Monday, August 17, 2015

"Let's Pretend!"

Cream of Wheat is so good to eat
that we have it every day!
We sing this song, it will make us strong,
and it makes us shout 'Hooray!'

It's good for growing babies
and grown-ups too to eat!
For all the family's breakfast,
You can't beat Cream of Wheat!

And with this ditty, from March 24, 1934 to October 23, 1954 began Let's Pretend, one of the longest-running children's programs on radio. I probably came upon it in the early 1940s. Each program was an adaptation of some classic children's book or fairy tale, and I loved and looked forward to every episode.

I don't think there are programs like Let's Pretend anymore, and I consider that to be a very great loss. 

Are there, in fact, any radio programs aimed at children? Radio was to the imagination what water is to a plant. Children today grow up watching Sesame Street—a wonderful program, but fundamentally different from Let's Pretend on an elemental level: it is totally visual; the child sees everything; there's no need to imagine what Big Bird or Elmo or Cookie Monster look like—-they’re right there. 

But I think the major difference between Sesame Street and radio programs is that Sesame Street's primary focus is on developing learning, whereas Let's Pretend's focus was on developing the imagination, and I would argue that learning without imagination is like a cake without frosting. 

(You can, by the way, hear a few of the original shows by going to http://www.freeotrshows.com/otr/l/Lets_Pretend.html)

Do kids today play the same kinds of games I played? Most of the games did not have specific names but simply sprang from the utterance of the three magic words "Let's pretend like..." and from that point on, the imagination took over completely. A tree became a castle, a pile of dirt a fort, a towel tied around the neck a superhero's cape. 

While age has far removed me from the games I played as a child, it does seem that kids today live in a totally different world, in which the value of developing the imagination is all but totally overlooked. The emphasis is far more on preparing children for adulthood than it is on letting them simply experience the joys of being children. Piano lessons? Violin lessons? Good for developing skills, but terribly short, for most children, on fun. While it can be argued that soccer practice, baseball practice and other sports activities are technically games preparing children for the grown-up world, they are structured activities designed to produce conformity, and the child involved in them is all but totally deprived of the need for any...well, individuality, any mental freedom to explore and engage the imagination.

Do moms today still tell their kids to "Go out and play"? And if they do, do the kids do it, or do they prefer to hunker down with their video games, the vast bulk of which, though set in imaginary landscapes of someone else's creation, seem to emphasize physical dexterity in pressing the button/waggling the stick to kill monsters than in actually thinking what it might be like to be inside the game?

Does the child today, sitting in the Little League dugout, glancing up at whipped-cream clouds lazily floating overhead, have the time to look for castles and whales and sailing ships? Or does he just see clouds as he waits for his turn at bat?


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

I remember the occasional friend suggesting we go play catch in the backyard, which held my interest for a whole of 3 minutes. What's the point of it? I couldn't see it anymore than I could see the point in participating in or watching sports. BUT, I remember my mother saying "Can't you do anything except play with your Star Wars (or other science fiction) toys?"

Probably, but I didn't want to. We were saving the galaxy. I was coming up with vast storylines to act out, peace to be made, and wars to be won. If that's not using your imagination, I don't know what is.