One of my prominent yet vivid childhood memories centres around a pink city play set I had. If there is any truth left in this memory after years of distortion, it was similar to Legos whereby I built up a city with different pieces, clipped together, on a roll out background which included houses, ponds, roads and green scapes. I remember fondly a little pink and white swing and a small doll that I used to put on it. I’d play for hours taking this doll from her house to the park, to the shops and back again. I would reenact these little scenes numerous times over.
There were many other toys and activities throughout my early years with which I made up my own little stories. Such as riding my rocking horse and pretending I was entering races or show jumping, to playing with the washing line pole in the garden and pretending I was a pink power ranger. Make believe played a huge roll in how I made sense of the things I observed each and everyday. They became the inspiration for dreams I held at the time, ideals, things I wished I could do or be and personality traits that I perhaps hadn’t yet developed but wished I could. Through the world of make-believe I could be or do anything I wanted and as a child I don’t remember anybody trying to convince me otherwise. If I wanted to be a strong confident feminine super hero nobody could enter that world of make believe and make it not so.
Through my late teens and early adulthood however for the most part I lost that ability to dabble in dreams. I rarely practiced or even imagined that life was different to exactly what it was. Never did I get up and run around the garden pretending to fight some bad dude or climb on the banisters and into the airing cupboard pretending I was a soldier at camp. As a young adult there was a constant sense that was filtered into me, through observation of the grown up world, that life is a serious business, there is little time for indulging fantasies, for make-believe and very little time for dreams beyond big houses, nice cars, expensive holidays and other materials things. That the closest most adults got to those alternate world’s was through film and gaming consoles.
My view was clearly tinted, narrow and quite mistaken in someway but it did very much become my reality and for quite sometime I really did forget how to enter that dimension of play.
If we fast forward to the present I now have two boys who drag me into different play scripts each and everyday. It has taken me sometime to let loose from the shackles of my twisted perceptions of how play ends at childhood. At first trying to enter little M’s role-playing games, be it with figurines from his favourite cartoons, reenacting theatre productions we’ve seen or pretending to be noisy vehicles on our daily walks, was a real challenge and struggle. I could barely manage 3 or 4 minutes without feeling bored, out of ideas or extremely embarrassed. I’ll admit I have felt upset and a little ashamed that I couldn’t engage with M in these games the way he wanted me too, the way he deserved me too and really how I wished I could. However with lots of practice and consciously altering my thoughts and feelings towards play I can now say that I genuinely look forward to this part of our day, once all life’s distractions and obligations can be put aside, when I can sit and fully explore whole heartedly a new world with the little ones.
Ever since baby A learnt to walk and climb he and M have enjoyed singing, dancing and putting on little short bursts of performance for the family. This month they discovered how the living room curtains can become the veil for their stage and have been putting on a variety of strange, hyperactive and creative entertainment and reeling in other family members to play presenters and narrators.
Today we came across a concept which scaled down our show with energy levels more suited to evening entertainment and combined M’s current love for building with Duplos, the boys mutual obsession with the torch and love of shadow puppets. I discovered the idea on the official Lego website though we didn’t quite have all the pieces to make the same set up but we gave it our best shot.
A lot of thought went into the design which we changed several times. M took place as director and decided which toys to place in the scenes and where they should go. A watched and laughed a lot and helped to rebuild pieces when things didn’t quite go to plan and I got to give the characters silly voices and sound effects too! Plus Mr chicken loved his new role as stage hand and manning the lighting rig!
Freeing the mind, letting go and dreaming up adventures comes so naturally to children. It’s such a wonder to behold. A sense of nostalgia creeps over me when I witness this play and I hope that as adults they will look back on these moments as fondly as I do mine. I’m sure there are many adults to whom it comes relatively easy to step into a world of make-believe and I wonder if they feel more relaxed, at ease and less anxious as a result. For I know, when I allow myself to get lost in these moments, I feel a sense of peace and joy for hours after. It’s all to easy to find our escape from reality in the multitude of digital media and literature which allow us to roam into unknown environments and live through characters that others have created and it is thoroughly enjoyable. I appreciate it as a great source of knowledge and tool for education. Yet, once again I find myself finding a reason to advocate for replacing a portion of our media time with any form of creative activity. Creating our own stories, characters, lands and environments has a unique value. It can connect us to others, strengthen relationships, help us to sift through and make sense of our mental clutter, spread joy and overall can be a rather therapeutic process.
I challenge you this week to take some time and enter your own world of make-believe. Write a story, role play with your children, revisit your favourite childhood dream scape or any other creative activity that will bring you into a world of your own making.
It’d be great to hear how easily you find it to rediscover the world of make believe so please pop back and let us know how you get on in the comments below!