Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Imagination? What's That?

Yes, back when I was young things really were different from how they are now. For one thing, the world was a safer place for children. I'm not making it out to be that there were no crazy people back then, but there truly were far fewer of them. Children routinely walked to school and back, and at fairly young ages, without an adult being present. Children walked over to friends' houses to play, and not just next door.

But safety was not the only difference. I'll go out on a limb here and say that we were far more imaginative than most kids today. When mom told us to go play, we didn't head for a computer or computerized game. Mostly we didn't stay indoors. We'd head outside, and what magical worlds awaited us out there.

We didn't have fully equipped play yards with every outdoor toy known to man. We had grass, for those who had yards, and sidewalks and each other and our imagination. One of my neighbors had an oak tree with a branch at the perfect height, and the parents hung an old tire from the branch--voila! A swing--excerpt when it was a rocket taking us far into outer space or a throne or a magic carpet. A piece of chalk and a small pebble and the sidewalk was just perfect for hopscotch, or creating artistic masterpieces. Sometimes we'd play "real" games such as Red Rover and sometimes we'd make up a game as we went along. We could spend hours in games of let's pretend and never get bored. Sometimes we'd just lay down on the grass and investigate the magical world among the blades. We could sit and play with a ladybug for as long as she'd deign to stay with us. We scouted out dandelions to blow at the thistles and watch them dance around the yard. We'd search for the perfect blade of grass to make a magic whistle. We'd play with any sand and dirt available, and oh boy did we get dirty. And no mom complained about that dirt because we were outside, moving around, having fun.

My house was on a higher elevation than my neighbor's house. If you sat on the edge of my yard and shoved off you had an incredible sled ride down to the neighbor's yard. We could do this a zillion times and not get bored. Sometimes we were magical beings, pretending we were flying down the hill. And sometimes we'd just sit on the edge of our yard and talk to each other, munching on apples.

On a trip back to Oregon a few years ago I took my husband to see the home where I grew up. As we moved around the side of the house I was suddenly convulsed with laughter. There, in the space between the neighbor's yard and our yard, were two beautiful apple trees. The people who own the house now told me that they couldn't understand quite how or why anyone would plant apple trees right in that spot, on an incline. Well, I could. You see, we'd have a contest about who could spit the seeds from our apple the furthest, and we had that contest many a time. And now years later there are apple trees to attest that we were there.

Yes, many of the toys and games and gizmos available today can be called imaginative, but they are someone else's imagination. You play the games someone else has thought up, and play by their rules. And so many of those toys and games don't require or won't support more than 1 or maybe 2 people at a time playing them. And they are sedentary, requiring no movement. (And please, no comments about playing tennis using the Wii--for the price of the thing you could buy a few racquets, some balls and actually be out there playing tennis with your friends instead of pretending you are playing tennis.)

A catchword in today's business world is that you have to learn to "think out of the box." How sad that we need to be told that, that we need to be told to be imaginative. How sad that imagination is not the fuel that play runs on today. Some day I hope to be able to take grandchildren out to my backyard and plop down with them on the grass. Maybe we'll lay back and stare up at the clouds and imagine where those clouds have been on their journey and what they've seen. Maybe we'll imagine what happens in that great grass blade metropolis. Maybe we'll run about playing tag or jumping just for the joy of it. Maybe we'll get good and dirty. And maybe we'll just let our imaginations soar and fly where they will. There is something incredibly freeing about getting outside and using the world as your toy box. I truly wish that freedom for my grandchildren and for all the children out there. Just imagine what that could be like.


Mystery Woman said...

So true!
My kids spend their play time so differently than I did...and that's without TV or video games.

Lion of Zion said...

"For one thing, the world was a safer place for children."

baloney. the average orthodox neighborhood is not more dangerous for kids today than it was 20 years ago. and i'll bet it is even safer than it was in earlier generations.

it's the parents that have changed. (tesyaa had a great comment once about the sterility environment that MO parents create in their neighborhoods.)

"we didn't head for a computer or computerized game."

now here i agree. i don't even take my son to the library because all he (and *all* the kids)i see there want do is play on the computer. instead of renovating my local library, instead i think they could have just saved the money and instead open an internet cafe for kids.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the world was not safer for children. What was different was that we were not constantly bombarded with sensationalized news stories from around the country of horrible things happening to people. Sure we might have heard about a tragic car accident in our neighborhood or town or the child injured in a skate boarding or sledding accident, but those reports were infrequent. Now, there are more people (about 100 million more since I was a child) and more news sources with news from all over so it sounds like more horrible things are happening. As a result, we are more fearful and try to protect our children more by keeping close tabs on them and keeping them away from activities perceived to be risky.

frumskeptic said...

"And please, no comments about playing tennis using the Wii--for the price of the thing you could buy a few racquets, some balls and actually be out there playing tennis with your friends instead of pretending you are playing tennis"

With the wii, you're not stuck excercising only in the summer, u can play tennis in the winter.

And I'm with whoever said it was the parents...
If the parents allow their kids to play outside (or away from the computer/video game), the kid will play with friedns and come up with their own creative games.

Also, keep in mind, today's kids are stuck with longer school days. When do they have time to play if they come home late and still have homework due the next day?

mlevin said...

About Tennis, there is of course no comparison between real and virtual, but to play real tennis you must:
1. find a comparable partner
2. wait for good weather
3. purchase an expensive park permit
4. get there
5. be lucky that no one else is using the court at the same time.

With Wii it's so much easier, I just wish they were able to replicate the whole joy of the game and not just the swinging part.

Still waiting for the improvement in technology...

As far as other things are concerned there is plenty of ways to use your imagination with computers. For example on Facebook you must keep up with your friends and you must comment on their status updates. It takes imagination and practice to do so. There is also a constant push to put something on your status, in order to do so you must try to think outside of box or people will just get annoyed by you.

frumskeptic said...

it takes imagination to be on facebook?


YOu use the same facebook I do?

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Great post. Now, have you thought about how this is reflected in the world of Judaism?