Learning how to play with kidsAs a kid I used to love imaginary play. I played school, doctor, kitchen…all of the cliché things kids still play, even today. I especially loved my Barbies. I could just sit for hours dressing and redressing them, positioning them in certain positions, taking them to the “beauty parlors” (and yes, I totally called it the parlor when I was little), driving them around in their pink corvette etc. My Barbies would have conversations amongst themselves and sometimes even get into little tiffs with Ken.

Those conversations came so easily back then. Imaginary play was just a normal occurrence, and I never once thought twice about what was coming out of my mouth while I made the Barbies talk to each other. I’m sure the conversation was less than stimulating, and probably didn’t even make logical sense, but I had no reservations about my silly thoughts…let’s just say my Barbies lived their lives to the fullest.

The kids I care for have now bridged the gap between baby to toddler, and their older brother, now approaching 4, is very into imaginary play. Their days at home are spent picking various toys out of each toy storage bin and carting them around the house, visiting several locations as they play. You would think that any old toys would do, but no, they pick out very specific toys each and every time. It doesn’t matter how many times the toys are cleaned up, each time they go back and get the same ones out.

It’s so sweet to see each of them grow and discover what their new favorite things are, because before now most of the toys in the house had been on an equal playing field. While they are in their own wonderful, fun world playing, I love sitting and listening to them talk with each other and interact with their toys from an undiscoverable location.

If it was so easy back then, why can’t I fathom imaginary play now as an adult? As they play, I sit there and think, “wait…that toy can’t do that,” “Mr. Potato Head would NEVER say that to the baby doll,” “why are they piling those poor baby dolls up on each other…can’t they sit them nicely?” And then I realize that I have completely forgotten what it is like to be a kid. I am a stiff, boring adult who no longer knows how to play. Want me to read you a book? Sure! Build you a train track? You got it! Chase you around pretending to be a monster? Absolutely. Hold a baby doll, a T-Rex, a Lego Man and make them talk to each other? Well that’s just crazy.

And then I over-think it. What would T-Rex even say to a baby doll? I’m pretty sure baby dolls and dinosaurs don’t talk. So I freeze, and then come up with something totally lame to say like, “Hello Baby Doll, how are you today?” “I’m good Mr. T-Rex, how are you?” Blah, blah, blah. The kids know I’m an idiot. I can feel them silently judging my playing pretend skills.

Sigh. But the truth is, the kids don’t really care what T-Rex and the baby doll say. They don’t care if T-Rex asks how baby doll is feeling today or if she likes to eat cake for lunch. They care that I am right there next to them, playing whatever their little hearts want me to play. I’m always so busy trying to teach and mold them to be good little citizens in this world; I forget that they have plenty to teach me. Sometimes I need to let go, and just play.

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