Keep the Box Throw Out the Toy
Anyone who has watched a young child open a gift has observed the phenomenon of the present being tossed aside in favor of the box and shiny paper. Young children with their budding imaginations can see endless possibilities in a box. And, before you throw all your boxes and wrapping paper in the garbage can, here are a few ideas you might want to consider.
For your larger boxes consider cutting a "window" in the top half of the box. Now your youngster has a play toy with near limitless possibilities. The box can be used as a store front, post office, restaurant or grocery check-out. Your child could even make a speed way with the box acting as a toll both. Alternatively you could turn the box so that the opening is on top. Then the box could become a race car, train car or boat. Whether you decorate the box to match the fantasy or just leave it as plain cardboard your child will enjoy the box almost as much as the gift that came in it.
For smaller boxes and canisters, cover them completely with leftover wrapping paper or construction paper. Then give them to your children as light weight blocks. Your children will enjoy stacking them to the sky and knocking them back down.
Then again if the boxes or canisters have lids you can cover them such that the lids are removable. Find a number of different sized containers and you will have created nesting toys for your child.
Containers with lids are good for another reason: your child can fill it up thus making scientific discoveries about the capacity of containers. My daughter loves to do this, whether she is filling tea cups with water or boxes with toys. So don't throw out your boxes they are often the best part of a gift.
Another way to use some of that old Christmas gift paper is to create a deck of playing cards for your kids. Using a stack of 3x5 index cards have the children decorate the cards with the leftover paper making sets of either two or four and one odd card. Magazines are also a good source of decoration if you don't have enough variety in your wrapping paper.
Or, for a more educational deck of cards, create sets by using words, numbers and pictures. For example you could pair the word four with the number 4 and four kittens. The word circle could be paired with a picture of a ball. The word blue could be paired with a picture of blue water.
Once your deck of cards has been assembled you can teach your children how to play simple card games like Go Fish and Old Maid. (If you'd like the deck to last longer consider laminating it.) Simple games like these will help your child develop early social skills. Enjoy an evening of games together.
Old Maid Rules
Old Maid can be played with two to eight players. Shuffle all the cards together (including the unmatched card). Deal out all the cards. It is okay if some players have more cards than the others.
After all the cards are dealt each player places any matches in the play area. The first player then draws a card from the hand of the person to their left. If a match is made that player places it in the playing area.
The play continues in a clockwise direction with each player drawing a card from the hand of the person to his or her left until all matches have been made. The player left with the old maid loses.
Go Fish Rules
Depending on the number of players, deal either 5 cards for three to ten players or 7 cards for only two players. The remaining cards are placed in the center of the playing area. (Do not use the unmatched card for this game.)
The first player asks another player for a card that will match something in their hand. For example Susan might ask, "John, do you have any snowmen?" John would then be required to give all his snowmen to Susan. If John didn't have any snowmen he would tell Susan "Go fish." If John did have snowmen then Susan would continue her turn until someone told her to "Go fish".
During Susan's turn she would place any sets she created in face up in front of her. There are a number of variations on what constitutes a set: pairs, three of a kind or four of a kind. If you are playing the three of a kind variation then the remaining card can be put down by whoever has it. For example, Susan asked John for snowmen. John had two snowmen, which he gave to Susan. Susan took the snowman from her hand, added it to John's snowmen and laid down a set of three. Martha was then able to lay her three down in her area on her turn.
Go Fish is commonly played until all sets have been made. However, with younger players I would recommend stopping the game as soon as someone runs out of cards, or when the first person reaches a predetermined number of sets.
The winner is the person with the greatest number of sets. (In the three of a kind variation the winner is the person with the greatest number of cards in his or her playing area.)