I hope you are thinking what I am usually thinking when I see kids playing with toys handcrafted by their mom: What a good mother…I hate her guts. But here’s the thing about crafts in my house. I like doing art projects with the kids — and because I’m working part-time now I can do more of them than I used to — but I like finishing art projects a whole lot more. In other words, when I’m flipping through a book like Heather Swain’s excellent Make These Toys: 99 Clever Creations Using Everyday Items, my motive is purely selfish. This is what I’m thinking: What project can we do that requires minimum investment on the front-end, but will keep the girls occupied and out of sight for a huge chunk of time on the back-end, preferably during dinner prep hour, so I can listen to that Vampire Weekend song with the F-bomb in the first verse and enjoy my Dark & Stormy without interruption?
A few weeks ago, the answer to that question was Swain’s “Cereal Box Town Facade,” created out of old boxes of Oaty Bites and Corn Flakes. I knew that if we built a general store out of Raisin Bran, a school out of Peanut Butter Panda Puffs, an apartment out of Frosted Shredded Mini Wheats, then invited a few Polly Pockets to come stay awhile, that my dollhouse-crazy daughters would lock in to their cardboard world and not come out til the meatballs were cooked and my glass of Rose was depleted.
The project was so easy I didn’t even need to follow Swain’s instructions. I just cut out the back of each box, leaving the sides and sometimes the top intact. I let the girls paint the boxes with acrylics and helped them cut out windows and doors, and paste signs (fashioned out of the box bottoms) onto the front. There were a few special requests (stair cases, made by folding a box top like an accordion) but most of the detail work (rugs, wall-hangings, apples and oranges on the store shelves) was done by them with a Sharpie.
All told, I’d say my hands-on time was about one hour, including clean-up time. My daughters’ hands-on time? Hard to quantify, as it still continues, several weeks and wine bottles later.