Friday, January 8, 2010

Like a child…

If you’ve never been, I highly recommend a visit to the Children’s Museum in St. Paul. Bring the grandkids, the neighbors’ kids, do whatever it takes. Our hometown Children’s Museum is something Twin Cities folk should be proud of. You can trust me. I’m an uncle.

We went there recently since, as you may know, Tabitha’s family had come to town. Between everyone, there were six adults and four young boys- ages 15 months, 15 months, 3 years, and 5 years. The weekend after Christmas actually brought two trips to the Museum, my first ever encounters with that establishment. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that one room was filled with dinosaurs (always awesome!), another had a leaf-blowing machine that occupied kids for hours, still another was involved inordinate amounts of splashing, while the highlight was when we made our very own thunderstorm. Very cool stuff. By the end of both afternoons, I was exhausted. But the energy spent was worth it, for both the children and the adults. We laughed a lot, learned some, laughed more, and experienced all kinds of wonderment and awe. It only cost nine bucks, but there’s no way to assess the full value of such moments. Who knows just how much was learned, or what skills the children began developing? Or the confidence gained? You can’t peak into kids’ heads, or their futures, and you don’t need to. The experience was worthwhile in its own right, I’m convinced, regardless how much the boys retain in their active memories.

One takeaway I do hope, however, that sticks with them is the basic philosophy of this Museum- “Sparking learning through play.” I like that idea, and wish we’d all take it more seriously. Of course, for young children, ‘play’ is a superior learning technique than the books or tests we use later in life. Without mature language or analytical skills, for children things like games, imagination and pretending do a great job of encouraging creative problem solving or teaching cooperation. That, in turn, nurtures smarter, more work-friendly children, which benefits parents, society and the kids themselves. And it’s just good fun!

The problem is that, all too often, we don’t age very effectively. Getting older means we encounter more complex and dangerous situations. Consequently, we develop more sophisticated tools for learning about or coping with these situations, and that’s good. But here’s the problem- Sometimes adults don’t build on top of what they learned as children. Rather, they replace what they learned as kids about the value of play, with the ‘more mature’ skills, emotions and learning methods they acquired as adults. Adults can discuss complex financial arrangements, psychotherapy, political scheming and American Idol, but too many neglect to play anymore. They think ‘play’ is beneath their adult dignity, something left behind in adolescence, like acne or voice cracks. I saw this at the Children’s Museum, when some parents sat off to the side, scowling at the raucous, joyous kids, as if they believed they had better things to do than jump in and join the fun. Too bad.

The truth is, however, that play could really help people nowadays, if we let it. Because something us ‘mature’ adults too often do is settle for what’s conventional and unchallenging. Rather than risk trying something off-the-wall, or using our imaginations to conceive of fantastic new ideas and dreams, we accept the limits others impose on us. We let what’s already happened dictate what will happen. And we stop having fun, the kind that makes your body quiver, or your mouth fall open wide. Play works differently. It revels in ‘what could be,’ or ‘what would be great if…’ It’s a blast! And it fosters an expectation of good things. That won’t make good stuff always happen, of course. But there’s something theologically true about believing that this life God gave you is good and filled with blessing, possibility and joy, even in the midst of pain. So I pray, this week, you’ll take time to play. Let your imagination run wild, and perhaps the Spirit will learn you something incredible. In all things,

Grace and Peace,

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