My dad grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey in the 1960s. He and his four brothers shared a bedroom in a small apartment above a butcher shop. They spent a lot of time outdoors (because FIVE BOYS in a two-bedroom apartment!) but not exactly in nature. They were alley kids. When they played “stickball,” the alley version of the sandlot, it was with a discarded shard of lumber, not an actual stick. Nature play does not come naturally to my dad. But imaginative play does. Those five boys growing up in a small alley in Jersey City would become experts in using their imaginations and creativity to keep themselves occupied with whatever it was they could find. They were masters of turning trash into treasure.

I did not find it unusual to receive a random text from my dad a few weeks ago that read: “Found two big bowls on the side of the road! For Wildrock?” My dad is not one to leave a potentially useful item on the side of the road, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that he had pulled over to retrieve them. After doing his due diligence to find the rightful owners (by posting on Facebook and Nextdoor.com), a week after his find, he delivered the two big bowls to my house. They are HUGE. My mom was thrilled to get them out of her living room.

My kids immediately saw the play value in these two new treasures. My 7-year old turned it into a nest, she was the mama bird.

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My 9-year old turned it into a Pokéball, he was the Pokémon.

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My 11-year old sat in it, cross-legged, as we spun him around in circles. Then, my brother, Big Uncle Mike, got into the play: With one kid sitting in each bowl, he turned them into weights that he slid across the carpet as he did modified push-ups for a killer ab workout. The bowls became “bathtubs” and silly hats and “rings of rocks” for Gentoo penguin nests. After a day of play, the kids were sorry to see them go, but knew the bowls were off for more fun and adventures with the kids at Wildrock.

Since they were incorporated into Wildrock’s Pop Up Play, these two giant bowls have been put to use by toddlers and preschoolers and elementary-aged kiddos from across Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The bowls have been seats and slides and step stools. They have been drums, thrones, turtle shells, and “mixing bowls for giants.”

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I am continually impressed and inspired by the imaginations of kids. A simple item, a discarded piece of trash, has turned into an incredible treasure of play.

How would your children use a giant bowl in their play? Have you found any other unexpected play treasures that would have otherwise been trash?