When people think about kids, they’ll usually think about toys and other such fun “stuff”. But kids, especially small kids, love playing with things you might not expect. Have you ever heard a parent complaining that they got their kid a brand new toy for Christmas, only to have them be more interested in playing with the box than the toy? Or perhaps it’s something you’ve seen yourself. Perhaps you’ve seen someone shaking their head as they tell you this, sighing about how silly kids are to enjoy the box more than the toy itself.
Well, no need to sigh and shake your head-use it to your advantage!
Not A Box
One of my older kids favorite library books when they were little was a simple one called “Not A Box“. We took it out from the library over a dozen times, and each time the kids would beg to read it again and again. A few years ago we finally picked it up on Amazon as a Christmas gift, and although they had slightly outgrown it by then (they’re now 13 and 9), they still love the book and were excited to finally own it.
The premise of the book is simple – the main character (a rabbit) has a “not a box”. Because it’s a box, but it’s not a box. It’s a fire truck, a rocket ship, or something else that the rabbit is imagining. It’s a book I highly recommend to people with kids, to get them using their imagination and thinking creatively about the box.
You can apply the “Not a Box” principle to any object. This is “not a stick”, it’s a magic wand. It’s “Not a Pretzel Container”, it’s stackable blocks. Let’s not forget about “not a paper towel roll” – tape a few together, and it’s a sword!
The box my little guy is in above was decorated by his middle older brother, who was excited to make a “not a box” for his baby brother. Although of course the little guy has no idea what a “not a box” is, my middle son does. He remembers well how much he loved that book, and still plays with a large cardboard box we have in the living room despite being nine years old. It’s a refrigerator box given to us by my parents (yes, we give large interesting boxes away in my family), and it’s big enough to stand up in. Sometimes things will be put on top of the box. Other times it becomes a fort, a racecar, or a place to play video games. We have had other large boxes over the years that eventually get destroyed. No problem – there are always other boxes to be found.
Don’t Kids Need Real Toys?
Now I did write last week about how this isn’t necessarily a money saving strategy. After all, I’m not really saving money by making a paper towel tube sword if I wasn’t going to go out and buy a plastic sword.
Also, some parents may mistakenly believe kids “need” real toys. Oh, and new toys. Because used toys are somehow “icky” or not as much fun.
Parents, I can tell you right now that you are categorically wrong.
Mrs. Frugalwoods wrote about this a few months ago, talking about the myth of gross used things, and it really resonated with me. After all, I’ve been a mom now for over 13 years, to three different kids. We have many, many years of birthdays and Christmases under our belts. My kids have gotten piles of toys from both sides of the family over the years, and I’ve seen first hand just how long the new toys last vs. the old toys.
It’s the same amount of time. Believe it or not, kids will normally outgrow or tire of the things well before they wear out. I have come to regret many of the new toy or clothes purchases I’ve made for my kids over the years.
Also, how long do they play with stackable pretzel containers, fluff containers, peanut butter jars, and the like? Just as long as they play with expensive new stackable blocks. “New toys” hold small kids interest for a very short period of time. Better to have the “new toy” of the day be something you can recycle later, rather than something you picked up at the store because your kids were whining for it.
I actually get sad when I go to my favorite kids consignment shop, seeing all the clothes not worn and toys not played with. All the toys look brand new, and there’s an entire wall completely stuffed and overflowing with them. How can I think about buying some new plastic something or other, when there are so many near new toys in perfect condition, in need of a home? The same is true with clothes. Would I rather get a new cheap outfit from Target that the little guy will outgrow in a few months, or a beautiful, never worn sweater from Janie and Jack for the same price that he’ll outgrow in a few months?
For me, this is both a frugality thing and a non-wasteful thing. I want to teach my kids that it’s part of their responsibility to take care of their money, but also to take care of the earth. Buying used – whether it’s toys, clothes, furniture, or video games – both saves money and keeps one object out of the landfills. Then when they’ve outgrown or tired of the object, since it was bought used it can be sold for about the same as it was purchased for.
I also use shopping used and using things around the house for fun as a lesson for my kids. When we’re at the consignment shop or the video game store, I’ll point how just how many used things they can pick up for the price of one new thing (wow, you can get three of those toys for the price of one new one!). My kids have learned that we should always check used book stores, thrift stores, eBay, and consignment shops for things we need or things they want to buy with their allowance. Only after checking those sources will we consider buying new.
And for things around the house, we’ll talk about how much fun they have in “not a box”, and how it’s fun to use our imagination. They can use anything we might recycle to create with – my middle son once made a ghost from the Mario video game series out of an old milk jug! They have free creative reign over anything that’s going to be recycled, which they love.
How about you – do your kids have any “not a box” around the house? How do you encourage your kids to use their imaginations? Do you show them how buying used saves both money and natural resources? Let me know in the comments.
Want to learn more about teaching kids about money? Check out this great page with my top articles and resources I’ve found from around the web.
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