Friday, August 17, 2012

Why imaginative play is bad

You know all those toys the Waldorf folks encourage you to give your child?  The kind that allow open-ended play and require kids to use their imaginations?  You know what I mean-- everything from the sticks and bits you salvage from the garden to the pricey, colorful playsilks and hand-carved whatnots in the catalogs...

Sure, they're all-natural and aesthetically pleasing.  They biodegrate and even smell nice.  Heck, they're probably even tasty, if you're into that sort of thing.  But seriously, have you ever seen what kids do with that stuff?

If you're a Waldorf-influenced parent, I know what you're going to say.  You're going to adamantly insist that they play with it.  You'll tell me how they turn their play stands into shops and houses and bus terminals.  They use their conkers and tree blocks as meatballs and pancakes, dog food and money.  And with fabric and string they transform themselves into silken-winged fairies and knights, saronged princesses and shopkeepers.

Unlike barbies and action figures, these toys are open-ended.  Undoubtedly, you'll say these toys give them the possibility to stretch their imaginations to their creative limits.  And you're right, of course.  They do all that.  With these simple toys children build an endless variety of castles and forts, worlds within worlds, and these toys become as much a part of the landscape of their childhood as the earth itself.

I can't argue with you when you say that open-ended toys grow with the child, sustaining the interests and fancies of an entire household of children, boys and girls alike, for years on end.  When you say these toys outlast childhood itself, much longer than the action figure of the week or this year's must-have, googly-eyed mess of faux-fur and plastic would have, I'll concede the point.

Though biodegradable, these natural toys are the ones you'll be saving in the attic for your grandchildren, you'll say.  You'll spend hours carefully wrapping your small, coveted collection of Ostheimers to pack away with the freshly-polished wooden kitchens, castles, and dollhouses.  That is, if you can bear to be separated from them yourselves.  Yes, I know how you people think.  You wish these were the toys of your own childhood, and you get all misty-eyed and wistful at the sight of them.  Somehow you think they heal your soul.

And I'm not here to argue that point.  I get where you're coming from.  Really, I'm one of you.  I covet the tiny wooden hedgehogs and chickens, sigh at the smooth contours of silk and polished wood, and collect my own menagerie of conkers and shells, acorn caps, stones and interesting sticks.  But I still have to ask.  Have you seen what your kids do with these toys?

I mean, when you're not looking?

All that open-ended play encourages them.  They start to think that they can pretend anything with a bit of stick and silk and string.  You might think that's a good thing, and before this morning, I would have agreed with you.  But I'm here to tell you, imaginative play is bad.  When your kids' imaginations run wild, anything can happen.  Eventually, this open-ended play will take them places that neither of you would expect.  Like the doctor's office.

I'm not kidding.

While I was doing some homeschool planning yesterday, some segment of my over-imaginative children got a bit carried away with their open-ended toys and came up with a game I'm going to call "Amputee Pirate Peg-leg."  That's right--  a stick, a string, and some silk, and voila!  I can see how they might think it was a fun idea.  I mean, who hasn't been fascinated by the idea of a peg-leg?!  How do they work?  Is it hard to walk?  Et cetera.

My clever children now know the answer.  After Kitty Bill's leg was tied up behind his back and a stick was firmly attached as a stump, he discovered that yes, it is hard to walk.  And when you fall over, it actually hurts.  A lot.  More than a lot.  In fact, even after removing your stump and untying your leg, it still hurts.  By the next morning the pain in your "previously-amputated" leg is so intolerable that your parents have very grim expressions when they drag you off to the doctor's office, naturally suspecting the worst.

Luckily, Kitty Bill gets to keep his leg, but what about next time?  It surely won't be the now-forbidden game of Amputee Pirate Peg-leg, but with these kinds of unhindered imaginations, who knows which of their dangerous games will do him in next.  Blind Horse Trio.  Food Chain.  Cliff Diver Hospital.  Runaway Horse.  The Librarian and the Plague Victim.  Rabid Wolf Family.  Siamese Triplets. The Princess, the Evil Governess, and the Crazy Guy with Daggers.*

Seriously, what is wrong with my children? It doesn't take much to set them off.  These open-ended toys stretch the imagination and almost beg for it.  With sticks and a bit of string, anything is possible.

Perhaps we should have just given them mainstream toys all along.**  I have trouble imagining how a child could come up with such willful games using Barbie and Spiderman, but children shouldn't be underestimated.  Ever.

*All actual games.  Yes, my kids are a bit strange.
** I'm joking... sort of.  ;) No, really, I'm joking.


  1. Great post! I lOVE it! Glad the leg could be saved! lol

  2. And did you share the name of the game with the doctor's office staff? I'm sure they would have enjoyed it!!

    All it took for our ER visit was one big bad bathroom door. These darn kids!!

    I'm so glad there are no true peg-legs in your family.

    1. Ha, yes! He was extremely embarrassed, but the doctor had a good laugh.

      I am still aghast at your bathroom door incident. Is she feeling any better yet? You guys have been in my thoughts daily.

  3. haha wow, that is truly original!
    hope your boy is ok! xo

    1. You know my kids, Cari. It's not fun until someone loses a limb. :P

  4. Is Kitty Bill better? Gute Besserung!

    1. Thanks CCETSI. He's managing without pain meds today and limping around, so I think we're on the road to healing.

  5. Has your husband ever told you about the time he was thought he was Superman and could fly? Ask him about it. He has the scares to show what happens.

    1. Oh, that's right. I'll be sure to add "No jumping from swings" to the list. ;)

  6. Oh Sara, You are so funny. I had a feeling I was going to be able to relate to all of your points, I have joked a few times before that maybe our children are too imaginative! Fortunately for us it never ended up quite so serious. The girls have done the stick and playsilk tied to the leg though, I believe it was a cast, the child recovered.

    Well, other than this incident I hope you have all been well.
    I was actually coming to visit and get some 6th grade year homeschool inspiration.
    (And also, can you please tell me how you feel about the whole pinterest thing? I have been using it to organize some school ideas, but I don't want to put anything of yours there is you are not comfortable with it.)

    And also, thanks for the good baby thoughts!
    Renee :)

    1. Thanks, Renee. I'm okay with pinterest-- thank you for asking. Those pinboards take on a life of their own, don't they? I use it to collect homeschooling inspiration, too. It's a visual smorgasboard of ideas.

      I've been thinking about you. Hope you're feeling well. xo


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