Today I came across a toy that sparked my imagination—without my even touching it. It’s the Bilibo, a brightly-colored shell described as “a companion for children.” Here’s some of the copy off their web site:
“Relying on the child’s imagination and passion for playing, an object was created with no specific function nor a single way to be used. Bilibo encourages the children to become inventors themselves, to become active and creative instead of simply consuming ready-made ideas.”
I watched the video of children playing with the Bilibo and found myself wishing, “I wish I could play like that.” Not that I wanted a toy necessarily, but wouldn’t it be great to come across something that would free your brain in this way? I can’t say that there are no prompts for creativity in daily life. There are lots: a computer? a little black dress? a lump of clay? a refrigerator full of odds and ends? If you’re looking for prompts, the world is full of them.
But…when I see the children at play in this video I remember how much fun it was to ask the question “What can you do with this?” and then just explore. Somehow that question gets lost in the adult world. When confronted with an unknown object we more often ask, “What is this for?” or “How do you use this?” and those are very different questions from “What can you do with this?” They are tool questions, not toy questions. And while you can ask both kinds of questions of the same object, it seems to me that tool questions presuppose that someone else will supply the answer. When you ask “What can you do with this?” it’s up to you and the object to find the answer–maybe many answers.
I like figuring things out. I like learning how to use a new tool, although I admit, sometimes the endless march of grownup tasks to master can get a bit wearisome. Maybe when that happens I need to bring some different questions to mind. Think more like an explorer or an inventor. Maybe I need to see the play that’s latent in the world around me.