Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Putting A Price On Play

“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.


DarkoV said...

My son, now in grad school in the mountains of Montana, still has his 2-3 little metal cars that he vroom-vroom's on his desk while he's plowing ahead through his course work. I hope he continues providing the necessary soundtrack to his life's story in some form or another. And if little metal or plastic "toys" are what's necessary to keep the imagination going, I'm all for it.

Note: The correct noise when one of these cars makes a right turn is "Errrrrrrrrr", while a left turn is "Eeeeeeeee". I have it from him on the strictest of confidences.

WP, may she keep a small box of her "cutesy" toys close by her side 'til she's 80.

Whisky Prajer said...

Nice! They're HotWheels, I trust. I'm a big believer in using toys into old age, and still rely on LEGO to pull me out of imaginative doldrums.

DarkoV said...

No. No Hot Wheels. He was into Corgi's early on and his parents and grandparents were more than happy to fill his garage.
The Corgis outlasted any Hot Wheels he had. The latter's paint tended to fade and chip off and the "tires" slipped off due to stretching or shoddy material. The Corgis were also superior in putting a dent in the parent's head when flung from a high stool. Great way to get the 'rent's attention.

Whisky Prajer said...

I owned exactly one Corgi, and it was the uncontested winner whenever I and my brother ran the plastic Matchbox tracks down the stairs. Ah, those indomitable Brits! Their petrol-swilling vehicles may have been crap, but their toys were second to none.

DarkoV said...

Ah, those were the days when kid's toys were actually used as...kid's toys.
(Curmudgeon Alert!) These days, if you give a young lad/lass a Corgi (personal experience speaking here) they will take it from your hands, without a "Thank You", of course, and place it on an spilling-over shelf in its original container.
"Well, aren't you going to play with it?", I'd ask.
"Oh no. I'd ruin the re-sale value if I took it out of the box and did that" would be the reply.
Don't ask how tempted I was to muss up the box and take out the Corgi truck and play with it myself.
What kind of example are these kids' parents setting for them?

paul bowman said...

Hee hee -- Kids, make the toys your own, I say.

(You know what G. K. said.)

Whisky Prajer said...

Ah, Zippy always says the right thing!