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Roger Barbee: The taking of imagination

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By Roger Barbee

This past Christmas we ordered through the internet some doll clothes for twin granddaughters. After receiving several catalogs from a company, Mary Ann was able to get removed from its mailing list. Today, our mailbox and senses were attacked again.

When I was a youngster of 5 to 10 years old, I played at many games. I have vivid memories of "Cowboys and Indians", "War," "Robin Hood," "Cops and Robbers," and "Bandits." My siblings and I, along with the kids in our neighborhood, would use sticks for swords or rifles, fingers as pistols, and battered trash can lids as shields.

An old broom handle snitched from one of our parents' homes made an excellent staff like the one Little John carried and used so effectively in each week's television show. We would flatten a section of sagebrush in a field in order to make a fort or castle or hideout or whatever building was needed. If one of us had been able to "borrow" a kitchen knife from one of the mothers, we would use that to cut down saplings and build a more realistic structure in the woods. We quickly learned that strips of green bark could be used to tie the structure together, but that the mother whose knife had be borrowed would be furious. But it was a price we gladly paid.

If a day was one of rain, and we were stuck inside a house, there was no shortage of games to play. A flipped mattress made a fine hideout or fort, and an adult bedroom or closet (with permission) was full of clothes we could use to play "dress up." While this latter game was one primarily for girls, we boys would participate if the game offered enough excitement and release of pent-up energy. In fact, I made such a good "girl" that my sisters often would dress me in some of their old clothes for Halloween. All the years that we dressed up for that holiday we used what we had to make a costume. We never purchased a ready-made suit to be a hobo, monster, angel, girl, ghost, or whatever we wanted to be for a short while during a North Carolina fall night.

If you are of a certain age, you have memories like these or ones that are similar. If you were a kid in the 1950s you were usually told by your mother on a Saturday or any summer day to "Go outside and play. Don't slam the screen door, either." And you were expected to stay outside and not bother her with your wants or perceived needs. If you got thirsty you found an outside spigot to drink from; if an argument developed, you were expected to settle it in a civilized manner; if you fell and scraped an elbow or knee, you were expected to wash it off and "get on with it [play]." In short, you were expected to "make do" with what was available to create your own play with its own rules.

The world that I grew up in was not better than today's, but it was quite different and, I think, it required more of us. We had television, but only three channels which did not broadcast all the time. The shows that we watched, such as "Robin Hood" or the stock westerns were broadcast at night, so we had to fill our days - and we did. If it did not exist, we created it through imaginative play.

However, the arrival today of a particular catalog shows how much the world for younsters' play has changed since my youth. The catalog is well done, in 55 pages of full color that offers costumes and dress-up clothes for an array of wants. If your little girl wants to look like she came from "Grease," then she can have a four-piece outfit for $59.50. Does your child want to be a vampire or a zombie? You're in luck because for $34.50 your little boy can be a zombie football player and for $79.50 your little girl can have a pair of black magic boots.

It seems to me that we have removed the imagination from much of our childrens' lives. If a child wants to be a ghost, let him or her figure out how to make the costume. If a child wants a place to play let him or her create that place. Our granddaughters who visited last week were given a pile of discarded wood scraps, a bottle of glue, and whatever they picked up from the yard--the result was a "house" for their fairies.

If adults supply everything for children, how and what will they learn?

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net.


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