The Idiot Box, Mrs Chuckolovich and Your Child’s Imagination

How many of us are old enough to remember when we first heard the expression ‘idiot box’? Originally coming out in the 1950’s, worship flags the reference was to the television which at that time was black and white with rabbit ears.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s there was no such thing as a couch potato. Television viewing was not an all day event. Children were not placed in front of a television as if it was their robotic nanny.

I remember playing and pretending during my early years before I started school. I cannot remember my play items at home, but I remember the set-up at each of my grandmother’s houses. When my parents took my sister and I to visit our maternal grandmother’s home, there was a pail of wooden toys. They were toys to us, but they were actually empty thread spools, empty cylindrical salt cartons and other odds and ends from the household. If we were visiting at my paternal grandparents’ home, there were pretty gowns and shawls to take out of a trunk and wear for our imaginary happenings of the day.

We looked forward to going to our grandmothers’ houses. Each house had a flower garden. Each grandmother served tea and homemade cookies in the afternoon. After the grown-ups left the table, Sandra and I would go to the garden with a pretend picnic. We would make-believe an entire pretend day of events in the garden or at the base of the laundry steps amid the pansies. I was Mrs. Chuckolovitch. My sister became Mrs. Peanutbuttersides. One of us was snobby. One of was nice and always trying to teach the other one to be nice.

Sometimes we made mud pies. Once we put apple blossoms in the mud pies which I, at four years old, had taken from the neighbor’s apple tree. That caused a rift between my grandmother and the neighbor because none of her apples grew that year. But that day in the shade of Grandma’s gazebo, we served a most sumptuous tea and pie to our pretend guests. (They were not pretend to us while we were pretending.)

Research has now proven that when children are able to play imaginatively on a regular basis, they are able to explore themselves — their own feelings, likes and dislikes — and also the social world around them. Playing creatively helps children learn some of the skills necessary to exist in a social world. They tend to become more creative and able to ‘think outside the box’ to solve problems. These are important skills once they are older.

Research has also proven that reading to our children and grandchildren can have a very positive effect on the child’s development.

Back in the days of Howdy Doody Time and The Roy Rogers Show, I didn’t watch more than 30 minutes a day of television on a weekday. I still remember the name of my first book. I was four years old when I received it. It was, “Bartholomew the Beaver.”

There are many inexpensive ways a mom or dad can help a child discover imaginary play. I’m talking about the kind of imaginary play where the doll doesn’t already have a name and the toys are not tied to a movie which the child imitates and rehearses over and over. That is not imaginative play.

Here are some suggestions:

· Provide a dress-up area in your home. It might just be a cardboard box. Place a few of your old clothes, shoes and hats there. If you don’t have any old, fun, wearable clothing, buy some at the local thrift shop or put a notice at your church or community center asking for a donation of a few items.

· Save cardboard boxes and plastic-wrap tubes so the kids can build towers and forts.

· Buy an inexpensive tea set and a box of caffeine-free tea. Teach proper etiquette from an Emily Post book. Praise the children when they have learned a smattering of rules. With just a little knowledge, the girls will have a very happy time doing everything as proper as possible and the boys will make fun of it, but they will still be learning.

· Go to the library and get “What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know: Preparing Your Child for a Lifetime of Learning” by E.D. Hirsch Jr. You may need to do a little brushing up on your fairytales and poems. Then sit with the children once in awhile and read them your favorite children’s stories, paraphrasing parts of each one so they get the idea that it’s okay to adlib.

· Spend an hour or two a week playacting-out a whole story with the children. Let them laugh and make mistakes. Soon they will be playacting other stories you have told them and they will be making up their own. Supply a make-shift stage and towels and other props for the play rehearsals. (e.g. If the children are at least five years old, the tale of the troll under the bridge is a fun one to act out.)

· Choose some happy music; old and new tunes, turn the music up loud (not deafeningly loud) and get the children to dance through the house, following you. Do funny actions. Then call out a child’s name to be the leader and have everyone turn and follow, dancing after that child. The next day, have the children do most of the dancing alone and you join in sometimes. Let them learn it is their fun, their dancing and they can be in charge of it. When you enter the fun during the weeks that follow, always ask if you can, and thank them for the fun when you are done. They learn manners without you telling them to learn manners — sometimes.

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