During the summers of High School, I worked at a pre-school where children ages 3-5 would come and play each day. These children had the best imaginations and the best understanding of fun. They would always bring out the fun in me too. Many times I would come home covered in paint because the kids had shown me how much fun finger painting could be again. Every time a kid would paint something at the easel I would ask them what they were painting. I’d get some response like “well” *points to a big blue blob in the middle of the page* “this is a doggie, and” *points to yellow blob* “this is Mommy,” if they were 3, or “this” *points to potato person with legs* “is my friend Tommy” if they were 5. I was always amazed at how much imagination the kids would have and how much the development of the mind cut out the blue blobs and turned them into people like objects. The kids kind of made me jealous in a sense because they still had their full imagination. Not to say that I don’t have any imagination, but I don’t have nearly as much as I did when I was 3. I remember getting a play kitchen when I was 4 or 5 and though it came with play food, and a plastic oven and stove top, I did not want to have to prepare food for my family, no, I wanted to go to the moon. So I strapped on my bike helmet knocked the play kitchen on its side opened the “oven” door and sat in it turning the dials and successfully piloted a flight to the moon, landed, got out and walked on the moon, and then safely returned to earth.
This brings me to a great point. Fun things can be more fun if they can be used in multiple ways. While I enjoyed the play kitchen greatly, I also wanted to use my kitchen as a rocket ship. I highly doubt that the toy designer thought that that is what a small girl would want to do with her play kitchen, but it was. But there is something to be said for this. Maybe a better toy designer would examine the design and say hey, if I flip this over and open this “oven” door here and this “microwave” door here, it kind of looks like airplane wings. I think a great toy designer would take a minute to examine all of the potential uses for their idea, not just his or her own intended uses for it. Though I highly doubt that all of the potential uses could be apparent to any one person, I think focusing on this aspect of fun could help many toy designers to create even better toys.
This also raises another question. If play for children of these ages is about imagination and making use of the objects you have to aide your play, then are the toys we give them too constraining and too limiting. If I could use a cardboard box to create a car, or a cave, or an air plane, then why do I need a toy that is constraining my imagination into believing it is only what it appears to be. If I were designing toys (and had far too much money to spend) I would love to develop a line of toys that are very abstract and suggest many different things at once. I do not know how children would react to this type of toy and as far as I know, it has never been attempted. Imagine a plush toy with Velcro-removable parts. The toy would be very plain and could be decorated with different things depending on what the child wanted it to be. Of course this is a spur of the moment idea, so it is not fully developed (or even very good). It would be great to work with 3-5 year olds to develop a toy that would be unisex and fun for all sorts of play though.