Tag Archives: creativity

Can Timmy Come Out and Play?

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I just made a batch of play dough. Green. With glitter. I’m 59. I don’t have kids. I can’t wait to play with it! For those of you worrying about my mental health, it’s not really for me. It’s for a group of kids I read to at our library. But I will not lie to you. I WILL be playing with it, right along with them.

So what is it about some of us that makes us still love to play when we are probably way too old to be considered a kid? For me, it’s not just play dough. It’s games, toys, crafts and using my imagination with abandon. I’ve always lusted after kids’ toys and games, and I’ve always encouraged creative play. Fortunately, I’ve spent most of my life working with kids, so I’ve been able to get away with lots of playing. But I’m sure there are others out there who may be closeted players.

But nothing is closeted at my house…when you come over, you will find shelves filled with games and toys in full view. I have quite the collection of antique games I’ve gotten from garage sales and thrift shops that bring back childhood memories, along with some of the new-fangled games and contraptions that kids play with. And some of my own toys and games from when I was a kid. Yes, I kept them all these years. And I dearly miss the ones that my parents gave away along the way.

And these things do not just sit on the shelves. I get tingly all over when someone comes over to play a game with me. And I find myself toying with puzzles and games on my own, whenever possible. Brain teasers, Sudoku, jigsaws, crosswords…puzzles of all kinds just thrill me and I can become quite addicted to them, given enough free time. I’ve branched out from the good old board or card games, and now also play electronically on my iPad or computer.

I really believe that play is healthy at any age. I know quite a few people who would benefit from a bit of play. Maybe some charades, a dress-up contest or a few rounds of Boggle! Because you can’t play a game and not smile or laugh at some point. And playing keeps your brain engaged. I’m sure there are studies somewhere that show that play makes you live longer, but I really don’t have time to research…I’ve got fresh play dough to squish!

Occupied

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Kids today have a lot of entertainment options. Toys are no longer simple. Gadgetry abounds. Electronics, TV, movies, games, videos, music. And the gadgetry makes all this fun portable. Kids no longer have to sit in the living room to watch TV, or go to the theater to see a movie. Music, movies, texting, talking, games…it’s all on their smart phones, with them at all times.

On the one hand, it’s a wonderful thing. All that technology makes it possible for today’s kids to have everything at their fingertips. So much more to experience. So much information. So much fun. So much learning. But on the other hand, it’s a bit sad. All that technology makes it way too easy for them. Kids don’t have to work for the fun any more. And they don’t have to use their imaginations at all! It’s all made up for them…all they have to do is choose an animated character and the game takes them on an adventure. They select a favorite emoticon to show how they’re feeling when texting friends. And they hit shuffle on their iPods to hear a string of all of their favorite tunes.

When we were kids, things were much less complicated. We had to work for our fun. We had to take a record out of a sleeve, put it on a turntable, and set the needle on the record in order to listen to a song. We made up scenarios to act out with our dolls or plastic army men, and had to move them around ourselves. We played card games, board games, and made up games of our own. We cried, and laughed, and talked through our play.

With so many electronic options, kids today don’t really have to come up with ideas of what to do to occupy themselves at any given time. When they are with friends, they are likely watching videos on their phones or tablets, or texting other friends. When they are at home, they are likely listening to music and watching videos, or texting friends…God forbid they should engage in conversation with members of their families, or sit down and play a game of gin rummy with the folks.

And car rides have taken on a whole new meaning. It’s no longer about the ride…it’s about how to make the ride bearable and get it over with quickly. When today’s kids are forced to travel with their parents, they are likely watching DVD’s in the car, on the DVD players or iPads on the seat backs in front of them. I’m sure they are not doing any of the things we used to do in the car to pass the time. It’s not likely they are watching the mile markers, calculating the distance to the next town. And I doubt they are playing the license plate game, counting cows, or keeping track of car makes or colors. I’m sure they’re not singing songs, or playing word games with the family, or playing guessing games. And I KNOW they are not arguing with their siblings over who has to lay on the floor over the hump in the middle of the back seat, and who gets to sleep on the seat. I guess the only good thing about the kids being occupied is it’s easier on the parents…no one’s asking, “Are we there yet?” In fact, the kids don’t want to get there until the movie’s over. But that’s ok…I’ll still take a good game of Three Thirds Goat or I See Something You Don’t See any day over a rerun of Frozen.  

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When I was a kid, play meant do fun things. It really was that simple. You ran around outside with your friends, or used your imagination to invent complex situations using simple objects you had around the house. You had simple, straightforward toys, or made everyday objects into your toys. Today, play can mean many things, but rarely means just do fun things. You need expensive equipment, a fancy destination, and a master’s degree to figure out the rules.

Usually, modern-day play involves having access to, and knowing how to use a computer, smart phone, Wii, X-Box, or some other electronic device. Or it might involve a play date at which you usually travel several miles to an amusement park or water park, and pay a lot of money to brave the crowds and wait in lines in order to do fun things. At the age of 3 or 4, kids are riding around on their own 4-wheelers or snowmobiles! And even the simpler toys of today are expensive and really don’t allow for much creativity. You buy a Lego kit that makes one character, you build it, and you play with it, until you get bored with that one character.

When we were kids, we had things like jump ropes, rubber bouncy balls, jacks, marbles, tea sets, army men, Legos, cars, and dolls. Inside, we used measuring cups, pots, pans, glasses, and spoons to play in the water in the kitchen sink. We filled our tea sets with water and had a tea party with no one else in attendance. We put our dolls to sleep in a cardboard box with one of our old blankets. We built forts out of blankets and chairs, or between our beds. We played store, or restaurant. We played marbles on the rug, or raced our cars around on the floor. We played board games like Monopoly or Pachisi, or played solitaire or rummy. In the summer we would swing on the swing set, go down the slide, or ride our bikes. We played jump rope until the rope wore out from hitting the pavement. We roller skated, pogo sticked, turned cartwheels, did handstands and backbends, played tag, hide and seek, red light/green light, and Red Rover. We went outside and ran around until we couldn’t run any more. If it was hot, we’d play with the hose, or the sprinkler. In the winter we’d go sledding, have snowball fights, and build snow forts.

One of my favorite play “inventions” was making “salad” out of grass and various bits of plant life outside, and pretending to serve it. And I remember when I was very young, my mom would wrap one of her aprons around me (on me it was up high under my armpits, like a dress), and stand me on a kitchen chair so I could reach to play in the sink. My brother and I each had a collection of marbles. Mom sewed us each a drawstring bag to keep them in. We didn’t just play marbles with them. I remember we had a coffee table that had a little rim around the top edge, so you could roll your marbles around on it without them rolling off the table. We would put out a bunch of marbles, and then tip the table around to make them “skate” as we hummed The Skater’s Waltz. If I was invited to play with my brother’s Legos, it was a big deal. We would build elaborate buildings, or castles with motes. And if I was really lucky, he’d let me play with his Erector Set with him, which involved true engineering skills. We made gears that turned, and moved the machines we’d invent. There were even batteries to connect power to these inventions. But I could also play jacks for a good portion of the day, and be quite happy.

Our biggest leaps into technology were watching Looney Tunes cartoons on TV, listening to our transistor radio, playing records on our record player, and eventually, recording goofy stuff on our reel to reel tape recorder. We didn’t have child-sized 4-wheelers, or snowmobiles. We didn’t have to master the computer games, and couldn’t experience a “real” drive-by shooting, either, and that was just fine by us. We were busy coming up with the next maneuvers for the little plastic army men perched on the hill next to our house.

I have to wonder how these very different modes of “creative play” affect us as we become adults. I think my brother and I, and those of our generation turned out just fine. We went to school, got good jobs, made friends, and learned all the new technologies as they came along. We became problem-solvers, collaborators, and inventors. And today’s kids? Are they less able to be problem-solvers and team players? I don’t think so…they just might approach it using different technologies and strategies.

But when it comes to creativity, I’m not sure it’s the same. Maybe not any worse or better for one generation or the other, but definitely different. I can still brainstorm and come up with creative ideas like crazy. I’ve found some of the younger generation have trouble with this “free thinking” creativity. I remember when I was teaching, thinking it was so great to let my students have a “free choice” day in their writing journals. They thought it sucked. Some of them sat there the entire time, unable to think of anything to write about. They needed me to tell them a topic…give them a specific assignment. They couldn’t just write about anything they were thinking about.

I hope that there are still kids out there running around, just playing, with no fancy equipment, from time to time. I hope that sometimes the computer games are set aside for a good round of gin rummy with the family. I hope that the violence in the simulation games isn’t rubbing off on the kids of today. I hope that some kids still want to run through the sprinkler with their siblings rather than go to the fancy water park.