Pretend and play

Theme boxes provide hours of fun

It's Sunday morning. It's freezing and windy outside. You've already been to the museums this winter, and the glow has already worn off the new toys your kids got for the holidays. You could just let them veg out in front of the TV, but you know you're going to have to come up with something educational, entertaining and inexpensive.

Here's one idea: grab a paper and pencil, gather the kids around the table, and ask them to come up with a few "play themes." Some example themes include "house," "doctor's office," "grocery store" or any other area that your kids are interested in (my grandchildren are currently obsessed with firefighters).

Next make a list of all of the props that kids could use to play out these themes. For a doctor's office, the list might include a toy stethoscope and syringes (many toy doctors' kits have these items), Band-Aids, Q-tips, cotton balls, tongue depressors and empty medicine bottles. Don't forget the magazines for the waiting room, telephone, calendar and pens for making appointments and clipboards for the young physicians to enter information on their patients' charts. (All items should, of course, be age-appropriate.) Give the kids a designated space to set up their "office." The coffee table, covered with a sheet, can become the exam table. X-rays can be taped to the window.

Once you have your list, head off to your favorite discount store where you can buy the items on your list, as well as a couple of large plastic tubs that you can label for each theme and use for storage. (My favorite places: Wal-Mart and U.S. Toy in Skokie, which sells many costume and novelty items.) For items that are hard to find or out of your budget range, try other sources. Your kids' pediatrician might be willing to give you a dozen surgical masks or a few pairs of latex gloves. For surgical scrubs, cut a v-neck in an oversized green T-shirt. Shorten the sleeves of a white dress shirt for a doctor's lab coat and ask your doctor for a copy of an old X-ray.

Grocery store Empty food boxes (place on an empty book or toy shelf) Cash register Play money, credit cards Store ads, coupons, scissors to cut out coupons Shopping cart Pads, pens and pencils Employee name tags Store signs, posters (Jewel-Osco, Sale, Buy One, Get One Free) Bags Styrofoam trays/plastic wrap for toy meat, vegetables, bakery items, etc.

Restaurant Toy food Toy dishes, napkins, etc. Tablecloth Menus Order pads, pens, pencils Cash register Play money, credit cards Telephone

Barber shop/beauty salon Combs, brushes Hair clips and accessories TOY scissors (to avoid actual haircuts!) Capes/shirts Mirrors Magazines Pictures/posters of hair styles Phone Cash register Play money, credit cards Appointment book Pens and pencils Telephone Toy nail polish (made from water-color paint) Empty shampoo bottles Spray bottle with water Cotton balls Whiskbroom Hair dryer

Auto mechanic Toy cars and trucks Coveralls (or jeans and sweatshirts) Caps or T-shirts with car logos or patches Safety goggles Car magazines Flashlights Plastic tools Any real auto parts that aren't too filthy or sharp Rags Empty oil cans Phone Calendar Appointment book Cash register Play money, credit cards

Castle Large box: Cut a door and windows and help your kids paint or decorate it (Hint: Call a store that sells appliances. Often you can get boxes at the end of the day before they're crushed or flattened.) Robes Crowns: Make out of cardboard covered with aluminum foil Scepter: plastic or cardboard/foil Jewelry (or beads and string so kids can make their own) Throne (cover a couple of chairs with a blanket or pretty fabric)

Shoe store Shoes Rulers (for measuring feet) Empty shoe boxes Shoelaces Mirrors Chairs Cash register Play money, credit cards, pads and pens for writing receipts

Office Computer (or even an old keyboard) Phone Phone books Calendar Notepads Pens and pencils Paper Envelopes Gummed paper for stamps (Hint: print out a stamp-like design on a sheet of labels) Scissors Tape Stickers Calculator Mailbox White board, markers, erasers Bulletin board, pins Date stamper, other stamps Return address labels


Phyllis Nutkis

Kids Eat Chicago

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