Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Pure Imagination

Do you remember the deep satisfaction you felt as a child after a day spent playing with your friends? Or exploring the neighborhood on your own where every tree branch or ant hill could mesmerize you for hours? The days and the world around you held endless possibilities. 

I vividly remember becoming Godzilla and destroying the houses that I envisioned existed in the piles of snow that were created after the snowplows cleared the roads.  I would pick up these little snow cliff homes and "GRRR" smash them into the pavement.  Of course no one was actually hurt in my scenarios. The occupants were not at home as they were forewarned of my impending destruction and found shelter and safety with loved ones in another city.  

I have a clear memory of playing alone one evening at home, in the large upstairs family room just outside my bedroom.  As the sun set beyond the large pane-glass window and the light faded in the room, I invented a super-rocket using only my right shoe.  It was just the perfect size to fit my handmade ghost (which I made from a pair of old pajamas and still have by the way - see picture).  

Ghostie bravely took off from the carpeted launch pad and traveled to the pool table moon.  The billiard balls became moon rocks and the pockets, craters.  

Many times I would draw others into my make believe world and what better subject to 'direct' than my little sister.  She would eagerly obey all of my directions. Sometimes memorizing a script I had written, as she did with my horror story masterpiece "A Face in the Window" (which I also still have) or improvising a scene after I had given her and her friends the necessary framework.  

A popular piece was one I called "Golden Girls".  This was long before the television show that came later and stole my title.   Mine didn't detail the sex life and living situation of Dorothy, Sophia, Rose and Blanche.  The golden girls my sister and her two friends portrayed were named Gold, Silver and Bronze.  I must have been into the Olympics at the time.  Poor innocent Gold was always wandering off away from her sisters and subsequently being abducted by the alien, played by me.  She would be locked up and only rescued after the alien fell asleep.  Cue lots of running around and screaming when the alien woke up just as they were escaping.  

In the children's book Harold and the Purple Crayon, a little boy uses his imagination to create a unique world with the aid of one purple crayon.  He creates dangerous and potentially damaging circumstances but draws his way to safety.  Harold has a quick mind, inventive spirit and pure imagination.  

I think one of the reasons this book has retained its popularity is because children and adults recognize a bit of Harold in themselves.  Children live it.  Adults remember it.  

The imagination is never so evident as when children are at play. The developmental psychologist Jean Piaget is often quoted for writing "Play is child's work".  As I live with this notion I believe more and more that he is right.  

A new study I read recently explores the importance of play and cautions us on the changing landscape of it.  The article pinpoints 1955 as a turning point in all of this because that is when the first toys were marketed on television.  Howard Chdacoff, a cultural historian at Brown University says "It's interesting to me that when we talk about play today, the first thing that comes to mind are toys.  Whereas when I would think of play in the 19th century, I would think of activity rather than an object".  

How true!

The objects I used to play with as a child, like my shoe, held endless possibilities.  My right shoe could become a rocket, a boat, a cave or a person.  Today children are buying toys that directly represent what they are meant to be.  A light saber from Star Wars will be used only in that capacity.  So we are limiting the imagination. 

Psychologists today believe that this, along with the elimination of free play in the lower grades to make room for more academic pursuits and achievements is changing kids' cognitive and emotional development.  One study found that "Today's 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and todays 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-olds 60 years ago".  

During play children must negotiate the rules.  If you have ever spent any time watching children play you would have noticed that they establish rules beforehand, such as roles each one will play (like "I am the mommy and you are the baby") and if those rules are broken someone gets yelled at.  Playing at make-believe has shown to foster children who are more responsible and demonstrate a willingness to assist others.

They also learn in games like "Simon Says" and "Red light, Green light, 1,2,3"  how to monitor their behavior.  They must decide when to hold back from acting and self regulate.  This is called the Executive Function.  Poorly developed executive function according to this article is "associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime.  In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child's IQ!".

Perhaps we ought to lighten up a bit and let kids be kids.  They seem to know how to do it better than the "experts".  


la bellina mammina said...

I can't find Purple Crayon here, and I was told that it's a good book!

A pity how kids nowadays are not so interested in the traditional games we used to play - all I hear about now is games for X-box, WII, runescape...

mouse (aka kimy) said...

great post!!! there's so much good food for thought. I remember reading an article not too long ago suggesting that all the emphasis on toys had done much to undermine children's development. your post today, with it's references, reinforces this.... sometime more is actually a lot less.

adults I believe can benefit from living and not just remembering the lesson of harold.

super! thanks

Dumdad said...

Thought-provoking post, as usual. Yes, let kids play while they can. I remember having Lego as a kid and making spaceships and space stations etc. They probably didn't look anything like real rockets but they represented that to me. I remember playing by a wall for hours: the wall was the console of a spacecraft (again!) and sticks stuck inbetween the bricks were levers and controls. My friends and I did build balsawood aircraft and fly them. And we were allowed a lot more freedom to roam around at a much younger age.

Now I'm a parent and perhaps I overreact like everyone else and keep my kids close!

d. chedwick bryant said...

I love this post so much...and Ghostie too..
I had an old Brownie Camera when I was a kid--the film was really hard to find--you had to special order it--that's how old the camer was..a little brown box camera-- anyway I never had $ for film, so I'd pretend to take pictures--my friends would pose--everyone wanted to do silly poses--strangers would stop and pose when we asked. An old guy pretended to ride a little tiny bike, kids climbed trees to pose like monkeys--we had so much fun with that camera... and never any film in it!

Joy Keaton said...

Ever notice how kids find more fun playing with the box a toy came in than the toy itself? Because the box can become ANYTHING and the toy is always just 'the toy'.

Great post. I'd like to hear your sister's take on how scary the 'alien' was. I've seen you do that zombie thing and it scares me now! ;)

marxsny said...

When I was little I also had this big box of Lego bricks that you could build just about anything you could think of with. Today Legos are only sold in sets that are designed to build one thing. It's a great marketing deal for the toy company but doesn't do much for the child's imagination.

LadrĂ³n de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

I had "Harold and the Purple Crayon" at some point in school or my personal library. I more than remember his creation of a private world and still live it. I'm glad that your Godzilla only destroyed property and not people. Of course, he was angry over the impact of nuclear war getting nature out of whack, the Al Gore of his era. Come to think of it, Godzilla and Gore have the same walk and facial expressions.

phd girl said...

This post has been very inspirational and is so true. Parents need to address the situation before children lose a massive amount of their natural imagination.

lettuce said...

thats a great picture - he could be a pillow saint!

i agree with you - and isn't that why Lego is one of the best toys ever? i don't mean "Star Wars Lego" or "Harry Potter Lego" - just basic, do what you want with it Lego.

but then i was always happy playing with sticks and stones too. Still am, if i'm honest.

i love that you still have your ghost!

Arielle said...

I remember those days too! :)

You were such an imaginative kid, Gary.

Really, all children are imaginative in their own unique ways.

I LOVED making things and making up stories as a kid. I also used to read out loud (with voices) to my little brother for hours at a time.

Love Ghostie! So precious! Glad you kept him for posterity!

J. David Zacko-Smith said...

Isn't imagination a wonderful thing?

Reya Mellicker said...

Oh I LOVE Harold and the Purple Crayon. Even as a kid I loved it that there was a book about a child insomniac!

I still have my copy of the book.

Love thinking about you with your billiard ball solar system and your sisters and the Golden Girls. You're so creative! Bravo!!

Gary said...

Thank you all for sharing your own stories of childhood and imagination. I found them all fascinating. To see all of you as children gives me a new perspective.

This post was so much fun to write because it brought back memories I don't pull up everyday. Kim is right, we all can benefit from living the lesson of Harold.

Bella - Would you like me to send a copy?

Steve said...

You are SO right. Kids can make up their own toys and games, and the endless array of marketed products is so unnecessary. I was the same way as a kid -- my brother and I invented a lot of games with whatever was at hand.

Animals are the same way, actually. Pet toys are so silly. My cat would much prefer a paper bag.

I love the fact that you've saved ghostie all these years!

dennis said...

Dennis likes cramming himself into small cardboard boxes and pretending they are sportscars!

Pod said...

ooh you're so big and scary gazilla

la bellina mammina said...


If you have an extra copy - I'll buy it off you:-)

WAT said...

T'is perhaps why I often say I am glad I kinda grew up in the generation I did, the last true one without all the technology our kids have today. Man, I used to pretend/imagine/be creative/play like crazy! I'm from Generation X man! I remember the birth of cable, the VCR, Walkmans, personal computers, Internet, cell phones, Ipod! All this stuff came to be during and way after my childhood into my adult years now, and in a way I don't regret it, because I grew up and lived just fine without all this stuff.

Ask me to live without some of that now though, I think I'd die! LOL!

Paul said...

Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this post! It got me to thinking. Thanks, Gary!

dennis said...

Dennis thinks purple crayons taste better than yellow ones. Dennis has never read this book...yet...

d. chedwick bryant said...

i've been imagining what your next post will be about--i hop it's more about Gary as a small child. what were you like at age 6, I wonder?

d. chedwick bryant said...

I mean age 6 at school--

Pod said...

please squeeze the lettuce for me
and give her a turn around the maypole on my behalf if you wouldn't mind?

Gary said...

Poddy - Will do, and Reya Dahlink as well. Oh, Gazilla...I love it!

Ched - Thanks for the story starter question. I have been wanting to write a post about my class trip to the Museum but think I shall write a post that touches on your suggestion instead. I am all about looking back and pushing forward while making the most of the present. Life is grand isn't it? Stay tuned...

Dennis - Don't you mean you have never eaten this book?

Paul - Thanks for commenting. Getting you thinking can lead to some interesting territory indeed. I wonder where this will lead.

Wat - As an adult I don't know what I would do without a cell phone or computer but I sometimes wish they were not such a temptation. There is something so wonderful about being unreachable you know? Hopefully the pleasures of a book (hard copy) will never go out of fashion.

Bella - I do. I have to dig out your address from my old emails and get on this when I return from my vacation in Florida (where I am at the moment).

Steve - Pet toys! LOL! There is an industry. However, my doggies in the past have enjoyed their chewmen and such. Dogs can be so like children. My Collie used to run and get his little stuffed collie whenever he was happy, just like a child. Gotta love that!


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