Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Heather Swain: Crafty + Cheap + Eco-minded = Making Toys and Games

I come from a long line of crafty women, most notably my mother and grandmother, both of whom could find more fun things to do with an old sock than Mattel Brothers can do with molded plastics, so my brothers and I grew up making most of our fun rather than having it presented to us in boxes. I’m also, shall we say, um frugal, okay cheap (thus the name of my blog, One Cheap Mother) and I can’t stand to spend money on stuff that will capture kids’ attention for 30.5 seconds then get lost under the couch where it will form a colony with the dust bunnies. Nor am I going to spend oodles of cash on electronics before my kids hit double digits. Plus, I’m married to a great guy who thinks hard about how our life choices affect the environment. Add it all together and you have the perfect recipe for repurposing stuff around the house to make toys and games rather than buying them.

When working on my blog and my books MAKE THESE TOYS and PLAY THESE GAMES, I find inspiration all over the place. Sometimes I look at historical catalogs to see what kids played with before Toys R Us and Amazon came along. A lot of the toys and games from the past are still super fun and can be made easily using updated materials. For example, I came up with spool catapults, no-sew beanbags, felt board activities, and hula hoops games this way. I also look at what kids play with today and try to figure out how I can make my own versions of existing toys and games. I had a blast creating mini versions of arcade and carnival games like shoebox foos ball, button hockey, and even a cardboard box pinball machine for PLAY THESE GAMES. I also like appropriating new technology in interesting ways. My favorite is using digital photos for scavenger hunts or card games like Friends and Family Concentration and Go Fish.

Mostly, I’m always thinking about creating toys and games that will be fun and simple to make. I hate opening up a craft book with my kids and feeling like I need a slide ruler, a blow torch, and three weeks to complete a project then everybody ends up frustrated and begging to turn on the TV. Or making something lame that just ends up cluttering my count tops. (I mean, seriously, how many pine cone snowmen can you have?) I’m kind of like a chimp--if I can’t eat it or play with it, I lose interest.

I focus on using stuff we can easily find around the house or at the dollar store (lots of cardboard, straws, buttons, balloons, and tape) then finding interesting and easy ways of putting them together. Since so many of the disposable objects in our lives have become standardized, it’s fun to find ways they fit together. For example, I discovered that drinking straws are the same diameter as the circle a hole punch makes and those straws fit perfectly through the holes in empty spools—hello wheel and axle!

The best part about making toys and games at home is the confidence it’s given my kids. Now they see that they can entertain themselves and when one of their creations breaks, they can make it again. That doesn’t mean they never ask me to buy them stuff—they are 21st century children after all. But it does mean they’ll at least go for the craft supplies and try to make something on their own before they ask me for money, which would make my grandma and mom very proud.

Heather Swain is the author of Play These Game: 101 Delightful Diversions Using Everyday Items and Make These Toys: 101 Clever Creations Using Everyday Items and the creator of the blog One Cheap Mother which you can find at heatherswainbooks.com

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to comment! I appreciate hearing your thoughts.