I saw this in a Museum of Childhood somewhere in the Mid-West.
Some designer had created a water park in a sealed Perspex vacuum. With the push of a button, children could cause geezers to fly into the air, water wheels to be turned by a flowing stream, or curtains of water to form over polished steel. The children did not even have to get wet. They were developing no real-life relationship with water.
Seeing it I felt the same as I do when I see a battery powered toy, that very selfishly, does all the playing for itself, requiring the child only to flip a switch or twiddle a dial to turn on its plastic panels and domes which light up like Las Vegas (where the machines also do the playing), and pipe a nasal imitation of a TV children’s programme theme tune. The child is left a voyeur, without any playing to be done for themselves. The toy is occupied and content.
And then there is TV. Presenters or cartoons frantically twirl and smirk in a hyperactive frenzy in the hope of tricking children into believing that they are having a wild and wonderful time. It’s like a kind of Munchausen’s Syndrome… playing by proxy.
First hand, body eye mind aesthetic quirky experiences are being carved away from our children with the precision of a skilled blade-wielding surgeon.
In the States, Playday has become a big thing. This is not because play is high on the agenda in the lives of children in America, but because the children’s TV channel, Nickelodeon, sponsors it. They make the grandiose gesture of shutting the channel down for a couple of hours to allow for children all over the nation to go to their local park where some well meaning local has called up the station and asked for the free nickelodeon playday hamper to be delivered to them. They set the hamper down, press a button and playday springs out of a box. Face painters, freebies, music and fun pour out like the woes of the world escaping from Pandora’s box, every bit of it branded with a Nickelodeon signifier.
Play as a sales pitch.
Put another nickel in! Sit back and listen to the tune it plays for you.
We are teaching our children to experience their lives not only through consuming stuff, but experiences too. I remember a mum boasting to me that she had got something planned for every day of the summer holidays for all of her children. Every day! However did those kids learn to invent experience for themselves? That had been done for them. A battery powered, perspex vacuumed summer.
‘He used to watch Thomas the Tank DVDs all the time’, said his mum as we watched her son, weak with laughter climb into the cardboard box and ask to be pulled around again. His playing was creative and absorbing. There were endless variations on the game, and when the box was played into shreds or recyclable memory bite sizes, he was more than ready for his next playing.
“He refuses to watch it now.. “She mused…”he just walks away and finds something else to do, since he started playing with these boxes.”
They will throw away the toys and play for hours with the cardboard box, if we let them.