We are currently in super hero mode at my house. My almost five year old never goes anywhere without at least two representatives from his action figure collection, and my just turned three year old never leaves the house without his bat-eared hood and cape. My seven year old daughter has been known to forsake a game of "puppies and kitties" for a game of "Batdog and Superdog." Even the baby shouts "Natnan!" when she sees the comic books that lay strewn around the breakfast room floor.
I like heroes, I really do, but I also like my kids to play with toys that don't have their own TV show, video, or breakfast cereal. Luckily, there are at least three toys they adore that also stretch their imaginations and creativity: crayons, play putty, and blocks.
One of life's simple joys is a brand new box of crayons. The tips are still relatively sharp. The wrappers are intact. Everything is in one piece. Best of all, from a parental standpoint, is that crayons are a simple joy with a low price tag. A basic box of eight colors can sell for under a dollar.
My kids will tell you that the best thing about crayons is that you are not limited to the basic box of eight. Not only can you find a crayon to match every color of the rainbow, you can find some colors you'll never see in a rainbow: glitter crayons, neon crayons, glow-in-the-dark crayons, scratch and sniff crayons. Best of all, with just a few crayons and a few pieces of paper, you can design a batcave that will be the envy of all the superheroes on your block.
Where are superheroes supposed to get their guns when mom won't allow weapons of mass destruction in the house? It's amazing how simple it is to roll out a gun, a bow and arrow, or a utility belt from a little bit of Play-Doh or other brand of play putty. While the older kids work on the arsenal, the younger kids can squish it, smush it, roll it up into a ball, and pound it out to start all over again. I'm convinced we have less fights when the Play-Doh is out because the kids pound on the putty, not on each other. Unless, of course, someone tries to appropriate someone else's putty. Then it's war.
Play putty is non-toxic, cheap, and not that hard to get out of the carpet. In other words, it is one of nature's perfect toys. It's also one of the few toys that's as much fun for parents to play with as it is for kids -- I always seem to pinch a little bit off of whatever project the kids are building. The only problem is when one of the babies mixes all the colors together -- for some reason no one likes to play with the resulting brown glop.
Every superhero needs a city to save and a cool hangout to retire to after saving said city, just as every villain needs a city to terrorize and a hideout to retreat to after he's been foiled in his attempts at world domination. Since their combined allowances wouldn't buy them even a decent city block, my kids have built these superhero essentials out of, well, blocks.
Because we've always had kids under the age of three in the house and we have wonderful friends who pass down the stuff their kids have outgrown, we have what may be the world's largest collection of Duplos, the snap-lock blocks that Lego makes for kids age 1 and 1/2 and up. Our superhero's city is built mainly in red, blue, green and yellow. For bigger building projects, like tall buildings capable of being leapt in a single bound, my kids use the empty Chubs Stackable diaper wipes boxes (which look and function pretty much like giant Legos). When they need a more flexible building block, my kids use empty cereal boxes and cut doors and windows into them.
Once my kids master the art of picking up all the blocks after the villain has ravaged the city, I know I'll love these blocks. Considering how much playtime my kids have gotten out of them, the blocks are a lot cheaper in the long run than just about any other toy we have in the house. And some of these blocks have been around the block a time or two -- we're the second or third family for some of them. If they keep getting put in the toy box and don't end up behind the sofa cushions, I'm sure they'll be around for a few families more.
For an extensive list of website links for online toy stores, toy manufacturers, and toy safety information, see Circle Time's Guide to Toy Shopping.
For some important toy safety information, see Super-Safe Toy Tips from an Over-Protective Mom in our November 1998 issue.
Circle Time e-zine is Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett
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