The importance of play: how turning a problem into a game can foster creative problem-solving skills, a guest post by Candy James
Remember that scene in the original Mary Poppins film where Mary is confronted by Jane and Michael’s very unclean nursery? And Mary starts singing about spiked insulin levels and suddenly everything miraculously starts putting itself away?
“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.”
I’m telling you those Sherman brothers were on to something remarkable when they wrote that ditty earworm.
Years ago, when I was at a client’s house weeding a monstrously overgrown rose garden filled with deadly dragons and vicious vipers, I got that someone’s watching me feeling. So I did that sneaky thing gardeners do when they don’t want to be bothered . . . and turned the sprinkler system on. Perhaps because he was paying me $40 an hour to wet his new linen suit, or perhaps because he’d used salt instead of sugar in his tea, Rob thought it’d be fun to chat about how boring weeding his garden was and how could I possibly stand doing it for so long. I told him it was easy: I didn’t stand, I kneeled. Rob looked at the trees and mumbled something into his tea. Then he looked at me the way I sometimes look at my puppy when she’s eaten yet another inedible object and said, “But how do you do it? Doesn’t it drive you nuts?” I thought about giving him another shower but something in the way the compost reflected off his shoes in the crisp spring light told me I could let him in on my real secret: I wasn’t weeding. I never “weeded” (it bored me stiff). I was actually a giant, ripping up great swathes of land belonging to the meddling Rosians who had failed to pay their weekly tribute to me and my offspring. In short, I turned boring things into a game.
Being a parent teaches you many things, none more so than these two sageries: long, boring, difficult tasks do not get any easier with age, and problems rarely go away by themselves. As kids, we (Candy and James) both remember being followed by Monotony and Difficulty. Oh, how many clear, wonderful, bright, warm sunny days–whole weekends even–were destroyed by tasks led by Messrs M and D!
Holidays to theme parks wrecked beyond imagining by the forever aeroplane. Trips to the beach were slaughtered by the endless car drive. Lego cities were massacred by having to put things away. Baking a cake soured by waiting for it to bake. So imagine our surprise and horror when these foul denizens from the deep decided to plague our own daughter’s fresh young life!
But pretty soon you realise problems and boredom are there for a reason. To test your creativity! Even at 18 months old, a 6-mile hike through the mountains is never a problem. I mean, how can it be when there is a whole satchel to fill with interesting creatures we find like the three-headed monchin (that looks remarkably like a maple leaf) and opera-inducing grilly claws (found on grevilleas)? Little girls’ legs don’t have time to get tired when they have to rescue daddies who’ve been gobbled up by trolls, and mummies who’ve been . . . hey, where is she anyway! Oh no! Mummy’s been invisiblised! Quick, we better remember to do that “come back mummy” dance before she disappears forever!
At some point, Archie & Reddie decided they wanted to help extend this concept of play into all the other parts of our day. Okay, so to everyone else they looked very much like two stuffed toy foxes, but to us, they were so much more. By giving them voices and distinct personalities, Archie & Reddie not only made problems much easier to overcome, but they also made the incredibly mundane super-incredibly fun! I realise I wrote that in the past tense. It should really be present as the two foxes are still very much part of our lives, but I can’t remember where the delete button is.
Fast forward several years and the two foxes now have their own hilarious early reader graphic novel series. Wow! We made these books as a step-up from Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie series, a brilliant collection that shows how fun and games are a reader’s best friends. Fuelled by our love of manga, comedy, and pop art, we set about tackling certain problems our daughter experienced growing up (sharing, secrets/lies, compromising, finding confidence, resilience, etc.) and solve them with a healthy dose of fun, laughs and creative problem-solving. Admittedly, our plots have a little more meat to them than some other early reader series, but by keeping up the energy and humour in both pictures and text, and by drawing in the reader with some intentional breaks of the fourth wall, we’ve kept the books accessible to a wide range of reading levels. Like a good play, these books are enjoyed best when read aloud.
In our fourth Archie & Reddie book, IT DOESN’T SCARE ME!, we wanted to push our messaging even more and offer some creative problem-solving hacks to tackle the very real issue of scary shapes in the night. And let’s face it, when you’re staying at a new house and there’s a blustery storm outside and the power goes out, shapes do take on a rather sinister guise, don’t you think?
But that’s the awesome thing about friends. They know exactly how to care for each other! Because even though you may forget it, your friend knows exactly how brave you can be. How brave you really are! Then it’s just a matter of making a cool cardboard knight costume and singing a song together as you explore all those spooky shapes with your flashlights and discover . . . “looking ‘round the house, what do we see? It doesn’t matter, ‘coz it doesn’t scare me!”
Hey, those Sherman brothers were right. Problems (and songs) can be fun!
Meet the authors
Candy James is a husband-and-wife creative duo originally from Hong Kong and New Zealand, but now living on a thickly forested hill in Ballarat, Australia. They are toy, graphic, and garden designers who love to make funny books for children. Their award-winning toy designs have been stocked everywhere from one-star-rated eBay sellers to fancy museums like the MoMA. Their work has been featured alongside Hello Kitty, Hot Wheels, and even on wedding and birthday cakes. Visit them at candyjames.com.
About It Doesn’t Scare Me!
Elephant & Piggie meets Narwhal and Jelly in this hilarious new early-reader graphic novel series about Archie & Reddie, two fox friends who have wild fun! In this fourth book, when Archie is woken by a scary noise in the night, he turns to Reddie to help him get to the bottom of it.
Archie and Reddie are having a sleepover! That means they get to play super fun games all night long and wear their favorite pajamas! And even when a storm knocks out the power, they don’t get scared. Well, maybe a little at first, so it’s a good thing they have their trusty flashlights! But when Archie is woken in the middle of the night by a loud grumble, he’s afraid there might be a monster in the house. Luckily, Reddie is there to remind him of his bravery as the two friends investigate together. Everywhere they look, the noise seems to follow, but they can’t seem to find a monster anywhere. Is it super-sneaky, or could there be something else causing these late-night grumbles?
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 06/14/2022
Series: An Archie & Reddie Book #4
Age Range: 4 – 8 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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