This section is from the book "How To Help The Shut-In Child: 313 Hints For Homebound Children", by Margery D. McMullin. Also available from Amazon: How To Help The Shut-In Child: 313 Hints For Homebound Children.
A child's need to play is just as great when he is sick as when he is well, even though many of his normal activities are restricted. It is not so difficult as many people think to keep a sick or handicapped child busy with constructive occupations.
The best starting point is the current interests of the child. Select materials and activities to fit in with the child's interests and you will find that new ideas will develop easily and naturally.
Of course, all activities should be planned in terms of the physical condition of the child. Remember also that a well child's "attention span" is much shorter than an adult's, and an ill child's even shorter. It is unwise to insist that a sick child stick to what he is doing until it is finished (unless he himself wants to, of course). Especially for a very young child, it is better to have a variety of simpler occupations than a few elaborate and trying ones.
No matter whether your child has a short or long illness, do not swamp him with expensive new toys. Concentrate on simpler materials. These often develop more creative abilities and give the child a stronger sense of accomplishment than manufactured toys. Modem play materials are wonderful, but they have tended to make parents rely too much on "predigested" toys and amusements, and often they actually deny the child the opportunity of being creative.
Remember to use imagination and ingenuity in adapting simple material to the child's interests. Imagination, imagination, and more imagination! Think twice before you throw away that cardboard box or that bright piece of wrapping paper or even a paper bag.
But do not give your child discarded materials at random; this will only confuse him. Instead, suggest ways he may use the materials and at the same time encourage him to try his own ideas. If you show your child how to work with and enjoy the same material in different ways, using simple materials will be a rewarding experience.
It is always preferable to have the child handle the materials himself, doing as much of the actual work as he is able to do, rather than to "show him how" constantly, or "do it for him. " Give him all the help he needs, of course, but don't "take over" the work. A child who is timid, or one who has formed the habit of just watching other people do things, may even need to be gently pushed into active participation; but that is how he will really satisfy his creative urges.
There cannot be too much emphasis on the fact that almost any project can be adapted to any age or disability. As a child grows older, the same ideas can be used in other forms. For example, "making a doll house" might mean anything from a simple shoe-box house, built by a four-year-old, to the elaborately furnished mansion created by a teen-ager.
If your child is to be in bed for a long period of time, homemade toys will not completely fill the bill and it will repay time and trouble to have a "toy buying plan. " (See Items 189 to 195)
Even if a child is at home, it is well to make a list of the child's toys and vary the ones he plays with from day to day.
The following suggestions are aimed almost entirely toward the use of everyday materials one has at hand.
53. Boxes (cartons, crates, etc. ) are readily available, easy for a child to handle, safe and endlessly versatile.
54. Boxes can become toy buildings by covering them with plain paper or paint and marking windows or doors. Cartons, egg crates, or shoe boxes can be used for larger projects such as doll houses, garages, baseball fields, or stages.
55. Various sized boxes can be put inside one another to make a nest of blocks. A very young child will enjoy "nesting" several strawberry boxes.
56. Strawberry boxes can also be cut easily with scissors; their plain sides are good for drawing the windows and doors of a quickly built "house. " These boxes are so light and easy to handle that they are good for a child with little arm and hand strength.
57. Corrugated paper glued to a cardboard box can easily become a log cabin.
58. Take the inner section out of kitchen matchboxes and use the hollow outer section for a tunnel for small toy trains.
59. Wooden cheese boxes have many uses; they make good blocks and flower boxes. They can also be mounted on wheels to be used as wagons.
60. Cereal boxes often have games and cutouts printed on them. Your child will find it amusing to cut these out and play with them-and they cost nothing.
61. A shoe box makes a fine doll's bed. Stand the lid on end and fit the bottom part into the lid at right angles. Fasten together with paper fasteners (the kind that have round ends). Cover with cloth or wallpaper.
62. To make a doll's dresser, glue four or six matchboxes together. Cover them with paper and put a round-headed paper fastener in the end of each "drawer" for a handle.
63. Round hatboxes are excellent for a toy circus. Paste circus pictures around the outside. Put the lid on and, presto-"the big ring! " Circus wagons are easy and fun to make, too. Draw or trace animals on white paper, cut out and mount on construction paper on the side of the box. Use pipe cleaners, or strips of black construction paper, to make bars to paste over the animals. Make wheels of construction paper or milk bottle tops.
64. A city child might make an apartment house rather than an individual house. For this, or for a skyscraper, cleaned and dried-out milk cartons are ideal. A whole city can be made by cutting these cartons in different heights.