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Cheap ways for kids to play

Have you ever watched a kid open an expensive birthday present, only to see them throw the gift to the side and play with the box instead?

I love when that happens. Even if I'm the dope who spent too much on the present.

Unlike many battery-operated, "educational" toys, a kid actually has to use his imagination to play with a box. Instead of pushing a button and letting a toy do the playing for them, they've actually got to imagine what the box could be and think about how to make it work.

Remember how much fun you had as a kid pretending a box was a castle? A car? A prison? Are there any toys out there as diverse as that? Talk about getting a lot of bang for your buck.

My family and friends have showered my daughter, Chloe, with lovely toys. But the most fun I've ever seen her have was pulling little pieces of stuffing out of one such plush toy and trying to affix them to our dog's behind.

Speaking of the dog, we spent a fortune on doggie toys before Chloe was born. Almost every day we walked her down to Elmwood Pet Supplies and bought her a little something.

Want to guess what became her favorite possession? An empty mouthwash bottle. She can bat that thing around for an hour without getting bored.

My friend Lori recently found that, of all the things she put in her son Cody's basket this year, the 2-year-old liked the Easter grass the best.

As cheapskates, let's capitalize on (exploit?) this sweet tendency in our children! We have access to plenty of dirt-cheap things that can pass for toys.

Take, for example, actual dirt. My nephews in Montana love to pretend they're on archaeological digs. They dig and brush and collect "fossils." Sometimes they even come across a really cool "treasure," like an old bottle cap.

Kids can plant a garden, make mud pies or just dig for the fun of digging.

How about bubbles? You can get a gallon of bubble solution for about $3.50, but my mom always made ours with dish soap, water and either sugar or glycerin. You can even use straws and colanders as bubble wands.

I don't think kids love anything more than Play-Doh. You can get four cans of it for less than $3 or, better yet, you can make your own using one of the recipes on my Facebook page.

Kids get an immense amount of satisfaction when they build things with their own two hands. Save your old egg cartons, cereal boxes and anything else they might use to build a wall, a fort or an igloo.

Try giving the kids what you've got laying around -- the cardboard from the toilet paper roll, old newspapers, dryer lint, whatever -- and see what they come up with.

I'd be willing to bet they'll be inspired. And you might be, too.

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