It’s that time of year again

899930_fingerpaint__1It’s that time of year again. Spring break is just around the corner and your kids are excited about the idea of free time away from school. But when the big event finally occurs, it seldom takes more than three days before they start whining, “Ma, there’s nothing to d-o-o-o!”

Ah, I remember it well. The Christmas toys (all purchased on demand without much thought on the part of younger consumers) have been plundered, dragged around to friend’s houses, lost – or simply lost their charm and their ability to fascinate growing minds. What’s a mom (or primary caregiver) to do?

This time, it’s your pick. No more rubber bullet guns – Homeland Security already has that venue covered. Also, no more dolls that need doctoring, changing, feeding or grooming, the last of which sends an unfortunate message to today’s young girls, namely that appearances are all a woman can count on in today’s world.

No more remote control vehicles, twisted ankles and terrified housecats. This vehicular prohibition includes cars on tracks, buses on tracks, trains on tracks, even motorbikes on tracks – all of which provide the bulk of their entertainment in the first day (after all, how many times can you watch that car travel down the same path without yawning)? The noise alone is enough to make some parents wish for deafness or coma.

There are some new board games out there this year, some designed to broaden language skills. For male or female brainiacs, I would choose a game like Zoob Challenge, which teaches youngsters spatial, situational and mechanical skills, among others. Another serious contender in the arena of skill-building that seems like play is the Pajaggle Board.

Lastly, since children of all ages up to 70 need a little frenetic activity to keep them sharp and work out that heart, choose OgoSport RAQ. For the truly daring, buy a Kickin’ Putt, but please dismiss the manufacturer’s suggestion that the balls and Frisbee-wannabe can be used indoors. Most of us devote that space to lampshades, furniture and small treasures on shelves – it’s not just grandma’s bric a brac anymore. Once the active play is over, it’s time for Perplexus Twist. Think Rubik’s Cube in four dimensions. For now at least. In a couple of years, that baby genius is going to want 2+1 dimensional Minkowski space-time nanomaterials!

Whatever you do, try to avoid all-plastic and battery-operated toys. There’s nothing creative or intuitive about a battery, and cheap plastic toys can be dangerous, as we’ve seen from toys manufactured in China containing dangerous amounts of lead, cadmium and other heavy metals. This is particularly important now that China has undercut the United States’ manufacturing base and is shipping 70 percent of the world’s toys to both developed and underdeveloped nations.

Instead, and for the same price or less, go to your local arts and crafts store and buy at least one of everything, from decorative stickers to finger paints to yarn or macramé cord. Bring the stuff home, clear the kitchen table and have a craft’s day. Everyone is welcome, even baby in the high chair, who would love to be blue and green from the tufts of his or her little head to the little pink toes that refuse to wear socks. Don’t forget to include yourself. In fact, if you’re a high-stress Type A career person, this is about the best therapy you can find outside a sandbox or $100-per-hour Reiki sessions. To make the craft day really memorable, make your own finger paints. That way you know what goes in them – and ultimately into baby. And don’t fret about the oddly blue Number 2 at bedtime; it just shows excellent digestion!

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