When I was about ten years old, I found a library book about creating habitats for salamanders, frogs, toads, turtles and crickets. I pored over that book, resolving to find everything necessary to assemble a creature-friendly container that I could keep in my room. Right next to my bed.
Growing up on a farm, I had access to a murky pond and pond-like critters. Salamanders probably slithered all over the property, but I couldn’t find any for my project. I didn’t bother with a box turtle, as we’d tried to rescue one before and set it free within days because it grew lethargic and refused to eat. I loved toads and frogs, but couldn’t find any of those, either. Come to think of it, I must have discovered the book between seasons—I’ll bet it was too early in spring or too late in fall for amphibians.
That left crickets.
After convincing my brother to drag an old fish tank from storage to my room, I found a small saucer for water; dug up moss, leaves and hunks of grass; and started catching crickets.
I may not have been able to locate salamanders or toads, but I caught plenty of crickets. A dozen or more shiny black insects thunked against the glass as they hurled themselves around the tank in a frenzy. But soon they settled into leafy nooks and crannies from which they chirped.
I liked what I created, and the crickets seemed to like it, too. It was fun. It was creative. It was good.
My parents took a gamble. They allowed me to experiment, assuming I’d sustain interest in crickets for about two or three weeks and then tire of the late-night serenades. Mom surely imagined them escaping from the net cover and burrowing into her sweater drawer to nibble woolen threads. But she let me do it anyway.
I did tire of the crickets, but before releasing them, I learned how they produce sound. I took pride in creating and sustaining a world in which they could thrive. And I’m happy to report that as far as I know, none escaped during their sojourn in my room.
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Dr. Stuart Brown, author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, and founder of the National Institute for Play, suggests we take our “play history.”
Find that joy from the past and you are halfway to learning how to create it again in your present life. It also can be a guide to free-flowing empowerment by identifying natural talents that may be dormant or that may have been bypassed. — Dr. Stuart Brown, Play (206)
Dr. Brown suggests thinking back to what you did as a child that really got you excited and brought joy. After you recall the comic books you read, or the Lincoln Logs you played with, or the cricket habitats you constructed, “identify what you could do in your current life that might let you re-create that playful feeling” (207).
I don’t intend to create another cricket habitat any time soon, but I see how something inside of me loved to learn by reading about and trying new things, and I often sought to connect with, study, and admire nature.
That’s a good place to start: spending time in nature, and reading.
Take your play history by asking at least these basic questions:
What got you excited as a child and brought you joy?
And how can you re-create that playful feeling in your life today?
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- The Energizing Work of the Playful Writer (podcast)
- The Play Project: Dolphin Joy
- English Teaching Resources: Incidentally, That Play-Doh Could Prevent a Homicide (Tweetspeak Poetry)
- English Teaching Resources: Incidentally, That Lego Could Earn You Six Figures (Tweetspeak Poetry)
Source: Brown, Stuart L., and Christopher C. Vaughan. Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York: Avery, 2009. Print. [library]