Monday, September 27, 2010

Having Fun

 I know it is wet
And the sun is not sunny.
But we can have
Lots of good fun that is funny!
—Dr Seuss in Cat in the Hat (1957)

Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel) wrote Cat in the Hat in response to an article by John Hershey in Life magazine that children weren't reading, because they found books boring. (You can read Mr. Hershey's article about the dullness of grammar school readers in a 1954 issue of Life magazine, "Why Do Students Bog Down on First R? A Local Committee Sheds Light on a National Problem: Reading.")

Since then, the children's book has sold millions of copies and has been translated into many languages (11). It is obvious the book has a charming appeal. I read it as a child, and my wife and I have read Dr Seuss's oeuvre multiple times to my children. I still enjoy all the books. Yet, the Cat in the Hat remains my favourite, not only because of Mr. Geisel's imaginative use of only 236 words, but also because the book is for adults.

I sense that book's message, if it indeed has one, is that fun can be spontaneous and unplanned. At a time when social engineers and pedagogues, with a little help from some child psychologists and the multi-billion dollar toy industry, tend to steer children to play dates, structured outings and planned everything, it is refreshing to read that fun can be unplanned and spontaneous, the way children like it.

Spontaneous play is important for many reasons, says Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who wrote of its importance in a report, The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds (2007). 

Dr. Ginsburg writes:
Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children. Despite the benefits derived from play for both children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for some children.

Knowing How to Have Fun: Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) seated at desk covered with his books / World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna, 1957. Courtesy:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Yet, it's easy to make an adjustment. If you have ever seen children unwrap presents, many times they will find the wrapping or box more fun to play with than the actual manufactured toy. My 2½-year-old son, for example, likes to play with my office supplies: paper, paperclips and elastic bands. I sense it's because he sees me "play" with these items and not with the toys.

That might be bad news for toy manufacturers, since they cannot manufacture spontaneous fun. And parents like myself must be prepared for the fun and chaos when the Cat in the Hat comes for a visit.