I had a nephew’s birthday gift to buy, what do you but for a four year old? So I asked his Mom. She asked me to buy him an expensive gift, which I could not afford, so I said no and went to the dollar store. I bought him two plastic dinosaurs. After all the gifts were opened, all the wrapping paper and party games were done, guess which toy amongst the piles he played with most? He never put it down. You guessed it, the plastics dinosaurs that cost me two dollars. His imagination ran wild and he had a blast.
When I cam across this quote I remembered that story, and was again reminded that children to do not need every “thing”, they need a vivid imagination, challenges, and time to just be children. I had a more recent reminder of this message. A friend and her teenage daughter babysat our pets while we were out of town. The daughter brought her best friend, both of which are creatives. When I got home I was anxious to see how they “played” in my studio…nothing. Ya’ know what they did, they spent the weekend exploring our land with the dogs, walking, hiking, digging, just wandering. My friend then told me that she forget that suburban kids do not get much space to roam. So these two teenagers preferred being outside with no boundaries than playing in a fully stocked art studio. Go figure!
We want our children to have all the things we did not have growing up. We do not want them to know what it feels like to go without. While we may have experienced gaps in our childhood by not having the right things, or toys, or places; we do not have to assume they will feel those same things when they go without. Entire generations of children grew up riding in the back of the family car playing imaginative games and learning alphabet poker. Talking to their family or looking out the window and imagining the world beyond their own car door. That time allowed us to exercise our minds, annoy our siblings and build the foundations for who we are today.
We want a better life for the next generation, one with knowledge, power, opportunity, and that means we tend to schedule and buy things to fill in the gaps we don’t want them to experience. We want them to have opportunities and adventures, when what they really need is time to imagine, dream, pretend, explore, and make their own adventures. By giving them the gift of time, space and a chance to grow their imagination, we are giving them the best gift of all…the knowledge that they can do anything if they are imaginative and willing to try. Constant activity, constant input, constant oversight means they never have to learn how to do anything for themselves, and these are the future leaders of our world?
Let’s step back, back off, stop buying and remind ourselves and our children that time, space and imagination can overcome any challenge. The fun and learning is in the trying, failing, and trying again. Being bored is a choice, not a mandate for a video game. I never told my parents I was bored, otherwise it meant time for chores. So I found things to do and developed my own interests outside, inside with my imagination. I do not feel particularly scarred because I was left to play on my own; I feel fortunate and self reliant. I am smart, try things, and am willing to work hard. And isn’t THAT what we want for the next generation?