''Mom, is Sesame Street on?'' came the hopeful query from the other room. I knew it wasn't. It was only 2 in the afternoon. ''Here we go again,'' I thought. Katie, my four-year-old daughter, was bored. All the wonderful, colorful, and stimulating toys we had provided for her lay abandoned on the floor. I tried to offer alternatives.
''Why don't you build a castle with your blocks?'' I suggested.
''Lucy will knock it down.'' (Lucy is her 16-month-old sister.)
''How about making some cookies out of your play dough?''
''The play dough's all dried up.''
''Well, read a book.''
''I've read all my books.''
Unable to think of anything to do, Katie had automatically turned to television to solve her boredom. Television would entertain her, and she didn't have to do a thing.
In my efforts to find a solution to this matter, television, the focal point of my frustration, also provided the answer. Only instead of turning the TV on, I turned Katie on to something I had learned on TV many years ago - the magic of a craft box.
I grew up with Captain Kangaroo. I learned to tell time on Grandfather Clock, laughed at Bunny Rabbit's antics, and thrilled with Tom Terrific and his wonder dog, Manfred. But the part of the show I always looked forward to most was when the Captain brought out his shoe box filled with art supplies ready to do a project. Wonderful craft ideas seemed to flow from that box.
Times haven't changed that much, so I set about making a similar box for Katie. Together we rounded up an old shoe box and filled it with all the supplies one would need for projects: crayons, pencils, a pencil sharpener, eraser, paste, tape, rubber bands, paper clips, a small pad of paper, scissors - things that most families have around the house. We also found an old hole-puncher and a six-inch ruler that were not being used.
The last item to be tucked in was probably the best. It was a small spiral-bound notebook I had picked up in a drug store. Each page was filled with letters, numbers, or shapes to punch out, leaving the outline behind to trace or fill in on paper.
I set up a table and chair for her in a quiet spot. She spent the first few minutes punching out the letters, but soon she was on her way to creating her first project, a little book with pictures for her dad. She was the very happy owner of her own portable desk. From that moment on she seemed to know that there were no limits to what her imagination could help her create.
That was weeks ago. The box is still intact. Every few days we add something to it - pipe cleaners, glitter, pages we've cut from magazines - just to keep it fresh. Every day new treasures emerge from its endless supply. When she's done, Katie carefully returns its lid and puts her craft box back on the shelf.
I've learned a great lesson from all this: Sometimes the simplest things are the best. Children don't need prefab plastic organizers to stimulate their creativity.
What they do need are the proper ''tools,'' a way to keep them together, a quiet place away from curious toddlers in the home, and some genuine enthusiasm from you. That's not hard when you begin to see the delightful results.
Katie still asks if Sesame Street is on, but now she asks at the end of a busy and productive day. And now I'm more than happy to let her watch it. After all, I grew up with the Captain, and he's still helping me out.