“Dad, is it alright if I buy this?”
My daughter held out a plastic cutesy-animal toy. Its target market was probably girls in the six-to-eight range. She is eleven.
“Sure,” I said. My wife raised an eyebrow.
I knew what my wife was thinking. I was thinking it too: eleven is early adolescence. My daughter is increasingly insistent on expanding her borders and participating in everything from adult conversation to chores around the house. She is also developing a recognition for “cool.” At the same time she still wants to play, specifically “pretend stories.” She'll take this toy home, and probably generate several weeks' worth of stories with it. But odds are high she's going to lose the urge to “pretend” with toys at some later point this winter. Is this money wasted?
I don't want to be among the chorus that ridicules and shames her out of the impulse. I googled “value of play” and turned up dozens of links to high-falutin' character-development theories. Education theorists are particularly concerned with its efficacy. It's tempting for me to jump on the bandwagon and blow my one-note trumpet — I privately played out stories of my own right into my teen years. Eventually I grew too self-conscious about the practice, and opted instead to sublimate visa vis the written word. If these theories were accepted at face value, I would surely qualify as the very flower of humanity: emotionally secure, comfortable with compromise, facilitator of discussion, etc. I won't argue, but my family might.
The concern for these theorists is the utilitarian value of play. Go ahead and read that last sentence again, then tell me you don't spot an oxymoron in there somewhere. Hey, if one of these eggheads wants to identify the fiber in my Sunday morning danish, they're welcome to it. So far as I'm concerned, the sound of an eleven year old girl projecting funny voices on funny animals and cracking up her younger sister is fine for what it is: a happy girl having fun. Long may it continue.