Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Cheap Stuff Kids Love

About a year ago, I posted a blog entry called “Cheap Stuff I Love.” I listed a bunch of free or inexpensive things that I really enjoy, like Dunkin Donuts’ Butter Pecan iced coffee and non-stick foil. But after having spent this past weekend camping with two small children, I realized there is another list waiting to be written: Cheap Stuff Kids Love. And here is that list!


Dirt – free (optional accessories: bucket, $0.99 and shovel, $0.79)
You don’t even have to go to a store to get dirt. It’s everywhere, free for the taking! There’s some in the yard, there’s some at the beach, there’s lots at the playground. Kids can shovel it, roll around in it, scuff their feet in it, or add water and make it into pies. It comes in multiple colors, from black to brown to red to beige. And it’s completely washable! And non-toxic! (Well, mostly.)

Bubbles - $0.99
Hardly a day goes by that one or the other of my kids doesn’t beg me to let them blow bubbles – or to blow bubbles for them. My 3-year-old is fascinated by the fact that I can blow single, giant bubbles rather than the stream of tiny ones that she’s just beginning to master. So she’ll blow some for herself for a while, then she’ll hand me the wand and request, “Blow a giant bubble, Mama!!”

We blow bubbles outside and watch them drift through the yard; we blow them in the kitchen and get a clean kitchen floor in the process; we blow them while sitting on the potty to help, ahem, move the action along. We blow them with wands, with straws and string, and with bubble guns. We love bubbles.

Paper Towel Tubes – free with purchase
One of the most exciting moments of the week in my house is when I get to the end of a roll of paper towels. I can actually bribe my children by promising the most well-behaved one the next empty roll. In their hands, it becomes a musical instrument, a pirate’s telescope, a drumstick, a hat, a long claw, a sword, and anything else their imaginations can come up with. And around the same time that it starts to lose its appeal, it also starts to fall apart and can be tossed in the recycle bin with no hard feelings.

A Recorder - $5
Although considerably less of a delight to parents (and dogs within a 2-mile radius), a recorder is a joy to all children. Even a cheap recorder is capable of making lovely, tuneful sounds, but in the hands of a small child, it can also produce glass-shattering squeals and squeaks at impressive decibel levels. Whether marching in an imaginary parade, sitting on the sofa, or following Mom around the house, playing a recorder is one of the most satisfying (not to mention one of the loudest) experiences a child can have.

Scotch Tape - $1.50
I once read that when taking a long plane or car trip with small children, you could keep them entertained with small pieces of scotch tape. And I soon discovered that any time my kids were bored, I could simply give them a few strips of scotch tape and they would stay busy for hours at a time. My daughter prefers to stick small pieces across her nose and mouth; my son likes to wrap long lengths around his waist and ankles. Occasionally they’ll tag team me and cover my entire body in small bits of tape, giggling uproariously the whole time. At ten cents a yard, it’s worth every penny.

Packing Materials – free with purchase


As an introvert and an Amazon Prime member, I get a lot of packages shipped to my house. And the vast majority of them come with some kind of packing material. Amazon.com tends to pack with long strips of inflated plastic pillows that are just the right size for little feet to jump on. Other vendors prefer old-fashioned bubble wrap, which is just the right size for little fingers to pinch. Occasionally, a really old-school vendor will ship something surrounded by white or pink Styrofoam packing peanuts and their accompanying halo of static cling. Whatever the packing material, the physical challenge and the audio reward are just the right combination for hours of fun. And when you’re done, just stick them back in a box and send them off to someone else!

Board Game Pieces – $8-$12
The gingerbread men from Candyland. The Sesame Street characters from Chutes and Ladders. The dog, the iron, the racecar, and the top hat from Monopoly. The pink and blue pegs from Life. The penguins from Penguin Pile Up. At some point in time, my daughter has been completely enamored with each of these sets of game pieces. She sobbed inconsolably when we lost the blue Candyland gingerbread man for several hours (he was eventually found, safe and sound, at the bottom of my purse). She steals Cookie Monster from her brother every single time he and I sit down to play Chutes and Ladders. I once found two tiny contraband penguins in her pocket after we’d been playing games at a friend’s house. These games may go for $8-$12, but the lovable cast of characters inside the box are worth much, much more.

The outlay for all seven items on this list will probably run you less than 25 bucks, and that even includes a bonus roll of paper towels. And you get to keep the board game, although I’m not sure how much good it will do you when the iron, the dog, and the top hat are busy having a tea party with the gingerbread men. 

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