One of my favorite imaginary games as a child was to gather various bits of nature and pretend I was cooking. When the warm weather arrived in late spring and summer, I wanted to live outdoors. I made blanket tents and spent entire days playing and reading under a cottonwood tree. Another favorite sanctuary was a creek that gurgled happily over rocks and around little bends in the back yard. I possessed a long attention span, easily able to block out the sights and sounds of the neighborhood as I became deeply absorbed in the streaming water and the small fish, bullfrogs and crayfish. Sometimes a great blue heron would startle me with an unexpected flight from his hidden spot in the reedy cattails.
My brothers and I also had a metal swing set and a tire swing, a large grassy lawn, and a huge vegetable garden (which was of course not for playing in, but for working in). We also had an area below our sun deck that was covered in sand. Most of our play involved acting out the drama of an ongoing imaginary game. We were runaways and orphans, explorers and cave dwellers. I often had difficulty negotiating the terms of play when neighbor kids came to visit and sometimes acted bossy because I was so attached to my version of the game.
My life as a child was crammed full of this kind of play, the kind that was almost entirely detached from electronics. We did have a color television and a wonderful collection of toys, but fantasy play always seemed better when we invented and constructed things ourselves. My favorite games almost always contained an element of the primitive. At that time I had no knowledge of the Waldorf school of thought which values natural toys and imagination.
This week, not inspired by Waldorf, but by the memory of what I enjoyed, I helped Elliot build a little outdoor room under our ivy covered arbor. We set up a camp style kitchen, and as I write this, Elliot and his friends are completely immersed in play. From my spot at the window, I can hear someone saying "I'm going to be the great great master." I fully expect that the others will soon be bargaining for independence from the master's rule.
In fact, two minutes after the self appointed great great master sends out a command, I hear another voice saying "you're not that great."
I go outside bearing a gift: a plate of warm chocolate cake and cold milk to enjoy in the primitive kitchen. That should be at least as exciting as washing their own dishes.