Friday, April 13, 2007

Playful Perspectives: Summer Secrets

Playful Perspectives is a new feature where we join forces with Ty's Toy Box to talk about things that are important to encouraging healthy play for your kids. The Toy Box Mommy and I share our views on specific topics, giving you twice the food for play-full thought. Today, we've been talking about summer toys.

When I was a kid, my mother had one response when my brothers and I said, "We're bored."

It was a simple, "No, you're not."

When we would try to argue, she would say, "You have a room full of books and toys, there's all of outdoors. You'll think of something."

We always did, and it didn't always involve blowing things up, though that was a favorite pastime. More importantly, what it involved was getting up and moving, and once we did that, the imagination started to flow. We had a puppet theater that we had fashioned in the basement where we acted out Tales from Shakespeare , created our own music and invited the neighborhood kids in. Or we would play games, read under a tree, or that classic of all time that we talked about previously, "riding bikes."

Even though down here in the mountains of Georgia today we're bracing for a Nor'Easter and have been without power since last night till just a bit ago, it's starting to look like summer. Even when the flurries are dancing around on the mountain, the light is saying, "Get out and play."

It can't get warm soon enough for the people who sell toys, as the warm days are a great time to inspire open-ended play, creative play social play. While we love our video games, this is a time of year to save those for a rainy day and get out and play.

One of the most remarkable things about play is that while the props may change from generation to generation, the essential play patterns don't. Today's kids still love drawing on the driveway with chalk, and the more recent innovation, Sidewalk Paint. They have all kinds of cool things to do it with. When we were kids it was rare to have colored chalk, and most of what we had were ends of chalk my parents brought home from the school where they taught. In 2007, Crayola's chalk line is diverse, full of new ways to inspire creativity and really satisfying to use.

Water battles are another part of the summer excitement. I can remember being taken to the emergency room because my foot got caught in the sprinkler that, at least with the melodrama of childhood memory, was like a rotating blade. No such worries today. Sprinklers for playtime are more advanced than ever before, nice soft plastic and even featuring favorite characters. And the Super Soaker, a miraculous invention when I was a kid, are now a full-fledged line of ingenious stuff that we love. (We probably have one of the only offices where tyring out water guns inside is considered work.)

Speaking of water toys, one of the biggest innovations of the past few years have been the inflatable water parks that go in the backyard. The Banzai line from Toy Quest is about as good as it gets. Now these can be on the pricey side, but you'll get years of use out of them, and we've found that families in a neighborhood will pitch in to buy one of these.

A couple of things to remember about water toys: It's axiomatic that the smaller the kid the larger the water gun they want. Remember, water is heavy. ("A pint's a pound, the world around.") and some of those Super Soakers can hold a lot. Also, you'll want to make sure that any time kids are playing with water or there's a hose on, there's an adult supervising.

These are just a few ideas, but no matter what you choose, it's really important for kids to have control of their time, within your guidelines. For instance, you might set rules about TV or video game watching, but beyond that, let kids choose what they want to do. Free time is so important to kids and in such short supply. Try not to overbook summer with activities, and, as several parents we know do, plan time to be open-ended.

And remember something my mother knew only too well. Being bored isn't a tragedy, and it wasn't her responsibility to solve it. Instead, she trusted our creativity and imaginations to come up with things that would engage us and fill the time--and that we would be all the more invovled because it was our idea. For instance, my mother never thought that reading us Tales from Shakespeare as a bedtime story would inspire our puppet shows, (No Goodnight Moon for mom, she thought it was "inane.") but she was glad the did, even if our adaptations were long on battles and short on poetry.

We were always supervised and always safe, but our imaginations were encouraged, and that's a gift you can give your kids.

I expect that we would have had a little less encouragement regarding the time we showed up with kittens, but she came to love them about the most.

Keep a weather eye for warmer days, and enjoy the spring!

And don't forget to read what the Toy Box Mommy has to say on this subject!


Brother 4 said...

nlfOf course, driving a little brother nuts with endless repetitions of Beethoven's "Fur Elise" is a sure cure for boredom as well! :)