Throw a few kids together, take away all the electronics, what do you get? Imaginative play! Like books made of paper, the art of invention hasn’t disappeared.
I was a bit worried when I invited two friends to our lake house with their kids- two 15 year olds and a ten year old. The children have known each other for about 6 years and get together a few weeks every summer. I warned the parents: there’s no television, spotty cell-phone service, no computer games. If it’s nice, there’s plenty to do outside; if it rains, there are board games, cards, and books.
They took to the lake like a gaggle of geese, racing around in kayaks, jumping off the floating raft, and swimming. Watching from afar, we adults realized their paddling around wasn’t merely random. Over lunch, we heard how an outcropping of rocks and shrubs, dubbed “Goose Crap Island” years ago by my kids, had become the “jail.” They were taking turns being cops, chasing one robber, and putting the culprit behind bars. We heard how two boats capsized and how the children rescued the flip-flops, oars, and boats from sinking or floating away.
Later in the day, it rained. Inside, the children played cards, using “Twizzlers” for implements and of course, the winner got to eat the prize. They rewrote the rules for Scrabble, defending their words, and refined the scoring in Ping Pong.
Watching the children play reminded me of my own kids who invented games, created kingdoms, and kept them occupied in the 17 years we’ve had the house. I thought of the play I wrote when I was a child, “The Purple Scarf.” I directed the neighborhood children and of course starred in the leading role, the princess. I remember pretending to be a secret agent from the television spy show, “The Man from Uncle,” creeping around the woods with other friends, inventing scenarios, combating evil.
Unlike every other mother who seemed to have their children’s toys organized by brand, I was never good at getting my kids to tidy up their toys into separate bins. Our legos and Lincoln logs, tinker toys and trains, superheroes and dolls co-existed in large laundry baskets, ever ready for roles in sprawling battles and construction projects.
Imagination isn’t dead. Give kids the freedom to negotiate and cooperate, unplug the electronics. See what happens.