I remember it clearly, a large wooden box covered in that red textured vinyl, all the rage in the 60s. Its two metal clips reassuringly snapped shut protecting its precious contents. I loved my record player, with its distinctive smelling rubber turntable and the satisfyingly clicking arm that gently hovered in position. It didn’t matter that my playlist was limited – Boogie Wonderland, Ernie and Two Little Boys, as I recall, supplemented by David Bowie classics when I got a little  ‘cooler’! When the needle was in the groove I slipped easily into my own world, far removed from teasing older brothers. And this is where the problem lay. For my brothers, three and six years older, that record player presented a challenge in the quest to find out how things worked. So one day, with confidence brimming my eldest brother began the important job of dis-assembling my beloved record player, without permission I might add, only to find that he couldn’t actually reassemble it.

Even then, although I was sad at the loss of my precious record player, a part of me could understand why my brother was compelled to take it apart. Just like some of the wonderful stories in Brenda Crowe’s brilliant book Play is Feeling, children’s action are rarely a sign of wanton destruction, but rather, some greater logic at play.

An email from an enlightened Montessori practitioner last week, (thanks Charlotte Stokes) reminded me of just how important it is for children to have the opportunity to find out how things work, just like my brother and that beloved record player. Sadly the technological gadgets of this era rob children and adults of this opportunity, much as credit cards and price increases limit children’s brush with currency. The result is a more passive involvement in life, with many 21st century toys never moving beyond the ‘what can this do?’ stage of play to the far more creative, ‘what can I do with it?’ stage. Hughes, (2003) describes such toys as entertainment, lamenting the loss of creativity, with the exception of the toy’s creator. Thinking about how play resources have changed and crucially people’s budget and attitude towards what makes a good toy, my mother-in-law reflected upon the play group that she set up over 30 years ago and how those low or no cost resources, like the box of switches, plugs and wires, (from a house being rewired) offered endless play value, particularly to the boys. With the benefit of hindsight we can appreciate the creativity, forward thinking and play value of this approach. I wonder if it sparked a wave of electricians?!!

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