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.
Visit the Chicago Parent Web site (www.chicago parent.com) for more theme box ideas for theme boxes.