Now that winter’s approaching, the kids have fewer afternoons to frolic outdoors. But cold weather doesn’t mean the end of play. In fact, some of the best fun I ever had as a child took place inside our house and even – at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon – without proper toys.
Of course my siblings and I had toys. But we didn’t necessarily play with them. Or rather, the things we played with weren’t supposed to be toys. One favorite pastime my brother Kevin and I shared involved digging through the huge collection of cassette tapes that my parents had – lots of Bach, Chopin and Mozart, the better to attune our impressionable children’s ears to music. (This was before the days of Baby Einstein.) We’d painstakingly line up hundreds of cassettes in swirling patterns all over the living room floor, and finally, when we were satisfied that every piece was finally in position, tip off the first cassette and watch as the domino effect unfolded. An hour of toil for half a minute of joy.
Even better were the nonsensical, make-believe games we concocted, which outlasted all the toys. One game, which Kevin and I dubbed “Burying the Frog,” required one of us to play the frog and the other to play the frog catcher. Younger and more gullible by four years, I invariably found myself the frog, being “caught” and then – this was the best part – “buried” underneath layers and layers of comforters. When I could hardly stand it in the dark cocoon of heavy bedding anymore, my brother would begin the “salting” and “peppering” of the frog. In the narrative of this game, the frog was to be eaten. I escaped before this happened, though. Usually.
When I play pretend these days, it’s with my 5-year-old niece, a young lady who likes to play house. Surrounded by props and toys, Naïa sips invisible tea in a teeny tea set, and bake invisible cookies in a bright red plastic oven. I’ve also seen her use her toy cell phone to plan business meetings. But most of the time Naïa is just as enthralled by the simplest of games, like hide and seek, a combination of imagination and adventure that never grows tiresome to her, as impossible as that may seem to those of us whose playground days are long past.
Whether it’s a slumber party for demanding princesses, games for rowdy boys, or something as simple as crafting away an afternoon, there’s plenty at home to keep kids happy – and out of your hair. Here’s to the season of indoor fun ahead.