Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wanna Play?

My childhood is calling. Answering has been enlightening.

Today three seniors walked into my office and caught me making a “test” craft. I teach crafts to the kids in the Summer program, meaning I need to see where their patience level will fail. Watching with amazed expressions, one woman commented on how smart I was to fold paper into a flower. Without thinking I replied, “I learned this when I was a kid.”

I remember being a kid. Fondly. The kids I work with don’t understand the concept. Reaching back into my childhood vault, I find things to prevent them from reaching their maximum speed: unruly. With 40 kids and two adults, “out of hand” comes quickly. The biggest problem is their inability to understand the sheer joy of childhood. Imagination is such a foreign concept that if I mention using it, they gaze at me sadly. I am the object of mass sorrow because I grew up without computer games. My goal is to show them you can have fun without electricity or a computer screen.

I’m either winning the battle or wearing them down.

I’m trying to give them a childhood, even if it’s a piece of mine. At first I worried they’d find the games too dumb to play. I discovered they just wanted someone to play with who knew the rules and liked to laugh. Their favorites? Simon Says, Mother May I? and Hot Potato. And they play a mean game of Charades.

The last 20 minutes each day are a killer. Kids are tired and antsy while waiting on their ride. Yes, another disappearing childhood ritual: very few walk or ride bikes. That’s part laziness, part social commentary on how the world isn’t as safe for kids today. The cardinal rule of game playing is to never induce group chants of “I’m bored!”. But before a game reaches that point, I modify it. Yesterday “Hot Potato” went from a standing game of elimination to sitting in a circle as I tossed them the “potato” and a question. Their answers are enlightening. If you take the time to nurture imagination, independent thinking occurs. Asking, “If you won a million dollars, what would you do?” I expected replies of buying all the candy/soda/video games possible. Over half declared, “Buy a house for Mom.” One girl, after buying a house AND car for Mom, added, “And I’d put $40,000 in the bank so I can go to college”. She’s ten. I asked for, “a car/truck with flashing lights”, fully expecting police car/ambulance. One kid politely asked, “Do the yellow lights in my Dad’s car that flash when you’re in trouble count?” I’d never thought of hazard lights. I praised her for using her head. From then on, the kids dug deeper than obvious. They can now name more zoo animals than monkey or lion and realize chickens aren’t the only farm critters. What’s truly amazing is the KIDS have kicked the game up a notch. Their new rule? Everyone must have a different answer. Quick, name a food that’s white.

As we play, we learn. All of us. I began sharing my childhood, but now they’re learning to craft one of their own.

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