Never stop playing

“I wish I could live to be 200,” says this elderly toymaker. “I can work hard and do a better job!”

It’s just getting good and he is feeling time slipping by.

Ages ago when I was (very briefly) a graduate student, I attended a session on “Anthropology of Childhood” at an annual conference of Cultural anthropologists. One talk was about “Play” and the part I remember most vividly introduced a new perspective on the connection between age and age-appropriate play than I had ever before encountered. Within the cultural group being studied, the activity of playing was considered an acquisition of the aged. Play, far from being easy or inborn or “natural” to the young, was viewed as a skill to learn over time, and with great effort.  

Only with practice could one become proficient. 

Children were therefore considered the most amateur at this very serious business which is to play, and it was up to the elders of the community to set the example and to demonstrate, from their extended years of experience and mastery. The younger members of the community were even prohibited from certain games until they could “graduate” into them, over the course of time.

That talk, in a mostly empty ballroom in a Chicago hotel, was given years ago but I haven’t yet forgotten it and I hope I never do. Even though I never completed my degree, there have been many times since then when I have tried to reflect on the ways that childhood and the concept of “child’s play” are constructed in my culture of origin, and also to remember that elsewhere people do things differently.

Browsing the Internet is a lot like traveling, if you think about it: if we are willing, both allow us to draw closer to people we would never otherwise have encountered because of distance or language barriers. Now, we even get to learn alongside each other; it’s amazing.

I don’t know about you, but I just really like the thought of needing to “grow into” play and of acquiring toys that help keep us fresh and feeling young and like we want to keep going and discovering and getting better.

Aim high, right?

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When I grow up, I hope to be like my kids.
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