Carl Jung’s words illustrate the importance of play in our lives. From it come the things that make our lives worth living: the art, the dreams, the visions, the connections, the experiences that bring us joy and heartache and shape the people we become.
I have fond memories of the play that took up so much of my childhood. We did not have structured play time, rarely went to camp or to parks or recreational areas, yet I never felt as if I were missing anything. We had the whole world to explore—through riding bikes to the creek or just around the neighborhood, listening to records, exploring the woods behind the house, making tents out of blankets thrown over the clothesline, reading books on the cool concrete of the hillside cellar roof.
My childhood world was rich in imagination. What nurtured it? I was given time to play: unsupervised, unstructured play. The Creativity Camp for 2nd-5th graders that I’m teaching this summer is run with this concept of play in mind. We have some art, craft, and writing projects, yet the main task is to allow children to play in ways that spark their creative drive.
This week we followed Curious George’s example in Curious George Rides a Bike and made boats from newspaper and sailed them in the culvert a block from the VFW. My son and his dad did the same when he was young (he’s 24), and that book is still strong in his imagination. The boats flopped, but the fascination with water, things living in it, the current, the sound of their voices in the tunnel under the road—these all immediately took over.
As adults, we take the play that nurtured us as children and turn it into a passion: The rock collector becomes a geologist. The child making twig houses becomes an architect. Even if the play is not directly connected to a career, it is probably still present in some active way in the adult’s life.
What objects did you love as a child?
I loved rocks, dolls, shiny things, stuffed animals, books, playing cards, dominoes, and records. If you have been in the Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry, this will be quite obvious to you. These are the primary things I played with as a child, and they shaped my love of nature, symbols, and stories. Combining all of these led me to be a teacher and writer.
The sensory details of my childhood world—as well as those from the decades after—contributed to my development as a poet. Al Letson, the host of NPR’s State of the Re:Union, said when he visited the museum, “I imagine this is what the inside of your head looks like.” Yes, the museum is the inside of my head, and the inside of my head contains the objects that drive my waking life.
The Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry certainly appeals to a lot of people, yet it is very personal, too. It contains the symbols and objects that preoccupied my play world as a child, the memories of which I took into my adult life as a teacher and writer, and then I recaptured their physical nature when I put the museum together.
The museum is actually a representation of three things: the objects that preoccupied my childhood, the adult work inspired by those objects, and the re-creation of those objects as symbols of what they came to represent to me.
Creativity Camp continues for 2 more weeks, and we welcome any new area children who would like to come. Week 3, June 23-26, is about stories and storytelling, and Week 4, July 7-10, is about games. I hope that this Creativity Camp can become a tradition in Locust Grove, where I am working with the Locust Grove Arts Alliance to bring the arts and culture to our little town.
And it all begins with play . . . and our willingness to allow this simple idea to thrive.