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"Tolan, how cool is that?" queried Papa who had just put together a wagon with his three year old grandson. And posing with his newly created robot, twelve year old Cole said, "I think I'll be able to use this for school too."
Both boys had just completed projects using the age appropriate kits that I gave them. These reusable systems encourage youngsters to stretch their creative abilities. Tolan and Cole found used items from around the house (like empty boxes, egg cartons, paper cups, bottle tops, and coat hangers) and they combined these items into something else (a wagon, a robot, a car, a space ship, an animal.)
"Just add a box and some imagination" say the creators of RoloBox, Tolan's kit. It contains four brightly colored plastic wheels and brackets, eight wing nuts, eight bolts, and one pulling handle. Tolan, with the help of his grandfather, enjoyed twisting and turning the screws and later pulling his stuffed animals and mommy's keys around the house.
Cole's kit, on the other hand, called MakeDo, is actually for young people over five (although some adults have been known to use it in their offices as well.) MakeDo comes with an inspiration poster and 165 reusable parts: two plastic safe saws, 17 lock-hinges, 73 connecters, and 73 releasers. In addition, its website provides video tutorials and a gallery where "kids" can upload their creative images, some of which will end up on the next poster. "We love making . . . not just making but making do, using stuff we have to make something new" is the motto of the makers of Cole's kit. He spent several hours building his robot, and his older sister Tayler contributed a handmade bird. Both said they were surprised at how quickly time flew and at how much fun they were having.
RoloBox and MakeDo are great gifts for special occasions and nice to have around the house for “rainy days.” (Of course, if one has a well-stocked workshop at home, he or she can put together something similar without having to purchase the kits as I did.) These gifts have benefitted my own grandchildren by encouraging creative activity; by helping them see value in everyday objects—even waste; and by providing a new way to look at and care for the earth.
By Viaux from Miami, Florida
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I have many times bought the kids those play food kits, and I always found they tired of the stuff quickly. Now I save empty boxes of food and keep switching the stuff around so they always have different play food. Best of all, it's free.
By Coville123 from Brockville, Ontario
Try http://www.craigslist.com for your neighborhood classifieds. There is also nothing wrong with finding some great, clean and barely-used toys at yard sales. My mother buys my son cars at yard sales, and they're fine. She disinfects them before letting him have them. You can find some very nice items that others are selling, and save tons of cash.
By Lisa B
You can borrow the same toy back again later, which is nice too. Moms volunteer their time to come in to wash toys and keep the center open certain times of the week. A great way of not having to spend the money on toys, yet be able to provide their kids with quality educational toys and games.
Thrift stores and garage sales can be a good place to get bargains and missing pieces of sets but there is something special about that brand new toy. I really try to get games and collections because I feel like they have more longevity for the kids.
I see toy food for sale all the time and think that not only is it a waste of money. It may not even be safe with all the recent recalls. Save pint-sized milk cartons, empty pizza boxes, empty mac n'cheese boxes, any food container; wash them out and tape the boxes shut and give them to your toddler. You can even cut out the pictures of food from the boxes. They love to pretend to cook and eat and this will give them something to do while you cook!
By Eugenia from Phoenix, AZ
Don't you hate paying the crazy prices they charge for kids toys - and doesn't it seem like the only ones that go on sale are the ones that are really expensive to begin with?
I noticed though that a lot of seasonal toys get put on clearance - and was able to stock up on some fun bathtub toys for my son by purchasing summer "gardening" and "sandbox" toys at incredibly low prices.
For 25 cents, I got a small plastic watering can which works great for rinsing shampoo out of his hair, and then is fun for him to fill and pour. (one store wanted $9 for a hair rinsing cup!) Sand sifters are fun for scooping bubbles or "sifting" water, and buckets, sand molds, and even shovels are easy to use, easy to clean, and can even double as snow toys when the season changes.
If you have young children, this tip is for you. Recycle common household plastic containers and turn them into sand toys! Good examples for great sand toys are applesauce cups, laundry detergent scoops, powdered formula scoops, empty play dough containers, and of course the containers from margarine, sour cream, cream cheese, etc. My son always has plenty of containers to share at the park!
Make sure to check out thrift stores for Christmas presents. I recently bought a set that had a barn, silo, cows, fences, etc. for $2, I plan to buy a tractor (new or thrift) and have this set up underneath the Christmas tree. My 3 year old will never know it wasn't new in a box.
Avoid the temptation to go online and spend a lot of money on the hot toys your kids are clamoring for. All these toys will be available in January for their retail price.
If your kids want something big like a PlayStation 2, get on the waiting list at a local store and give them a rain check at Christmas.
Editor's Note: This is a great word of caution. Don't break the bank to buy the hot toys before Christmas. One thing you can do if you wanted to buy something that is no longer available is give an I.O.U. in a card.
Additionally, if you are buying presents online, make sure that the items are actually in stock. There has been some controversy about online stores selling items that they won't have in stock any time soon.
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Here are questions related to Saving Money on Toys.
Need safe toys MADE IN THE U.S.A. for a great-granddaughter that will be 4 years old in Dec. I do not sew or do handwork. Anyone have ideas that will be easy and not much money? ($10 - $20 max)
I already give her grandma money for her college fund. Her birthday is a couple of days before Christmas. I don't want her to feel left out of the birthday party so I need something to give her for that too.
Great Granny Vi from Moorpark, CA
By Sandy (Guest Post)11/02/2007
Take a look at this great site for toys made in the U.S.A.