While attending the first meeting of the Pittsburgh Play Institute last night, our group of early childhood professionals began discussing this simple question. What did our play look like when we were little? Some of us mentioned waking in the morning, eating breakfast, and being shooed outside until lunch. Others spoke of spending hours playing with brothers, sisters, or neighbors in bedrooms and playrooms. Many of us remembered kindergarten experiences with play kitchens and puppet theaters.
I remember playing in “the woods” (actually just a stand of bushes) next to my neighbor’s house. We carved out branches and paths, designing a full home complete with bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. (Don’t worry, it was just pretend.) I also recall creating an elevator for my dolls using a small box, string, and some fabric tied on in umbrella fashion. We would open our second floor sliding glass door and lower the dolls down to the ground and then back up again. I’m also sure that somewhere in my parents’ backyard there are still many lonesome Star Wars figures buried in the old sandbox.
The purpose of this activity was to remind ourselves that much of the creative play that we remember did not necessarily involve a planned direct outcome. We weren’t scheduled into the completion of a project that was defined by someone else. Instead, our play grew from our interests and the problems that we faced as we attempted to carry out our plans. We used problem solving to deal with issues of design as we built and created. We practiced social skills important to daily adult life as we navigated arguments and disagreements with our peers. We explored our reading and writing skills as we made signs to keep our baby brothers’ and sisters’ fingers out of our stuff.
So now, I’m passing the question on to you. What do you remember? How did you play?