Investing in the imaginations of the next generation

Written by Alice Zsembery | Author “Real Kids, Real Play”

Want to know something interesting?

The average age of the mission control team that sent the first man to the moon was 28. Facebook and Microsoft were 20 when they launched. Apple, 21, Google, 25, Twitter, 30, Amazon, 30 and Tesla, 34.

These legendary young minds that threw out the rulebook and created their own products (some in markets that they dreamed up themselves) were entrepreneurs in out-of-the-box thinking. Their imaginations, literally, made history.

When we were children we were chucked a cardboard box and some textas and sticky tape for good measure and told to create our own play. In fact, I distinctly remember going to a Peter Coombe concert as a 4-year-old with a decorated ice-cream container as a hat… And, you know what, I even became a finalist in the hat competition in that thing!

Making your own play…that’s the stuff legends are made of.

Somewhere along the way it feels that play became so prescriptive and my worry is that children are losing the essence of imagination.

Or maybe it’s not that. Maybe it’s more that our kids seem to want more, and have more. And as parents, we feel this constant urge to keep up. To deliver. We feel guilty all the time. Like ALL THE TIME. For working too much, for not working enough, for only having one child, for having so many children that we can’t remember our name, let alone theirs. And in some way, by buying and buying and buying it makes us feel better.

Even buying because we didn’t have ‘that toy’ in our childhood and remember how much we would’ve loved it and want to give it to our kids.

And once kids are finished playing with “that” toy, they’re ready for another. For parents, it can be difficult to keep up. The clutter accumulates. The wallet gets thinner and thinner. The guilt sets in. Children start losing the magic and the potential of their own imagination.

So, there came a point where I was surrounded by our own very expensive plastic clutter that I decided to seek out activities that I could do using household items. You know the stuff we used to do, the stuff our parents did and the stuff our grandparents definitely did (minus the dangerous elements). I wanted to give my kids an opportunity to let their own imagination shine through.

Now, I admit it. I’m an engineer. I am a maths person and one of the least creative people I know. Like, I almost failed the compulsory visual arts subjects at high school. Really…

But it was in this challenge that I set for myself that my kids and I, we tried over 200 activities. We played. We made. We dirtied.

And then somewhere along the way a strange thing happened. My then 3-year-old (who shares my lack of creativity), turned to me and said ‘Mum, I wish I had great ideas like you’.

There was one half of me that was so excited that he was really enjoying the activities that I was testing, and the other half that he was so sad that he didn’t think he had that creativity within him. I turned to him and said ‘Tom, every single thing can be used in many ways. Just use your imagination and you can do anything!’.

And would you know it, pretty much every day from thereon in, Tom came to me starting with ‘Mummy, I KNOW. We could do …’ or ‘I have a great idea! Let’s do…’.

Now on many occasions, it made absolutely no sense. Like this kid was c-razy. But it didn’t matter. He was enthusiastic, engaged and creative. And 100% absolutely using his imagination.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not anti-toys. We’ve definitely went through our “toy overload” stage and we have slowly reduced this back to a manageable level.

My point is, by being creative with the items around the home, that in turn has rubbed off onto my son whose imagination has increased 10-fold. And yes, the kids got toys for Christmas, but they were fewer and more carefully selected. And do you know what, despite the new shiny things, on Boxing Day Tom was asking to do the Volcano experiment AGAIN.

So next time your kids scrape together an ice cream container hat or make a kingdom out of cardboard rolls, remember you’re setting the stage for their own creativity as they grow up. You’re investing in the imaginations of the next generation. The next Gates, Zuckerberg or, heck, even man/woman on the moon…

For ideas on fun and energetic activities that can be undertaken at home using household items, feel free to download my free resources here and here. And if you like what you see, check out my new book, “Real Kids, Real Play -150+ activities to do around the home using household items”.

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