Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Best and Worst in Childhood Entertainment

To the veteran moms, this is no headliner. To the new moms on the block, listen up. And to grandparents everywhere, take notes. We all want our children to have toys that will stimulate their minds, develop hand eye coordination, and well, let's face it, entertain them for more than two minutes. So I'm here to take all the guess work out of knowing what is THE BEST and THE WORST in childhood entertainment.

Let's start with what you DO NOT want. Many signing toys have a high pitch or really loud volume that can not be muted. Make sure you play it before you buy and ask yourself: "Would I want to listen to that 25 times in a row?" If not, put it back. And if you've received one of those god-forsaken toys from a well-intentioned loved one, try to mask the volume with scotch tape over the speaker; it helps.

In the NO pile, I'd also include games that don't fit back into the box once assembled. I love Hungry Hungry Hippos but seriously, who's going to take that apart to put it away? Retailers, modify the box already! And Legos are great, but those itsy bitsy, teeny tiny pieces that the older kids tend to get drive me crazy! All I see is choking hazards or frustration as they try to match the picture, especially after that critical piece just dropped down the air vent.

But by far the worst form of entertainment for us right now is a video we rented from the library last week: Wheels on the Bus. Thankfully I can return that today, but I'm considering paying the library to take it out of circulation--sparing other parents from losing their minds! I can appreciate that the song Wheels on the Bus is good for developing young minds: the simplicity of the melody, the repetition yet variation of the lyrics. But this video, which we've played going to and from school daily, sings the song five different times, as the characters are seeking their home by driving on the bus. YOU try listening to that song 10 times a day and not have it ramble through your brain at the dinner table, exercising, and going to sleep. And what kills me is how much my 3 and even 6 year old have enjoyed this video. I wouldn't have thought Bobby, who's addicted to Bakugan and Dinosaur King, would have any interest in Wheels on the Bus, but it's been the number one request this week. It's not worth my sanity. Deliver me!

As for the BEST, I'll give honorable mentions to wooden blocks, balls of all sizes, paints and crayons, stickers, and any toy with wheels that fits in their hands. But the winner in my mind is easy: the cardboard box. We all know young kids often favor the boxes or wrapping paper to the toys inside them, but it's really true that the best toy in the world is a box.
A. It's free.
B. It comes in all shapes and sizes.
C. It's versatile.
D. It appeals to both genders and all ages.
E. It's easy to decorate and no big deal to recycle.
F. It's the perfect springboard for imagination.

We've used a variety of boxes throughout the years and I'm always looking for new ideas. We turned the giant box the refrigerator came in into an art box--where all painting, play doh, and other messy activities happen. When the fire truck that Santa brought needed a fire station, Bob turned to our stash of boxes and made a custom one to fit; that lasted over a year. The one a blueberry bush arrived in was transformed into a space ship. Egg cartons made the perfect control panels, and the boys painted it every color they could find. And when it finally deteriorated, we just recycled it.

Last year I wrapped our sturdiest boxes of all sizes in brightly colored contact paper. They have been superb building blocks that make great towers to knock down or the coupling bolts between couch cushions for a train. Our favorite box right now first shipped my office chair. It's decorated with lizard stickers now and has a hand-made, paper towel roll handle. It became even more fun when Devin decided to turn it upright, making it more suitable for a hide-out. I think we'll use it as a time machine tomorrow. The possibilities are endless really.

I doubt you'll arrive at any birthday party toting cardboard boxes as the gift, but never underestimate the power of a gift's packaging. Every box deserves another life. Reuse and then recycle.

Share your favorite uses for cardboard boxes.

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