Creative re-use of shipping crates: backyard fun for kids and neighbors.

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June 1 was moving day for a playhouse. Too well-loved to throw away, it was offered on a neighborhood chat group, free to someone who could recognize its true worth. Resettled in a shady yard, it will undergo minor renovations under the supervision of Evanston grandparents until its new occupants arrive later in the summer. The home’s original owners, it seems, have grown up.

It was Professor Brad Sageman’s idea, says his wife, Monica, to salvage the two large shipping crates and build a playhouse for their children, Asia, then 12, and Isaac, then 9. And so three years ago the wooden boxes that had brought a new mass spectrometer to Northwestern University’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences took up residence in the Sagemans’ back yard. There, for two summers, they became a gathering place for neighborhood kids and a focus for the Sageman family’s plans and good intentions.

Installing and finishing the playhouse involved trips to Home Depot, the Sagemans remember. They found roofing material (“a shower surround,” says Ms. Sageman) and vivid green paint, custom-mixed for someone else and sold to the Sagemans for a song. In the hands of Isaac and his dad, another part of the box became a wedge-shaped support for the roof, directing rain water down and out instead of letting it in.

Asia says she painted the jungle scene on the outside, complete with cow and parrot. Isaac says they were originally going to make the house a place to sleep. But they never got around to making windows.

 “We used to play cops and robbers, and the house was a jail,” says Asia. They played zoo too, she says: They were monkeys, and a zookeeper tried to keep them in the cage while the other players tried to get them out.

 Then one year, they did not play in the house anymore. “We kinda got too big for it,” says Asia. “The door got small.”

 “I was going to fix it up this summer, but then Mom told me she was giving it away,” says Isaac. Having it gone, he says, is “like having a big empty hole in the back yard.”

 But he is not too sad, he says. “We didn’t use it much anymore.”