Here are my favorite quotes:
In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior. In play it is as though he were a head taller than himself.
Lev Vygotsky Russian psychologist 1896–1934
“Live Free, Child of the Mist”
– H. D. Thoreau
“Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. On the other hand, that which we allow him to discover for himself will remain with him visible for the rest of his life.”
“Don’t buy your kids toys. If you do, make sure the toys are 90% child and only 10% toy.” This means that the toy shouldn’t manipulate the child – the child should be able to manipulate the toy. Battery-operated toys, for example, are 90% toy and only 10% child. They don’t give kids the opportunity to explore, navigate, and think for themselves.”
I can honestly say that I was lucky – as a child I had many opportunities to play – mostly outdoors and mostly with my imagination. Sure there were props (as I will describe below) but for the most part, it was how I was allowed to use them – strictly as I chose, that made my childhood (up until age 12 when my parents divorced) wonderful. Here are some of my favorite things to play with as a child growing up in the ’70’s – I thank God often that I grew up in the era that I did.
I learned how to ride a bike when I was 5. The picture above is the type of Royce Union bike I had, but mine was purple (this one looks more pink to me.) I rode my bike all over the neighborhood. Made up games like “market” where I would ride to a neighbor’s house and pick leave off their big bushes to use as money, groceries, or whatever I wanted it to mean at the moment. I had a basket on the front of my bike to keep such treasures in. I always felt “a head taller than myself.”
I loved to play with dolls, including Holly Hobbie, Raggedy Ann, and my most favorite, Malibu Barbie. (Never did get the Dream House, but I just built my own out of shoe boxes, covered them with construction paper and decorated them myself!) Maybe because I grew up in California, I don’t know, but she was my favorite. When I started taking early childhood classes and the subject of body image and children would be broached, undoubtedly the work of Dittmar, Halliwell, and Ive (2006) research would be asserted as the “truth” about the topic. These researchers determined that their findings support a direct influence phase of dolls as aspirational role models and therefore have theoretical implications for understanding how sociocultural influences impact children’s self-evaluation and, consequently, their developing self concept.” I, personally have no memory of thinking that I wanted to look like Barbie, complete with the full figure and always standing on my tip-toes!
I loved playing games and Kerplunk! was by far one of my favorite games to play. I would play with friends or play by myself. A lot of games that came out in the ’70’s were designed like this. Perfection, Aggravation, and Mousetrap, to name a few. Of course it was best to play with friends. We would take our games out in the front yard (yes it was safe to play in the front yard back then) and start to play with one friend, then others may join in. I know that we are suppose to have to or three pictures of “essential” play items…but I don’t have any pictures of my neighborhood friends who I would play “hide and seek,” “Mother May I,” “Stop and Go,” “Statue Maker,” and ” Colored Eggs” for hour and hours, until the streetlights came on and we would all have to go home. I use to think that my experience was unique until I started talking and meeting people through social media. Seems I wasn’t the only kid who had to be home when the streetlights came on…. What is great about all the above is that these are all still available. They have stood the test of time. Bikes. Dolls, games. Friends. All develop imagination, critical thinking, wonder. My family supported me by making sure I went outside to play – I hardly remember being inside, except to watch Saturday morning TV. It was a BIG DEAL in the ’70’s. Believe it or not, the clips from Scholastic Rock still rumble through my head, and I have used them to teach multiplication tables, parts of speech, and of course, the Preamble to many youngsters over the years. Play played an important part of my childhood – free play, NOT programmed play. As I got older I took ballet lessons and bowled (one of the best in California for my age group) but those programmed activities did not take the place of pure play.
Fast-forward 40 years…..and I can tell you that play is not the same today. High crime, both parents working, the digital age have all attributed to the downfall of play for the sake of play. Even in early childhood education programs – “play” has to be programmed into the day, and usually for about 30 minutes. There is the idea that if a school age child does not have extra-curricular activities then they will be missing out on an important part of their childhood. I say to that – I bowled, did Girl Scouts, had working parents, and still had lots of time to play. I cannot remember EVER telling my parents I was bored. I always found something to do – playing house or school in my room with my dolls. SOMETHING! Having worked in many school age programs, it would astound me that children would come up to me and tell me that they were bored. I tried to provide many different type of interactive activities – even classic games that I loved as a kid myself. This generation has been taught that they cannot entertain themselves, but need to be entertained. I am hoping that as I work with preschoolers again, I can help them get away from that thinking and provide environments where they can play freely, without any agenda or assessment involved.
Adults, like children, need to incorporate play into their lives as well. Like Dr. Stuart Brown says in his TED talk: “play just makes us feel better.”
Today I ran a few errands and then decided to ‘play’ – I walked around the little mall in our town and just watched and enjoyed the day. No specific agenda – no programming. Just sat and drank my skinny vanilla latte from Starbucks and then walked over to the park across the street to soak in some Vitamin D.Observed my surroundings and watched people – caught a wildly-thrown frisbee by a grateful teenager. Breathed in the warm winter day and smiled. Play is good for everyone – including grown-ups!