Before there was playdough, there was just dough.
Before there was felt food, there was just dinner.
Before there were hula hoops, there were just hoops to roll.
Before there was a battery-powered light saber, there was just a stick.
Before there were chore charts, the chores just got done.
It struck me one day, as I was fumbling to explain to my little kitchen helpers how rolling out cracker dough was just like rolling playdough, that I had it totally backward.
It’s not that bread dough mimics playdough. The games we play are modeled after real life tasks. We miss our mark, however, when we allow children to play exclusively and never experience the real thing.
How many high school students mastered the art of rolling out playdough and cutting out shapes but have never kneaded bread dough, formed pizza dough, or cut out homemade cookies instead of slicing them off a pre-packed tube?
We as a society have it backward when the play that is to prepare children for real life never gets beyond the craft table.
I waxed poetic last spring about my love for the traditional foods in the Little House on the Prairie series. Since then, we’ve read the next three books in the series, and I continue to be struck by how simple, yet fulfilled, were the lives of the Ingalls family.
With one doll instead of dozens, Laura learned to truly cherish.
The children managed to occupy themselves outside all day – after doing their daily chores first – without any hassle or boredom.
Boots, coats, and dresses were worn until they could be worn no longer, and even the little ones had true appreciation for new items.
New mittens, one toy, and a few pieces of candy were a wonderful and glorious Christmas gift, inflaming deep gratitude in their hearts.
Everyone pitched in to help with the farm chores, or they wouldn’t have anything to eat in the winter. One task might take all day, but it was done well.
I often yearn for a return to simpler times. I couldn’t realistically trade in the comforts of my modern home, my electricity and technology for a life of uncertainty where a swarm of grasshoppers could demolish my livelihood with the clicking of jaws on wheat, but I’d like to foster the attitude of detachment that I see in the Ingalls family.
I’d like my chores to be focused on what’s important, be less complicated, and to become a shared responsibility for the whole family.
I’d like less stuff.
And I’d like to see the pretend play that children initiate to practice real work be short-term, instead of indefinite, allowing them to become proficient in something other than magenta-colored playdough snakes.
I roll out real dough with my two-year-old. She can have her own piece to play with so that productive play really can mimic real life.
I give my preschooler a real broom, squirt bottle of vinegar water, an old towel and a little bit of instruction, instead of a child’s playset that won’t clean anything.
A trowel, yard gloves, and a child-sized wheelbarrow instead of a motorized jeep allow our children to work alongside the parents, making outside play an opportunity to learn the value of a job well done, rather than the thrill of pushing yet another button.
My son had no toys at his birthday party, but learned a deep lesson of service instead.
The imagination doesn’t need many tools to be inspired. We’re determined not to let our children’s imaginations be confined by toys that structure their play.
We eat real food because it is in its whole form as the Creator intended. Let us also live real lives and teach our children how to do real work, trusting that they, too, were created for more than just pretending.
Certainly I’m entering the Simple Lives Thursday Blog Hop this week!