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Keep it Simple - and Save Money!

Are our Children a ‘Must have - Can’t do without it’ Generation?

Are we giving our children too much in the material sense? Are they becoming spoiled? Looking at the mountains of toys and gadgets some of our children accumulate, I think perhaps they are. Or we are allowing them to be.

I’m sure we’ve all spent time and money buying the very latest and widely advertised things for our children, the ones they tell us all their friends have.

But it leaves me wondering. Is it really worth it? Are we sending them the right messages? Are we breeding the next generation of ‘Must Have - Can’t do without it’ Kids?

Whilst there are some toys these days that really do promote creativity and free play - I wonder if perhaps many do not. They may even limit our children’s imaginations.

And does a certain amount of deprivation really harm a child. Well, I for one don’t think so!

And actually, bathing one of our foster children not so long ago, was what really got me thinking about this, and in particular it definitely got me thinking about the value of cheap and cheerful ways to entertain children.

Bath time in a foster home can be trying! Or it can be fun. Some, though by no means all children, who come into foster care are not used to baths or may never have been given the opportunity to play in one! To see a child’s face when they get the opportunity to splash and play in water, when they’ve never been able to do it before, can be really humbling.

I know.... Shouldn't every child have this?

Surely bubbles in a bath shouldn't be a revelation to them.

But believe me, sometimes it is.

And what a simple thing to be able to offer a child. The pleasures of a bubble bath.

I love it especially when children produce squeals of excitement. Watching their amazed faces says it all.

As part of the going to bed procedure I have always wanted my newer foster children to experience bath time play in the best possible way, so I have all sorts of bath toys and gadgets.

But at this particular bath time I was reminded that keeping it simple is often good enough.

Why? I hear you asking! What was different about this bath time?

Well, we ran out of bubble bath. But that is where the magic happened for the child as I tried to rinse every last bit out of the bottle. To the amazement of the child in the bath, every time I rinsed the bottle more bubbles appeared.

I then offered an assortment of bath toys. Would you like the mermaids? The fishing rod? The plastic tea set or measuring spoons? The bath books? Just to mention a few. All the usual favourites. But all were turned down. And then came the moment that stopped me in my tracks.

A little voice piped up. "Can I do that?"

"Can you do what?" I asked.

"That!" came the indignant reply, accompanied by a hand reaching out to the empty bubble bath bottle that I had just finished squeezing into the bathwater.

So, the new best and favourite bath toy is the empty bottle. So much fun was had filling it and emptying it. I just sat, watching and thinking. Reflecting back on my own childhood.

I remembered my mum telling me once, that as a child I had wanted to play with the empty box that my birthday present came in, ignoring the present itself in order to play in the box.

There are so many things we can do to inspire a child!

So here we go, here are some of the things I remembered and valued!

Free materials and ideas to keep kids amused for hours!

Some inexpensive easy ways to amuse a child using things you already have!

A cardboard box can be anything you want it to be - let your kids transport themselves to an imaginary world, empty tissue boxes, especially the cubes, make great ‘posting boxes’ for younger children.

Empty loo roll tubes are good trumpets, shakers, binoculars or modelling media.

Older children can build models, make houses or streets or any manor of things from used cardboard boxes.

Paper cups to build with. These can be great for building and knocking down, for hiding things under or for modelling with. If you are adventurous and don’t mind noise, make them into musical shakers using dried peas or beans - or even stones!

A kitchen colander. Use it with drinking straws if you have some.

One of my children spent hours weaving them through the holes in the colander making patterns.

It also makes a very good helmet too!

As do saucepans.

Drinking straws are also great to play with or use in art projects.

Plastic containers, young children can learn and have hours of fun trying to take the lids on and off plastic bottles of different shapes and sizes! Seeing which ones fit and how.

Try looking in your recycling bin for items they could use as playthings. Young children can make cars from plastic containers they will just use their imagination, if prompted.

String a few plastic trays together to make a train. It’s amazing how versatile they can be.

But do make sure they are well washed first!

Hide and seek is a really enjoyable game to play. We have often played, both inside and out, with children. Or they can play on their own too. And hiding doesn’t have to be just people. It can be objects too…

Hunt the thimble - well it doesn’t have to be a thimble, not many of us have those lying around these days, but any object you decide will do. We usually hide our object so that the children have to find it without the need to open or move anything, to save complete upheaval in the house! But it’s a lovely game. You can use clues to help younger children, by telling if them when they are hot or cold or getting warmer - hot being really near the object and cold being in completely the wrong place.

Another good one is a memory game - Items on a tray. Place 10 items on a tray (15, or even 20 items for older children). If you don’t have a tray, just place them together on a table or on the floor. Allow a few minutes for everyone to look at the items and memorise them. Then cover them with a tea towel and see who can remember all the items. Older children or adults can write them down. Younger children can just tell you.

There are many variations to this game. You can ask children to cover their eyes, then take an object away and let them see if they can work out which is missing. Or you can move an item to a different place on the tray or swap two items and ask them which have moved.

Sheets or blankets can be used for building a Hideout or Den. I used to have hours of fun as a child, making a den from sheets or blankets draped over chair backs or a table.

It provides lots of fun, and a little space to call their own where they can hide or play, inside the house or in the garden.

If you have a tent that can be great for outdoor play.

A balloon. We’ve probably all got the odd balloon lurking in the back of a drawer leftover from a birthday party or event. Kids will have hours of fun batting a balloon around inside! Great exercise and a lifesaver to active children if the weather is not so good.

Change one thing - a game. Sit down in a room and ask the children to look around and notice everything they can, then send them out of the room to count to 20 or until you call them back in. No Peeking! Change one thing in the room. Swap 2 pictures, move an object, turn a familiar item upside down. Then see who can spot the change when they come back in. And if you are looking for a little peace for a while longer, then make the change really subtle!

Use your Old Clothes and let the children play dressing up! Even old towels or tea towels can be used to make into capes, aprons, hats - you name it, a child will probably do it!

And they will love it.

The garden sprinkler or hosepipe. If it’s a lovely day - who needs a paddling pool? Use a bucket or bowl and beaker or some containers from your recycling bin.

One great idea is to let the children have a Trigger Spray bottle that you no longer use. So long as they are really well washed out, they are such fun to use. Let them water the plants with it - or just spray anything in the garden, including each other if you like. They certainly will!

But please make sure you explain to the children that this is a clean empty spray bottle! You don’t want them trying it with one full of the original product.

Water is such fun for children of all ages.

And a plastic drinking bottle makes a great superb alternative to a water gun.

Fill the kitchen sink if you want them to play inside and let youngsters play with pots and pans and wooden spoons to stir those lovely washing up bubbles!

So, from one empty bubble bath bottle, which has now become the best bath toy ever, I have now been reminded of all the simple games and pastimes I used to play as a child.

And it has spurred me on to use more of the things we have around us to inspire our children.

My new motto? 'Keep it Simple - and Save Money!!'

And I will be using what I already have much more in the future.

We don’t need to spend a fortune. The simple things in life, our time and interaction with our children is so much more valuable and important to them in the long run.

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