In a kids' entertainment world of expensive game systems and disposable plastic toys, there is an alternative: Make something. Play with it.
The do-it-yourself trend, which embraces projects in electronics, engineering and crafts, dovetails nicely with the perennially popular, mainly girl-driven activity of decorating. An abundance of room-decorating games appears online; Girlsgogames.com has at least 30 games in which a bare space — a witch's house, say, or a Chinese palace or a baby nursery — can be revamped.
Making or redecorating an actual dollhouse in the real, not virtual, world isn't as easy as clicking on colors and furniture; it takes time, creativity, and patience. The reward? It actually exists.
My girls' dollhouse, a $5 yard sale find, has four tall rooms and an attic. Currently, the store-bought Barbie furniture mingles with repainted wooden furniture and sits on rugs made from origami paper and fabric scraps. The walls are covered with contact paper or scrapbook paper or, in one case, white printer paper. That wall is a "doodle wall," my 8-year-old recently proclaimed, demonstrating its use. "I wish I lived in this house," she added.
The house has fulfilled many fantasies: It has contained traditional bedrooms and living rooms, boutiques and cafes, playgrounds and kennels, depending on the current interest of the decorator. We sit down with whatever paper and fabric we have around, occasionally raiding the magazine rack or the bag of outgrown clothing. I can participate without directing; I just take a room. I have my own bathroom renovation dreams.
Angela Holton of Larchmont, N.Y., also got a dollhouse started and watched her daughter run with it. They wanted a bed; she and her 5-year-old made one from some cardboard packing material. A scrap of fabric became a blanket; finally they needed a pillow and thought of cotton balls. Each idea led to the next.