I sometimes worry that the current generation of kids don’t get enough imagination-powered play. All too often their games seem to be pre-franchised – acting out roles as mass-marketed characters from TV and film. I don’t see play-acting as the latest superhero or TV character as a bad thing per se – I certainly imagined myself as Aquaman or Luke Skywalker at various times during my imaginary play.
But what seems to be missing is the generic, no-name-brand play where the child is a detective or explorer or racer of their own invention. This kind of play is important because it’s unconstrained. They’re not limited by peers or product awareness telling them “Ben 10 (or Bob the Builder or Barbie…) can’t do that”. They can make their own rules and plot twists.
On the same token, an adventure might mean a theme park ride rather than going exploring without adults. I did lots of dangerous stuff without adults when I was kid – possibly because I lived in country towns and had lots of opportunities to do so. The absence of computers, video recorders and electronic games also made me more inclined to get outside and actively make mischief.
I explored underground drains, sailed a rusty dinghy out into a farmer’s dam (without permission), fossicked around old mines, climbed trees, rode my bike all over town, made hideouts and did lots more… Today, as a city-based parent, I understand the concerns about child safety – but also worry that kids need opportunities to explore and make their own adventures. And learn how to appraise risk.
Anyway, when we visited my wife’s family on the Gold Coast back in March this year there had just been some massive storms. The banks of the river where we sometimes swim were crammed with all sorts of wonderful flotsam and jetsam. People had been building huts and bonfires and various other objects from the loose timber. Working with my kids, we decided to do something a bit different – build a shipwreck that looked like it had been washed ashore years earlier. The picture below shows the result of our exercise in imagination: