dust in your children's bedroom along with the no-longer-needed baby items stored in the attic. Invite a few other families to do the same and to join you for a "Kids' Furniture and Toys Garage Sale." Help the kids price each toy, and let them collect the money in their own money box. The proceeds from the toy sales can go into the children's savings, or they can use the money to buy new toys. A children's garage sale or flea market is also a great fund-raiser for preschools and other organizations. D.K., Berlin, Germany
RECYCLE TOYS: Children often have too many toys to enjoy all at once and end up creating more clutter than fun. The valuable trick I learned is to take some of the toys and store them in a box out of sight. After a few weeks, when your child needs a bright spot in his day, you can pull out the old toys and they will seem like brand-new fun. I kept at least one third of our toys recycled that way and found it worked like magic! It also cut down on the clutter. June Stewart, Salt Lake City, Utah
ROTATE THREE BOXES OF TOYS: If your toddler has acquired too many toys from loving family and friends, divide them into three boxes, store two up on a shelf, keep one down, and rotate boxes once a month. As the next box comes down, interest increases with the discovery of "new things." Keep two or three favorite toys always available. Peggy Crane, Cupertino, California
TWO TOYS AT A TIME: Our son has gotten a lot better at putting his toys away because we only let him take out two toys at a time. When he wants to take out another toy, he has to put the other two toys back. Debra Randall, East Haven, Connecticut
TOY EXCHANGE: I keep many of my children's toys in a box in the basement. When the children want to play with something from that box, they must exchange one of their current everyday toys for something from the cellar box. They learn to appreciate everything and keep toys at a minimum in their room. Marilyn Horning, Fulton, New York
CHECK OUT TOYS: Toys can clutter up a child's room in no time. To discourage this, we started a practice of checking out toys from a large cabinet that had a safety lock on it. Each child could check out three toys at a time. When they finished playing with those toys, they could check out three more. The cabinet contained toys (games, puzzles, etc.), but books were always available in each child's room. Bonnie Lowe, Fremont, California
WHEN NEW TOYS ARE ABUNDANT: Whenever Christmas or birthdays come, my children receive a lot of toys. I let them play with them for a while and then I take some of them away and put them in the closet. If they get sick or the weather is bad, I take a toy out. They think it's new, and I save money and agony. Rosary Liggieri, Paramus, New Jersey
"WE'LL PUT IT ON THE LIST": For a cure of the "gimmies" -- young children want everything seen on TV or in the toy store -- say, "We'll put it on the list." It could be a birthday or Christmas list. The children feel you are really listening to their request and doing something about it. Lisa, Sacramento, California
$$ A FRIENDLY TOY EXCHANGE: Box up the toys that your child doesn't play with anymore and trade it for a box of toys that one of his friends doesn't play with anymore. Both kids will enjoy the discarded toys from their friend. Anonymous
$$ BABY WIPE CONTAINERS: We use empty Baby Wipe containers to store all kinds of things, such as Barbie accessories, play money, and marbles. We cover the old Baby Wipe label with pretty Contact Paper and put a label on the top as to the new contents. We then shelve them alphabetically. Sabra Jiwa, Marietta, Georgia
SHELVES ARE BETTER THAN TOY CHESTS: I got rid of my son's toy box and put up bookcases and shelves. I found that with shelves he is a lot neater and has easier access to the toys. Debra Carangelo, East Haven, Connecticut
FLOOR-TO-CEILING STUFFED ANIMALS: An excellent way to display stuffed animals in a child's room without using a lot of space is to hang them on a vertical pole. I bought a regular closet pole with two end attachments (just like in your closet) which was the length of the floor to the ceiling. I secured the end pieces (one to the ceiling, the other to the floor) and began hanging stuffed animals with regular cup hooks. If you have a lot of stuffed animals you won't even see the pole. It's a great way to brighten up a room. Patty Radley, Newmarket, Ontario
PICTURE LABELS SHOW WHERE TOYS BELONG: Cut out the picture of the toy from the box it came in, and place this as a label where the toy belongs. Even toddlers can put their toys away if they can match the toy with its Picture. Sharon Marriott, Livermore, California
STACKABLES FOR TOYS: We use stackable baskets (various brands available) for all small toys. They are easy for a child to use and add color to a room. Pat Remmes, Walnut Creek, California
FOR ODDS AND ENDS: We store our daughter's small toys and odds and ends that accumulate in an appropriate-sized plastic trash can. There are colored ones to match any decor. This has solved cleanup for our two-year-old. Now she dumps the toys out -- plays with them -- then dumps them back in! Cleanup is a cinch -- just "trash it"! Also, if we can't find some little something, we know we can usually go straight to that trash can to find it. Sabra Jiwa, Marietta, Georgia
Be careful with buckets, pails, and trash cans around infants and toddlers; they can fall in headfirst and be injured.
INSIDE/OUTSIDE TOYS: Together, the children and I determined which toys were outside toys and which ones were inside toys. We made a rule that outside toys had to stay outside and vice versa. To store small outside toys, we kept a large laundry basket in the backyard. Bonnie Lowe, Fremont, California
SHOE ORGANIZER FOR BARBIE DOLLS: I bought an inexpensive hanging shoe organizer in which to display and organize my daughter's Barbie dolls and accessories. It hangs neatly on the back of her bedroom door, clearly displaying all Barbies and accessories in its sixteen clear plastic pockets. Access is easy, and so is cleanup. Andrea Bitter, Ardenwood, California
CLEANUP BAG: If you have to clean up in a hurry (say, under five minutes), grab some brown grocery bags. Just tear around the house filling up the grocery bags with everything you want to put away. Stash the bags in the basement or closet and sort them out some other time. This has an added advantage of being attractive to children as a kind of game -- who can fill up the most bags or who can do it the fastest. In under five minutes you can have your house looking all shipshape. Gail Lynch, Washington, D.C.
SPREAD A SHEET BEFORE PLAYTIME: My mother has a clever idea that speeds up cleaning my three-year-old sister's room. She always spreads a sheet on the floor before my sister plays with her toys. Then, when it's time to clean up, she gathers up the corners of the sheet and picks all the toys up at once. R.G., Waterbury, Connecticut
This works especially well for small toys such as blocks and Legos.
LINOLEUM PROTECTS CARPET: I keep a six-by-six foot piece of linoleum on hand to protect my carpet from messy arts and crafts projects. Whenever my children ask for toys or art supplies that could stain my carpet, I put the sheet of linoleum down first. Spills are a cinch to clean up, and the linoleum rolls up for easy storage. You can also use a sheet of linoleum as a permanent carpet protector under a child's desk, high chair, or other area where spills or messes are likely. You can buy a small sheet of linoleum that matches the decor in a room or you can ask your local floor covering dealer if he has a remnant you can have for free. Linda Arrieta, Fremont, California
TOY PICKUP -- BY WAGON: When toys clutter the entire house, we pull a wagon around in which we collect the toys to be put away. It sure saves time and steps. Angie Satterfield, Patriot, Indiana
A laundry basket works too.
RAKE'EM UP: My lifesaver for picking up small toys has turned out to be a small plastic toy rake. I use it to rake Tinkertoys and other small toys into a pile so they're easy to pick up. Janine Walters, Center Point, Iowa
TOYS -- UPSTAIRS AND DOWNSTAIRS: If the children's bedrooms are upstairs, let them each bring down a basket of toys in the morning and take them back up at bedtime. It saves a lot of trips up and down the stairs. Kim VanGorder, Cary, North Carolina
Copyright © 1993, 1998 by Tom McMahon