The magic and importance of play
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood,” Fred Rogers, aka Mr. Rogers.
Screen time is a fact of life for most of us. Don’t get me wrong, while I am well aware of the official guidelines, there is no judgement from me for families who get a bit too much. It is safe to say that my kids got WAY too much, but they also balanced it out with lots of play and crafts.
This post is not about limiting screen time. It is about being mindful that you give your kids opportunities to play and use their imaginations the old fashioned way.
My sister Marjie and I were less than 2 years apart. Amy was six years younger and sometimes would be allowed to join whatever activity we had cooked up.
Thanks to Marjie’s over the top imagination we never were at a loss for odd games to play. The earliest one that I can recall was “Ann and Martha stick toilet paper on the wall”
Marjie would show up in my room in the middle of the night and help me climb out of my crib. We would bring our dolls (Ann and Martha) into the bathroom where we would wet pieces of toilet paper until they would stick on the wall. I think we would tell stories about whatever shape they were. That game is actually one of my earliest memories, although the memories are pretty vague. My parents were oblivious to our night time activities. My mom always wondered about the scraps of toilet paper that she would find all over the bathroom floor, because of course, they would dry up and fall off the wall during the night. It wasn’t until years later when we were discussing childhood games in her presence that the mystery was solved.
Another of the stranger games that I can recall all these many years later was ‘Crawl’. We would toss assorted clothes and ‘dress up’ costumes around the room, make the room pitch black and crawl around attempting to put on all the clothes that we came across. Shirts could become pants, underwear would go on the head. When the lights turned on we would crack ourselves up.
Marjie and I also created our own board games. They were convoluted and creative to say the least. These included
My mom watched with amusement, as long as we were safe, but there was one game that she absolutely hated that we referred to as “taste this” and which she ultimately banned.
‘Taste this’ was something we played when we were quite a bit older. It involved one person being blindfolded and the other players pulling out an assortment of various foods or condiments. The blindfolded person would choose a number 1 through 4. Each number corresponded with a mystery food that the person would need to taste and then try to identify. There would usually be one positive, two neutral, and one horrible choice. There was an element of honor involved. You absolutely had to taste whatever you picked...no cheating.
Mom forbade us from playing the game following that one time when I was blindfolded and threw up all over the kitchen after making a poor choice and getting a heaping spoonful of mayonnaise in my mouth (you would have vomited too!)
We made the mistake of telling our kids about this one, and poor mom had to deal with the generation of grandchildren playing ‘taste this,’ when the cousins would gather at grandma’s house. Lauren read this post as I was writing it and recalled getting a mouthful of coffee grounds, but on the other end, gave her cousin a spoonful of the liquid from a jar of gefilte fish. The game was banned yet again. No worries, the band of cousins created their own set of unique games.
When my daughters were young and playing with each other at home, if there were any games that caused vomiting, they flew under my radar.
I started thinking about all of this because the other day Sandy and I took a long overdue stab at clearing out the storage room behind our garage. Both my girls joined us in helping us decide what old toys and games were worth saving.
What a trip down memory lane! There were bins of crafts, costumes, board games and well loved toys. Among the treasures is a huge bin of beanie babies with the tags still on. (One of these days we need to figure out if those are worth anything).
There was a doll house that Sandy had made out of old wine crates. The walls were covered with wallpaper from a wall paper book and carpeted with remnants. That was a great project, but the house was a bit worse for wear from sitting in the storage room for 20 years, so it didn’t make the cut for things we are saving.
Some classic toys that survived their years in storage will now get to be played with again by little Elliot.
So here is today's message.
Please make sure that your kids have lots of opportunities to play, create their own games, and use their imaginations.
If you don’t have a Marjie in your lives for whom no props were required, have some basics that games can be built around such as: a doctor's kit, a toy cash register, dolls or stuffed animals. The dolls that we made for our wine crate doll house were made out of pipe cleaners and felt. Expensive toys with lots of bells and whistles are not necessary.
You can also get your kids started with some Improv games . Click the link in the last sentence for a list of these that my daughter Lauren, who is a teaching artist, complied at the beginning of the pandemic.
If your kids don’t have siblings to play with, try to connect with other friends who have kids of similar ages. Once kids are older than 2 years or so, there is no real substitute from the learning and growing kids can get from interactive play.