I’ve recently returned from a visit to the UK where I spent a lot of time in “adventure playgrounds.” Not at all common in the US, adventure playgrounds are places where kids build houses and dens with scrap wood and fabric, use old tires for swings or bridges, prop boards to make ramps for bikes and skateboards, and generally create their own play. Back home, describing these places and activities, the people I’m talking with inevitably share their own childhood memories of making playthings out of found objects. They recall making forts out of boards and branches, doll clothes out of fabric scraps, telephones out of tin cans, drums out of oatmeal canisters.
|The Land, an adventure playground Janice visited in Wales.|
Those were ideas of the moment, suggested by the perceived similarity of one object (an ornate bottle) to another (a glass lamp). There was also, in kid culture, knowledge that passed from child to child. Maybe there still is. When we moved from the country, we copied the suburban kids who clothes-pinned baseball cards to their bicycle wheels. They made a wonderful motorcycle sound as they hit the spokes, rrrrrrrrr. A neighborhood boy showed me how to make a skateboard. We took apart outgrown roller skates and screwed the wheels to boards. I learned to measure, saw and sand making my first skateboard; I learned to measure more carefully making my second one.
We learned a lot more than that. We learned to be resourceful and think creatively. We learned to fail and to try again. We learned about the joy of accomplishment. We learned self-reliance and how to learn from others. Really important lessons that children learn best by doing it themselves.
If you’re thinking of giving a child a fancy new toy or gadget, consider DIY materials instead: woodworking tools, nails and wood scraps; cardboard boxes and tubes and lots of tape; a sewing kit, fabric pieces, buttons and old socks; paints and brushes, markers, and a roll of butcher paper. Give them the gift of making their own play.