Saturday, March 21, 2009

Save good money with DIY child distractions

In these economically-challenging times, we've recently found a simple way to shave dollars off the childcare bill. The key insight is this: Basically, kids don't need toys.

That probably needs unpacking (especially since we famously splurged on a 'Big Time Toy' ourselves a while back). The thought crystallised yesterday when we saw Sonny (who's all of 11 months old) converting one of our plastic four-legged stools into his personal walking aid. He was happily pushing it along - making an infernal screeching sound on our second-rate marble, it must be said - and marching from place to place. He managed to stay more or less upright, though at times he ended up on his knees - still manfully shoving his walker in front of him.

It then occurred to us that the same improvisational spirit could be extended to much of the constellation of toys needed to keep the little fella occupied. Remote control units, for instance, seem to hold a special fascination for him; since we have television and air-conditioning controls malfunctioning with boring regularity, a good supply could easily supplied for his delectation. Clean shoeboxes have been known to hold him in thrall for a good spell of time and bottles of mineral water double as 'roll 'n crash 'em' devices as well as handy counting aids ('One bottle', 'two bottles'...). Pa has also experimented with umbrellas, with encouraging results.

Sometimes, of course, a baby will appreciate a purpose-made toy just for variety's sake. Here, the name of the game seems to be 'flexible' (or 'dual use', to use the terminology we employed in 'Big Time Toy still eludes us'). Toys that can only be played one way are quickly discarded. But things that can be come at from different approaches - that make a range of sounds (changeable by pressing an easily-located button) or offer a great variety of textures for happy chewing - are much better value. Then, too, you want toys that can be absorbed into whatever fantasy or elaborate story that the slightly-older child will begin constructing. If you leave the young 'un with more imaginative work to do, he may actually get more fun out of the item.

Naturally, the trouble with DIY toys is that we have to look out for unintended 'side-effects'. For instance, our amazing stool-cum-walker may need to be sparingly used due to the potential for extensive, crisscrossing scratches all over our floor. And some things are just plain dangerous (no plastic bags now! and might Junior gnaw off toxic paint flecks?) for conversion to kiddy-playtime activities. So a good seasoning of good sense should always be on hand - not to mention a good wash to remove any encrustations from the item's previous child-unfriendly existence.

Sounds like more work than its worth? Take it as a parenting game of sorts. How inventive can you get? Everyone can get in a bit of play...