The Frugal Rainy Day Box

Yesterday, I mentioned offhand the value of having things on hand to entertain and create special moments for children. Things like this are easy to plan ahead for, easy to bargain hunt for, and can really come in handy on a rainy day or other unexpected event. It can also be useful to have on hand if you don’t have children of your own, but occasionally have young visitors.

So what kinds of things do we have in our rainy day box? (Note that we use many of these items in other situations, too, but it’s useful to have all of this stuff collected in one place so you can easily find it.)

A big box Any sort of box will do – it just needs to be of good size to store quite a few items. A pair of large shoe boxes can do the trick – and it’s a great way to reuse shoe boxes. In fact, the first “rainy day” project can actually involve decorating the boxes.

Drawing paper You can get a ton of drawing paper for just a buck or two by buying an end roll of paper from your local newspaper office. This paper is perfect for other projects, too, like paper pirate hats.

Pencils Keep your eye open for free pencils and pens, particularly at hotels or other such places. I unabashedly grab quite a few when I see them – they’re given away for advertising purposes, after all, so I have no qualms collecting them.

Crayons I tend to believe a giant box of crayons is the best $5 item you can buy for a child, but that doesn’t mean I don’t watch carefully for sales on crayons and washable markers.

Food coloring There are lots of different kid-friendly projects that can really utilize food coloring, so just look for a good deal on vials of coloring, particularly red, blue, and yellow coloring (as you can mix these to get many other colors).

Glue, tape, and safety scissors These tend to be overstocked around the time school starts, then they tend to be on sale in late September and early October. These are great items to get at a dollar store.

Paints and paintbrushes Keep any paintbrushes you find in miscellaneous art sets that your kids get (my kids have received several for gifts). Then, make your own paint: mix 3 tablespoons sugar, half a cup of corn starch, and two cups of cold water. Cook it in a pan, bringing it almost to boiling, until it thickens, then stir in a teaspoon of liquid dish soap. Split it into four roughly equal amounts (in small cups or dishes) and stir in some food coloring into each – it works great for simple art projects.

Small beans Buy a bag of beans for a kitchen recipe, then save half a cup of them or so in a small baggie for later use. Beans make a great addition to art projects. You can do the same thing with cereal (like Cheerios).

Construction paper / cardboard Pieces of unmarked cardboard are well worth saving in this box. Shirt boxes are great sources for this material, as are

Old magazines Keep ten or so issues of old magazines in your art box. Old magazines are great sources for collages, and these work even for three year olds. For example, I’m planning on helping my son hunt through these for big examples of the letters in his name and making a big collage out of them.

Old wrapping paper Similarly, keep sheets of old wrapping paper. Just carefully unwrap presents, fold up the sheets, and tell people you’re saving them for an art project for the kids. Wrapping paper can make a great background for various projects.

Old greeting cards Greeting cards (particularly the flood of them that people send for Christmas) are a great source for elements for collages as well.

Paper towel, wrapping paper, and toilet paper rolls Tubes like these can be musical instruments (blowing through them or using them as drum sticks) and structural pieces for building models.

Recipes Not recipes for food per se, but recipes for things like play dough and bubble solution. Having these recipes in the box is often a great reminder to go make a batch of these things if we have the ingredients on hand – and given that such things are usually made from kitchen staples, we usually have them. Bubble solution? Dish soap, cold water, and a spoon full of corn syrup. Play dough? The easy “Mister Rogers” recipe is just two cups of flour and one cup of water, which literally makes dough, but a better recipe is one cup of flour, one cup of warm water, two teaspoons of cream of tartar, one teaspoon of oil, a quarter of a cup of salt, and food coloring (for color). Cook this over medium heat and stir it until it’s smooth, then knead it until it’s doughy.

Music Finally, include a few CDs worth of catchy, upbeat music that appeals to both you and the kids. We’re big fans of They Might Be Giants’ Here Come the ABCs. If you want to save some on this, just download legal mp3s of the music and burn your own CD (or use another music device). I don’t advocate piracy, but if you look around, there are lots of great legal sources for inexpensive and free music of all kinds.

A rainy day box can be a lot of fun for kids and adults alike! Good luck!

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