Each month my son and I faithfully set up his calendar and talk about important events happening in the coming weeks. For the month of April, a date of key importance was April 16th. Why April 16th? It was the day Steam Train, Dream Train, by Sherri Duskey Rinker, would be released. We could not wait to read this book by the author of Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, which is a staple in our bedtime reading rotation. We were also thrilled that the illustrator of GGCS would also illustrate Steam Train, Dream Train. If you do not know Tom Lichtenheld’s work, you definitely need to check him out. As a team, I think these two talented children’s book phenoms have landed another winner!
It seems that just when I start lamenting the loss of childhood in our fast-paced American society and I am ready to give in to the idea that it is forever altered, I see a glimmer of hope. I am fortunate to spend my days with twenty-six uniquely gifted preschoolers and kindergartners. When I observe them, listen to their conversations and watch them play, I am hopeful.
My most glorious memories of childhood involve PLAY, yes, unstructured, free, and remarkable PLAY. Most of these memories involve either my sister, Emily, or my early elementary best friend, Chad. For three blissful years, we lived at the end of a cul-de-sac in Raleigh, NC, with a large wooded area behind our house. I had a playhouse that my dad built, and Chad had a fort that, as I recall, he helped design and build with his dad. We spent our days out in our yards and the surrounding woods, trekking from one play structure to another. I remember feeling like the space to roam was never ending. I felt free and full of ideas…ideas that could be lived out in our play. We also explored. There was a creek in the woods behind our house, complete with snakes and vines. It was exciting and a little bit scary, but that was part of the appeal. My sister and I spent our entire childhoods creating imaginary scenarios and role playing. I spent very little time as Meredith, but I was often a mom or a radio announcer, a teacher or a playwright. I hope that children today feel that same sense of freedom, wonder, and power, but I am prone to wondering if they still do. Today’s children are schedule-driven and the constant threat of Amber alerts, injuries, and other dangers leave parents terrified for their children’s safety.