Collecting Memorable Play Experiences
Children play to learn but they are also playing for fun. How much of childhood play do we remember later in life and what type of play creates the best memories? How do these experiences contribute to who we become?
It’s not just about open-ended play opportunities to nurture creativity, but also about letting children hold onto their ‘favourites’ that allow play to evolve and grow with them. Maybe even sparking deeper creative connections later in life.
My young daughter was playing with a simple set of stacking & nesting cups, her lone toy in the bath. Her all-time favourite she never tires of. It was easy to observe her pouring and refilling and the related learning, but less obvious to notice the way she was quietly studying what was in her hand.
I realised then just how much I can recall from my childhood toys and play experiences. We had few and simple toys, the stacking & nesting cups were one of them. Everything around us is designed in one way or another so it is hard not to take notice of the things around us. We love to explore what’s new and different as we learn about our world around us and how we might even contribute to it one day.
Connecting The Dots
It’s easy to see how my children benefit from many varied play experiences to add to their knowledge bank, but it’s equally enjoyable when they have the free time to get to know them more thoroughly through play.
As I watch the kids I often observe the intense focus involved in playing with one thing at a time. The repeat interactions of open-ended play engages them deeper into creative exploration. They may have less toys, but they are making more of them. They are also learning how to create play out of any object or space. They have many opportunities to play with the same toy - getting to know it well, exploring every angle and challenging play beyond the obvious.
They are not just skimming the surface and then discarding. They look for a quality experience, something for the imagination to build on and something for their memory to store. I may tire watching them play with the same toy over and over, but they are only just getting started.
When my child revisits an old play thing they clearly learn something new from it every time and embed it deeper into their memory. Boredom may infact be just a pause in playful learning until it is revisited and looked at in a new way, deepening the connection and extending the level of exploration.
The Power Of Our Senses At Play
Is this why I can recall the exact shape of my childhood stacking & nesting cup set? I remember every edge, how they fitted together, how they were slightly flexible to squash in my hand, the texture of the plastic, how they were semi-translucent and even the old plastic smell. The sound as the tower of cups collided as they fell down, I think I could even draw them today. They were slightly longer and narrower in proportion making them harder to balance. They had an accentuated rounded lip that nested more closely than my daughter’s set. Maybe I could recall all the colours if I tried hard enough.
These memories can be said for play experiences as well as toys. It may be the tree-house - up away from it all with the noise of birds piercing the silence, the inscribed initials on the weathered timber edges and feeling sheltered under branches from the weather. A safe haven secret place, full of memories of imaginative play. My kids keep going back to their self-made tree-house over and over again, inventing new ways to play there, as well as how to adjust the structure to suit their play.
We have a few playful family experiences that are evolving into an ongoing tradition. It’s like observing a memory addiction when my boys crave the freedom of crazy-ness on a mudslide in the backyard in winter rain. There is a unique intensity of enjoyment to be had every time. The memory is a fascinating thing, great depths wrapped in layers of detail and information, emotions and recollections of sensations.
Patina, Pre-Loved, Inherited Toys And Sentimental Value
A fishing rod inherited from a grandparent - I’ve seen a whole experience come with that. The favourites are often the well worn or pre-loved toys that come with a built-in richness of play memories. Not only have they stood the test of time in terms of quality but they also visually embody signs of just how cherished and fun they are. Less precious is important when kids really want to play well.
Does an aged softened leather ball appear more fun than a shiny hard new one? Or do we want to ‘use’ the new one to break the fresh seal and make it ours and ‘played with’. Sometimes it’s a bit of both. Maybe the new ball doesn’t live up to expectations with that bright glossy shine and the older one takes it’s place as the reliable favourite again. Sitting outside in the sun like a trusty pet waiting for it’s companion to come out and play, its always there, never far.
The aging of a toy can make it more personal and more memorable. Those little chips and dents have memories with stories linked to them. The worn faded paint as it baked out in the sun, the natural patina of a toy gives it more richness of connection with someone. The “mine” factor. The wrinkled pages of an old book picked up time and time again is a sign it’s a good read.
It’s a lot harder to connect with a plastic electronic toy with broken bits or a lost a battery door. The online world of play is entirely different again.
Imagine if we were all less focused on cheap disposable products and feel less inclined to buy the latest, coolest, new ‘thing’ and instead hold onto the object that’s already been imbued with a meaningful kind of value. Things we connect with have sentimental value and act like an anchor to a memory of a past experience.
Play Experiences And Storytelling
If we can age gracefully, then why can’t the toy’s and play memories too. Play experiences can provide a way of sharing through storytelling. There are cherished play things that children may one day want to give to their own children. Can you pass on the feelings and emotions that come with a personal play memory?
The torn leg of a soft doll restitched is full of experiences to remember, it tells a story of one’s childhood. It holds memories, It has connections. Remembering the feeling of real pain as your mother carefully stitched it back on and the overwhelming relief. Knowing I’d do the same for my child now understanding the intensity of connection to such a toy.
How might these experiences and strong memories combine to form a part of who we become? Do they serve as a storytelling foundation for more creative interpretation in the future? We all need a few strong memories of childhood play to draw from and help shape who we are.
A Memory Stored, Combined And Creatively Reformatted
It wouldn’t surprise me if the strong memories associated with the familiarity and comfort of play experiences actually grow with us and one day even combine, leading us to create new thoughts and ideas.
“New associations and fresh ideas are more likely to come out of a varied store of memories and experience than out of a collection that is all of one kind.” (insight into combinatorial creativity circa 1957).
How might our strong childhood play memories inspire future new ideas or even life interests? It’s not as simple as the stacking & nesting cup set inspiring a solution to a future architectural problem. It may not be obvious now, but that memory may be worth something great in the future.
A pair of difficult scissors as a child made me think more about products that are not designed to consider left-handed people like myself. A reoccurring experience, combined with other interests lead me to study Industrial Design. It’s not just the obvious immediate learning from play experiences, but what we do for fun rewards us many times over in unexpected ways when we apply the learning to a real world problem.
Playing For Their Future
Through play, children interact closely with their environment absorbing every detail like a sponge. If some play experiences are for immediate learning and fun and some stored deeply enough to draw from to combine creatively in their future, then I myself am going to be more careful to respect the things my children personally choose as their cherished play experiences. These will be their memories and will help to shape creativity into their future.