I came across this photo recently on Facebook and immediately thought it was from Make Magazine. I pictured an article about the value of free play for children, their natural gift for imagination, etc.. It turned out to be a photo essay on autism. Nonetheless my interpretation of the photo was about the joy of discovery.
Discovery is a key concept for people who do things with their hands. A friend of mine was fixing his motorcycle and discovered a little too late that tubes of silicone have an expiry date. Having to remove sticky uncured silicone was not so pleasant but he will know next time to check the date. Kids when left to their own devices usually discover what’s fun, what’s safe, what works and sometimes that happens by making mistakes.
This same friend told me a story about his nephew as a toddler and a Christmas he had out of town with his family and quite a few relatives. It was Christmas Eve, he didn’t have his usual toys and coming to his rescue was his aunt who cut out some paper boats and little fish, made up stories and kept him entertained. The next morning he was inundated with gifts. There were boxes everywhere. As the day wore on my friend noticed that, instead of playing with one of his new toys, he was quite content to amuse himself with those paper boats.
This morning I heard a story on CBC radio’s show The Current. It was called Kiddie Consumerism: How to combat baby product marketing. For one mother featured in the story, the endless cycle of buying became too much. Just over a year ago, UK-based writer Hattie Garlick made what became a very public promise. On her blog, Free Our Kids, she vowed not to buy anything new for her then 2-year-old son Johnny for one year. She did worry whether her toddler, by not participating in structured activities, would suffer socially or developmentally. She found the opposite whenever she would witness her son in the garden with friends. Without having expensive toys, it was their imagination that led them to do things far more interesting and enjoyable than any activity the parents paid for previously.
So as with that boy in picture, the freedom to discover is one of the greatest freedoms we can have.