We dreaded the arsenic hour … 5:00-6:00 pm, the first hour that Abby was home from day care. She would melt down and become inconsolable over small things. After a series of tantrums, she would retreat to her room (or be sent into a time out) and re-emerge with a new outfit … often dressed as a character. Princess, bride, ballerina, schoolteacher, Minnie Mouse, or Little Red Riding Hood might stroll down the stairs 20 minutes later. Her demeanor had changed with her outfit.
A favorite—and frequent—role she’d play was “pretend I’m your neighbor.” Dressed like an adult, Abby would use her “grown up” voice and ask us how our day was and what we were doing. Then she’d suggest it was time to visit our real next-door neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Spencer. (They were an older couple with adult children and grandkids who lived across the country.) Abby called them the “ah-Spencer’s.” The Spencer’s invited her into their living room and gave her jellybeans. They were amused by her chatter and humored her. After a 5-10 minute visit, she would return home with lifted spirits.
Inspiration from Creative Play with Kids
Now it’s my turn to be the ah-Spenser’s. Since our youngest son started college this fall, I have been hanging out with our 8-year-old neighbor. When she visits, I pull out my kids’ old toys, dolls, books, and crafts … she takes me into the world of a child’s imagination.
A few weeks ago, I was feeling uninspired with the pile of work in front of me … procrastinating and bouncing aimlessly from task to task. Then she came to visit, and we sat on the floor of my office playing dolls. I was swept into memories of playing with these toys when my girls were young and tapped into more distant memories of being a young girl myself who played with dolls.
After she left, I returned to my work … my creative energy flowed. I successfully tackled a gnarly problem that had been eluding me for weeks. What a gift to sit on the floor and play with a child.
Unfiltered, curious, and spontaneous, kids naturally exude the energy that fuels innovation and creative processes. As adults, we struggle to diverge in our thinking. We don’t often let ourselves pretend that we are somewhere or someone else. Social norms, organizational culture, and our own judgments often limit the scope of our imagination.
This is a great time of year to pause and tap into kid energy. Not only is it fun, it might unleash creative thinking. If you have a chance to hang out with a child, try some of these activities:
- Set up train track with towns and villages around it.
- Create structures and objects with Legos.
- Build a fort with a card table and blankets. Crawl inside with a flashlight and read a storybook.
- Dress up as characters and pretend to be somewhere else.
- Play hide and seek.
- Draw pictures and play with crafts.
I bet that the child will enjoy your playful attention. And perhaps playing with a child will give you a new outlook on work and life.