The way you’re supposed to play, or why lateral thinking is so hard

27 Jun

We went to Boston this past weekend, to visit the best people in the world. While we were there, we took in a couple of really fun day trips. The first was to Davis Farmland, which is part petting-zoo, part water park, part children’s museum. You can feed the pygmy goats that are just walking around, pet the kittens and baby lambs, there are pony rides. The water park has a slip-n-slide, a crazy bubble-maker suds machine, lots of water playground features. The pens are all marked with colored bands, indicating whether the animals are docile, unpredictable, or somewhere in between. They also have a play area with pretend workshop, house, veterinary clinic. You can ring the firebell on a little pretend fire truck. This place is catnip for kids.

The second was the Boston Children’s Museum. Right in South Boston, on the waterfront, it’s a sparkling gem of a children’s museum. Seriously: whoa. Do it. Go. Go now.

We had a blast at both places, our sometimes deliberate little one running with abandon, other times backing away with a fearful ‘no, no, no’ (when the goat tried licking his arms). At the farm, there is a little cafe with a train running along a track at ceiling level. Squee. The BCM had gigantic, foot-wide bubble wands to make bubbles, and a brilliant water table.

For all the fun, I had a kind of self-realization while we were there. It turns out, I have a strong tendency for trying to get baby to play with things the ‘right’ way. Here, I’m going, “baby, look, a giant kinetic raceway sculpture! You can roll the golf balls down the track! Look what happens when you do it higher up, or lower down! Experiment!” And baby’s all, “What if I put this golf ball right HERE, at the bottom of the slide? And look over there, a cabinet door! DID YOU SEE THAT? A CABINET! DOOR! OPEN AND CLOSE! OPEN AND CLOSE!”

I do this a lot, all over the place. Somehow, I’m not content for him to just play, but I need him to ‘play’, to do what the objects were intended to do. Given a big box of legos, I want him to build something cool. Something awesome! But he just likes taking them out of the box, putting them in the box. Out, then in. Repeat.

I am trying hard to do this less, now that I’ve noticed it. There is no good reason for me to want him to play with the whole play set, rather than ringing the doorbell 500 times. It’s my version of fun and exploration, not his. And that is why lateral thinking is so hard – because we socialize it out of kids, early one, even with the best of intentions. And by we, I mean I. But I’m trying to stop. Because maybe there is something to throwing the pieces out of the tub rather than making this awesome water block slide. Maybe.

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2 Responses to “The way you’re supposed to play, or why lateral thinking is so hard”

  1. Doron July 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    I’ll include myself in your ‘we’. If it’s any consolation, over the years, I’ve gotten a bit (just a bit!) better at letting my kids play how they want to play … whatever form that takes.

  2. Peter July 3, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    Ugh, this evening it meant having him throw a ball at the bathtub wall for 15 minutes, after tossing the rest of the awesome water block slide pieces out of the tub. I wanted to be all, ‘you’ve got more chance being a scientist than a baseball player!’ but somehow kept it together…

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