(credit: Hyacynth Worth)

By Hyacynth Worth

Creative and imaginative play often comes naturally from the ever-learning-and-exploring minds of children, so there’s oftentimes no need to spend a whole lot of money, if any, on toys like costumes or accessories. Here’s a simple guide to gathering resources for a costume and scene-setting trunk that will keep your little ones’ play time running wild even if there’s a return to indoor play with Chicago weather featuring characteristic all-day rains that are typical for our Midwestern spring.

Know your audience

If pirates are all the rage in your house or princesses tightly reign, don’t run out and buy costly costumes with all of the accessories; you can definitely fund their fun while skipping the expense and encouraging creativity. But do a little homework {it will take only about five minutes}. Take note of the enticing parts of the ensembles from the characters your kids love most. All pirates have swords, yes, but is the eye patch, which can be small and easily overlooked, a real scene-builder? Princesses definitely have crowns and they have small decorated treasure chests in which to store their special, royal treasures, be it a small diary, a key to a foreign land or special, magical ring.

Start in the recycling bin

The recycling bin is the treasure chest of creativity-seeking parent. Here are items to pull and reuse before they are actually recycled:

– Tissue boxes make great treasure chests for princesses or pirates; they also make great cages for zoo keepers of alligator hunters. They can be decorated by your little one to fit the motif they envision in their minds.

– Paper towel rolls transform into swords and periscopes for pirates as well wands for fairies. They also come in handy as casts for patients who have broken their arms and need to see the doctor immediately. Again, the cardboard can be appropriately decorated by little hands.

– Large yogurt containers become bongos for the garage band rockers, banks for the banker/money exchanger and also products for the grocery store shelf; old boxes of cereal are also perfect for lining the shelves of pretend kitchens for the aspiring chef.

– Paper bags can cover reshaped wire clothes hangers to make fairy wings, shields and crowns. Tip: allow the little ones to decorate their paper bags before you’ve helped them tape the covers to the reshaped hangers.

– Paper bags also make perfect vests. Simply cut out arm holes on the sides, cut the bag up the middle of one of the wider sides and cut out a neck hole after slicing the bag up the middle, leaving the second wide side of the bag whole and intact to cover the entire back.

Cardboard Boxes

(Credit: AP)

Hit the grocery store

Ask the customer service clerk if you can take some boxes off of their hands. Boxes are perfect vessels to become ships, zoo cages, castles and patient tables at the doctor’s office. They also serve well as desks for bankers when the open end of the box faces the banker and the banker can put smaller boxes inside to separate the money. Collect rather large boxes and a few mid-size and small. You can always store the largest box with the smaller ones inside in the basement or playroom when the little ones are not actively playing with them, so don’t worry about them overtaking the entire house during non-play times.

Check out thrift shops

Some dress-up ensembles need just a little extra flair. Princesses especially appreciate having one or two big, sparkly necklaces and a pair of clip-on earrings, all of which are easily found for very little money at local thrift stores. An old sparkly dress, cut right around the knee section can make the perfect gown, as well. Jedis and ninjas, too, could use an old solid-colored bathrobe for their play (here’s where the paper towel rolls come in handy as nun chucks) as could bankers get a kick out of an old top hat and tie.

Think outside the box (and inside your drawers!)

And help your little one think outside the box, too, especially after you’ve gathered and decorated the scene-setting boxes. (We like to draw on our pirate ships and castles to give them some added flair!) Zoo keepers probably have plenty of animals in their stuffed-animal collection to populate a small zoo and bankers can certainly collect change from their piggy banks to use during play and likely could borrow a tie from dad to complete the look. Princesses already have an ensemble of attendants and special friends in their dolls and stuffed animals and might be able to talk mom into loaning them a little sparkly lip gloss while pirates most likely can find a bandanna by asking mom or dad to search their dresser drawers. Those same pirates might also be able to take the cushions off the couch and transform it into a pirate ship complete with cushion walls.

Hyacynth Worth writes almost daily about life with boys, motherhood, marriage and faith at Undercover Mother. She is especially well versed in creating pirate ships from couches and transforming sticks and paper towel rolls into light sabers.