Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Primitive Kitchen

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.


  1. I hope that natural toys, imagination and fantasy play make a comeback, Jenny, and the sooner the better. For decades I've watched in disgust as generations of children in my family are showered with so many toys at Christmas and on birthdays that they literally cover every square inch of the floor. Many toys are crushed underfoot in the stampede before the child even plays with them. A mountain of toys creates a kind of sick "feeding frenzy" and brings no real joy and happiness to the child. I always believe that less is more. I treasure my memories of fantasy play, blanket tents, reading by flashlight and telling ghost stories around a camp fire. Technology is leading us astray in my humble opinion.

  2. Your memories prodded some of my own childhood memories to surface and the fun playtimes my own children had with simple toys out in the garden. Creative, imaginative play is so important to a child's healthy development. Far too many little ones today are plonked in front of monitors to keep them entertained and they are unable to amuse themselves.

  3. What a delightful romp through my memories you provided with this post. I can so well remember doing things with dirt, bits of rope, whatever we could find around the barns that would feed into our imagination. I'm so glad Elliot and his friends are getting to do this. Your house must just be magic for them!

  4. Hi Jenny. I so agree that creative play using their imaginations, are so important to children. Sadly, so many these days seem to spend hours on their computers, games consoles etc. I can well remember when I was quite young, and we used to play dens. It was wonderful fun. I do feel that children these days do tend to miss out on things like that. Good for you in keeping the tradition going. That chocolate cake looks delicious. Mmmmm!

  5. A healthy imagination is a wonderful thing. So neat that you are trying to foster that in Elliot. My kids did a lot of that when they were younger. After watching the Kit Kittredge movie four years ago they spent a couple weeks outdoors in their "Hobo Camp." Love your pictures.

  6. I can't even tell you the number of sand cakes I made for our dog... I also used to beg to be able to sit outside, eating a grilled cheese sandwich and drinking my milk out of a bowl, just like Heidi did. (Anyone remember the Shirley Temple version?) My dad brought home a camouflage tent and an old barrel for us to play with. We made countless forts and pretended we were in the circus doing tricks on that barrel.
    I want some chocolate cake, too.

  7. Hi Jenny,
    Thanks so much for the loving words you left on my post about Holden. I know you really do understand our loss...
    I love your kitchen and everything you are doing with children. The world needs more of you in it!

    1. Dear Sush,
      No thanks necessary! I feel terrible that you lost your beloved friend and companion. Thank you for coming over for a visit during this time of Lent and grieving. You're a good friend whom I appreciate and care about!


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