I went through the recycling and pulled out a Pasta Roni box and the gingerale bottle Dan bought on the way home from the museum. Then, I went through our cabinets and refrigerator looking for things that were almost empty. A PopTart box with just one sealed pack left inside. A box of snack bars with one left, a bag of goldfish that had gotten outdated, an almost empty popsicle box, and a carton holding just two eggs. I stored the remaining food, either in its own inner packaging or in Ziploc bags, and gave Noah the outer containers. It wasn't long before he finished a half-gallon of milk and the soap in the upstairs bathroom ran out. He was thrilled to add those containers to the collection too. Every day it seems like there's a new box or two to add; Mama's ice cream carton is his latest addition. We store it all in our cool cube organizer in his playroom downstairs, and try to organize it by section: dairy, freezer, bread/bakery, dinner, snacks...he's quickly learning where things go.
He loves to come over to me and have me tell him what to buy. Sometimes I give him a specific "list": "I need pasta, ice cream, and crackers." Sometimes I say, "Buy what we need for breakfast," and watch him figure it out. When his cart is full, he goes over to the toy cash register that used to be mine and rings up his order. He thinks everything is 99 cents. I wish. On a whim, Dan started imitating the voice of the self-check lady the other day: "If you are finished scanning, please touch finish and pay." "Please select a payment method." "Thank you for shopping at Weis Markets. Please take your change and your receipt." Now, of course, Noah has decided this has to happen every time. Then he pays, either with the three one-dollar bills we gave him or his "credit card", my full sized "My Panera" rewards card (which he only got because I have one on my keychain too). He puts his purchases in one of our green eco-friendly bags, brings it over to me and makes me pretend to eat each thing before reshelving it.
He finds hours, literal hours, of entertainment doing this. And it's free! The boxes and containers are just trash! We'd have recycled every last one of them. Instead, they're giving our son endless entertainment. We already had the cube, the bag, and the cards, and the cash register is
thirty quite a few years old. Everything is being re-used! And he prefers it, at least for now, to every other expensive, fancy, made-in-China toy in this house. Which is quite a statement since as an only child and an only grandchild on both sides of the family, Noah is not lacking in the toy department. I love it because it's encouraging him to use his imagination, teaching him things like food groups, and causing him to problem solve (like figuring out which foods are for dinner or how many things he can buy if everything is a dollar and he has $3). Educational, free, and recycled: it's the green way to play. :)