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I've never bought my granddaughter a toy. Not because I'm "Granny Cheapskate," but because I have no desire to add to the hundreds (literally) of toys that she already has. My gifts to her are always books and clothes.
She's almost four now, and one of her favorite things to do is to snuggle up on the couch with a good book—or twenty—for me to read to her. But even a studious four-year-old likes to play, so when she comes to visit, I look to the recycling bin for inspiration. Using items I would have otherwise thrown away, my granddaughter and I pretend to do everything from shop at the grocery store to deliver the mail.
My granddaughter loves that all these items are real. And if they ever get damaged or boring, off to the recycling bin they go, to be replaced with an endless supply of new "toys!"
Here are some of our favorite "recycled" games:
Beauty Parlor: This came naturally because I played the same game with my daughter 25 years ago. It began simply enough: We liked to brush each other's long hair. This led to using bobby pins, headbands and barrettes. Then I got creative and washed out empty shampoo and conditioner bottles, as well as compacts and makeup brushes. We kept our supplies in a tote bag, and just called it "playing hairdresser." Today, my granddaughter and I call it, "Beauty Parlor." It sounds more glamorous that way. We have an appointment book (a notepad) with our names in it, and we've added a nail salon with cotton balls and an empty, clean bottle of polish. This takes a little bit of work, with several vigorous shakings and soakings of nail polish remover, before it’s washed in hot soapy water. But the result is worth it: a single bottle of nail polish that comes in every color we can imagine and never spills!
Grocery Store: This one's easy. Just keep some of the food containers you would normally throw away; you don't even have to wash most of them. We have empty boxes of crackers, granola bars, brown sugar, tea bags, butter, pasta, and cereal. Leaving some plastic containers unwashed makes shopping more fun since we can smell the coffee, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg before we buy them! We also have a cash register (a small box), an old wallet filled with pennies because nothing costs more than five cents (my kind of grocery store), and a canvas bag to carry everything home.
Post Office/Mail Delivery: This one literally comes to my door. I just keep all of my junk mail, and needless to say, I've got a lot of it. We painted a large cardboard box to look like a mailbox (an activity in itself); so what if the American eagle looks like a dog with wings? We use an old leather pocketbook for a mailbag. Yes, it’s more reminiscent of the Pony Express, but my granddaughter doesn't seem to notice or care. She just likes to deliver the mail. We even get packages (the grocery items can do double-duty if they're wrapped in brown paper bags) and sometimes, to her delight, we open them!
About SJ Wilson
SJ Wilson has been writing novels for many years, including the recently published, The Soul of Fenway. She loves spending time with her family, especially at the beach. Her hobbies include genealogy, photography, American history, and baseball.
Photo: Caleb Pitt