Yesterday, after prying my kids away from the television and wrestling with them for a while, I announced that it was “quiet play time”, which means that Daddy wants some time with his books in the midst of the madness. While my son went for his cars and dinosaurs, my daughter grabbed the old-school Etch-A-Sketch and sat down beside me. Every minute or two, she had a new, red-framed design created by those two magic knobs. She nudged me every time and said, “See, Daddy!” Pretty soon her brother wanted a turn with the knobs, and he skillfully whipped up a four-year-old’s rendition of a dragon, school bus, or Ironman every 20 seconds or so. Back and forth they went, demanding their turns more and more impatiently. I was captivated by their creativity and their simple joy in playing, and pretty soon I wanted a turn on the Etch-A-Sketch, too. I haven’t played on one since I was a kid, and as fun as it looked to me thirty-some years later, I couldn’t help but wonder why I stopped.
What is it that happens to us as adults that we stop thinking it is acceptable to play and create? I suppose it starts around middle school, when it becomes devastatingly uncool to try things that you might not be good at. As we pass through adolescence and young adulthood, it seems we are trying so hard to be cool and smooth that we hardly dare to be silly. Then we have kids and are supposed to feel bad if we take a turn on the pogo stick or the Etch-A-Sketch. I watch parents at the sledding hill all the time, standing at the top of the hill for an hour as their kids gleefully take ride after ride. As the guy who seeks out any chance to do “childish” things and is definitely flying down that sledding hill as joyfully as any kid out there, I cannot understand these standing people called “grown-ups”.
I think we—all of us, at every age—need to find reasons to be playful, creative, and silly. We need to be “childlike”. The other day I was brainstorming with some classmates about different ways to “plerk,” that is, to play at work. It can be tough, as most of our workplaces don’t encourage joy and creative expression, much less play. Let’s face it, some days it can take a creative mind just to find the good parts of our jobs. So, if we aren’t getting that outlet at work, and we are either too tired, too guilty, or too cool to get on that sled with the kids, we are just not hitting our quota for creativity and play. We are getting old before our time.
I have written to you before about keeping playful activities in your life (see “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”). But what hit me yesterday, as I was itching for a turn with that Etch-A-Sketch, is that we adults need more than just to hang around kids more often (it does help, though, trust me). After all, we don’t all have that option. What we need most of all are the tools of fun that kids have at their disposal. WE NEED TOYS!!! And I don’t mean iPads, RVs, and speedboats, though those are fun, too. I am talking about simple, inexpensive toys that draw out our creativity and our joy. Sure, they are marketed to kids, but I am telling you, any adult would be well-served to include these delights in his or her life.
So, when you head out shopping next time, I recommend adding a few things to your list:
- Play-Doh—Seriously, how much creative fun did you have with Play-Doh as a kid? It is still here, as simple and fabulous as ever.
- Magna-Doodle—What a stress reliever it is to doodle! And then, the pure joy of sliding that magic bar across the bottom to erase the entire board, ready for another magnetic masterpiece. Genius!
- Etch-A-Sketch—Need I say more?
- Harmonica—Endless enjoyment, the challenge of learning something new, and it is smaller than your smartphone. I love harmonicas!
- Rip-Stik—I got one of these things a couple of years ago, and my neighbors thought I was crazy as I tried to learn it, like “What is the old man doing on that thing?” But let me tell you, it is so fun! And I felt pretty cool when the 10-year-old down the street came over this Fall and asked me to teach her how to ride. I am a big fan of any riding toy, so consider the Rip-Stik the representative of scooters, sleds, in-line skates, and bikes. I have all of these things, but my dream is an adult-size Big Wheel. If I ever get to Heaven, I trust that one will be waiting for me at the pearly gates.
- Frisbee—There are few simple pleasures in my world better than a game of Catch, whether that is with a Frisbee, a baseball, or a football. It is deeply nostalgic and a wonderful way to connect with someone.
- Finger paints—It is good for the soul to dip your fingers into that paint and just let yourself go. The dollar-store paints with the brush are fun, too, but, with perfection not an option, finger paints take the pressure off immediately.
- Pogo Stick—It’s exercise, it’s nostalgia, it’s great fun. For more bouncing fun, grab a Hopper (picture an exercise ball with a squishy handle—it’s hilarious). If you don’t like bouncing, go with a Hula Hoop.
- Hot Wheels cars and race track—I got one for my son last Christmas, and as soon as we set up the track with the loops and jumps, the adults started wandering over for a try. It is a wonderful escape of the imagination and delivers a bonus adrenaline rush.
- Sidewalk chalk—Release your inner artist and cover the most boring part of your yard—the driveway—with color. Or, just make a hopscotch board and start hopping.
- Window Crayons—I just learned of these delightful things this year, and now my children have filled each pane of my large picture window in the living room. Creative and fun, and you can change your home décor as often as you like.
- Coloring books—As silly as this one sounds, there is something highly therapeutic about coloring in a simple design with some old-fashioned Crayolas. No pressure to create something fabulous, as the drawing is done for you. Just pick some colors and go. It’s like a meditation.
- Twister—Sure, it is tougher for adults than kids, but that only makes it more funny for participants and audience alike. Adult beverages recommended (sold separately).
- Basketball hoop—Even though I love a driveway game on a regulation hoop, I am talking about indoor hoops here. I actually have two standing hoops in my house about five or six feet each (for the kids, of course!). Old-school Nerf hoops that hang on doors are priceless, too. H-O-R-S-E, anyone?
- Rubik’s Cube—Classic.
- Inflatable punching toy—Remember these guys with the sand-filled bottom, who pop back up after you hit them? We need stress relievers more than kids do, right?
- Remote-controlled cars—Just fun.
- Squirt guns—My only warning: know your audience. Otherwise, fire away!
- Balloons—A few minutes of Keep-It-Up makes any heart lighter. Beach balls work, too.
- Slip-n-Slide—Plastic bliss. It may break in less than an hour, but do not deny yourself this delight at least once before you die.
There you go: your twenty little tickets to Playland. Other than the remote-controlled cars, none of them require batteries, cords, screens, or downloads. Just check your ego and your skepticism at the door—those are useless adult inventions—and play. I am in!
How about you? Do you still have PLAY in your life? Open up your journal and think about how often you allow yourself to create and be silly. Is it often enough? What are your favorite escapes from the binds of adulthood? Do you feel “childish” when you do them? How self-conscious are you about that? Do you only do them alone or in the privacy of your own home, or are you willing to go public with your playing? How ashamed are you not just of playing, but of being silly? What are your most creative activities? Do you enjoy using your imagination? Do you own any “kid toys”? Do you lean more toward creative toys (Etch-A-Sketch, Play Doh, Finger Paints) or active toys (Pogo Stick, Frisbee, Slip-n-Slide)? What else belongs on my list? Leave me a reply and let me know: What toys keep you young?
Your soul is ageless, so act accordingly,