Something happened to the way we play. This image of children building a rocket to play with comes from The Chicago Sun-Times in 1951. It used to be that imagination (perhaps out of economic necessity) was the glue of play and a child’s building blocks came from inventive uses of everyday objects from the world around. These days a parent might be pressured instead to purchase a pre-formed plastic rocket complete with surround sound, flip out monitors and an iPhone dock.
Sure, don’t get me wrong, I would have drooled over that as a kid. But then in a few days when the thrill wears off and imagination does what it does best (moves on to some new horizon) my folks would have been saddled with this useless giant hunk of plastic, whereas the kids in the photo above might simply re-integrate the everyday items back into everyday life rotation.
What if someone were to design a line of toys that fit together in varying configurations to resemble playthings for the imagination, but individually doubled as useful household items? Brooms that fold up to look like robot arms? Cleverly designed screwdrivers that double as laser guns (or sonic ones?)
Of course that gets into a whole other territory of parent/child relationships as in “where did you put the steamer basket?” The child smiles and reports “you mean the the spaceship my droids are in, it’s occupied.”
My concern is that the natural instincts of inventiveness as learned in play are being slowly driven out of us. I worry that it will have an impact on eventual advancements in science and technology. Just as pre-packaged, prepared foods have filled our diets to the detriment of our nutritional health, I fear that pre-packaged single purpose toys are robbing our children of a valuable creativity-building nutrients. If that is the case, then perhaps the emerging third world or areas of economic decline might see a rise in creative problem solving versus areas mired in wealth and abundance of pre-formed single function toys?
I guess that is why I’m such a fan of LEGO blocks – but even some of those have begun to simply resemble preform plastic toys that just use child labor as the final step in the assembly line rather than providing a platform suite of blocks from which limitless variations can emerge. Except for LEGO Mindstorm – that’s pretty darn cool and I’ve been waiting to get one for my son since he was four. He’ll be eight soon and even though it says ten and up, I figure with the right supervision…
What are your thoughts on the damage today’s toys may be causing to the ever-important learning tool called play?