Kids, Boxes and Zolos

If you have or have ever had children, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s Christmas morning, your little ones are up and ripping into their presents. They’re happy as clams with your well-thought-out purchases. But then it happens. Their attention wanes … and then re-focuses – but not on the toys. It’s the boxes, the boxes the toys came in.

“I’m a failure! I can’t even buy a Christmas present my kid cares more about more than a stupid box. I should just turn in my parenting card right now. It’s only going to get worse.”

We’ve all been through it. What is it about boxes? If it’s not your kids then it’s the cat.

They are a never-ending sources of intrigue and glee. They hold a world of possibilities where the only barriers are the imagination. They can be colored or drawn on. Boxes can be cut up to be smaller, or combined with other boxes to be larger. Boxes can be anything.

They don’t have boundaries until we teach them boundaries. Everything is “game.” They haven’t limited their lives by putting them in boxes. But rather they use those boxes (literally) to create a world limited only by their imagination

Kids haven’t been anesthetized by all the years of “this is what you’re suppose to do and this is how you’re suppose to do it.”

They’re not restricted by rows in a spreadsheet or by myopic expectations of family and friends.

Don’t you wish you could go back to that time … the time when it was just you, your imagination and whatever inanimate object was at your disposal (and maybe the cat, if you could catch him). Restrictions were few. I remember playing in the backyard. A patch of dirt could be turned into a gold mine, a tropical island – or a with the help of few sticks, even a futuristic skyscraper.

We don’t do that now. We have to be adults. And being an adult seems to include checking your imagination at the door. And we wonder why life becomes, well … lifeless. Worse yet, what example are we setting for our children. What are we teaching them. “When you get my age, all that curiosity and naive optimism you have now – will just fade away. But that’s all right because you’ll slave for years and years in school to become a doctor or a lawyer only to become a slave all over again to your ‘keeping up with Jones’ lifestyle you feel you have to have.”

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Back in my headhunting days, I once sent a box of crayons to 150 of my best candidates. The assignment was to color their “Perfect World.” The response was positive. Most loved it and some even included their families in the exercise. A couple of people didn’t quite get the point though. “How can I expect you to handle my career if you won’t take any more seriously than a box a crayons!” Obviously their imagination had long ago left the dock.

My go-to Christmas present over the years has been Zolos. Zolos are toy construction sets where you can make bizarre creatures. There’s no instructions, just odd different pieces. No Zolo will turn out the same. For better or worse, I don’t think my ship of “adolescent imagination” has sailed yet … and hopefully won’t anytime soon. And I’m going to do my damnedest to keep my friends’ ships mored as well.

Your children look to you for guidance. And that guidance isn’t limited to just what you necessarily want them to learn. They may listen to what you say … but what they really absorb is what you do.

What are you showing them their life will be like? Are you putting out their flame of curiosity without even knowing it.

Show them you can never be too old to … (fill in the blank)!

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You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg

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3 thoughts on “Kids, Boxes and Zolos

  1. There was a great “store” in Cincinnati that invited children and adults to come in and make toys out of recycled toys-new from old. You went in and let your imagination roam: sketch your idea, find the parts, piece together…and you had art. Sadly, that store closed-it wasn’t “commercially successful.” Unfortunate because there was no “right” toy, all were unique, all were amazing, and everyone felt like they were an “artiste.” I still have mine, proudly displayed on my treasure shelf with awards I’ve received. We all are creative until told otherwise. It’s time we start celebrating and encouraging isn’t of having every word mean no.

    1. I’m with you Myrdin. Not having a defined “right or wrong” is scary for most people (I mainly mean adults). I’m wondering if this says something about our current times. I look at Legos. You can’t even buy free-form sets anymore. Everything is a kit with a defined result. Could be more marketing oriented than anything. I don’t know.

      There are no more Zolos either. The company went out of business. But fortunately four years my ex-wife re-gifted a Zolo set back to me I had given her fifteen years ago. All is good 🙂

      1. As you know, children aren’t born knowing gender roles. we define and prescribe those roles to them: blue and trucks fir boys, pink and dolls for girls. we are uncomfortable when children cross those definitions (especially when boys show an interest in dolls) and negate those curiosities.

        You mention legos and i agree that the trend is less free form expression and more follow the rules. in fact, boys get to be pirates, alien hunters, ninjas, and star wars characters. girls get pink sets where they build beauty and ice cream parlors. yet we are a culture that also is pushing STEM (http://www.momentumnation.com/education-reform-full-stem-ahead/) and emphasizing how important it is for girls to engage in science. But we still raised generations of women to be uncomfortable with being smart- that smart wasn’t sexy and certainly wouldn’t get you a date, much less married (or then to have children). Women still “dumb” themselves down while worrying about their appearance. So we (as women) send mixed messages to our daughters: be creative and smart…but use the pink Legos to do it and make sure you look pretty. We empower them while they are young…but then culture says “that’s as far as you go” when they become adults.

        We want our children to be independent…but then do so much (culturally speaking) to damped that independence. Different is okay as long as it doesn’t turn into “other.”

        We also tend to educate children as if they were all the same instead of respecting that they may have different ways of learning (kinetic, visual, etc). I know you wrote about this before, but we really need to expand into more project based learning experiences that encourage and embrace all approaches rather than try to continually put square pegs in round holes. We need to celebrate the Polymaths and encourage them. And we need to stop marketing pink Legos.

        Wow. Really got the little grey cells fired up with this one. And all before my first cup of coffee.

        And Clay, I’m glad you got your Zolos back.

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