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. "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. 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.
Making furniture and decorating rooms can be a very "green" project. FamilyFun magazine regularly shows easy-to-make dollhouses out of recycled boxes and furniture out of egg cartons.
Decorating a dollhouse "helps kids to be creative, resourceful and make things with their hands, which are skills that are so important in this digital era especially," says FamilyFun editor-in-chief Ann Hallock. Her 8-year-old made a pine-branch Christmas tree for the dollhouse, with ornaments and tiny presents.
That creative process "allows children to develop skills involving math, problem solving and fine motor development," says Laura Sedlock, educational director at a Manhattan preschool. And they do so "in a context that is creative, meaningful and integrally related to play - elements that are increasingly absent from structured academic environments."