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The Time Machine

Russell Stephens
February 12, 2016

Time MachineThe Children’s Playroom, here at the Prevention Center, houses many different toys for our young guests. From ticklish Elmo’s, to trains sets, to a mini air-hockey table. However, one of our all-time favorites has always been one that comes and goes from the menagerie: the cardboard box. Whenever we get our hands on a nice, big cardboard box, we can’t resist making use of it.

Last week we got hold of an extra large cardboard box, about the size of a small closet. We decided it was the perfect size for a time machine.

The children and I took some time in our arts-n’-crafts area to design a control panel and some special time-traveling gear. We dressed up the box with paints and blankets, and outfitted it with a strobing flashlight hanging from the top. Our invention was complete!

I gave our first traveler, a 9-year-old boy, Jeremy, an impromptu briefing on time travel and how to use the machine: “Just punch in the time you want to travel to here, press a few buttons, and quickly step inside. When you exit, you’ll be in a much different place! What time are you going to?”

He didn’t give too much thought until he exclaimed, “1984!” Jeremy, like an experienced time traveler, put in his desired time and just before stepping in, turned to me and said, “Well, I need to be careful though. I don’t want to mess up the space-time-continuum!”

“You’re absolutely right, Jeremy,” I said, “If you’re not careful, the world you return to may be very different from the world you’re now leaving. Good luck! But do try to learn something of the past and report back”

Jeremy stepped inside the box and the magic of imagination took it’s course. The box began to shake and hum, with the strobe light blasting inside.Jeremy let out a giddy “Yelp!” with excitement.

Then it stopped.Jeremy stepped out of the time machine to a Playroom 32 years in the past. I quickly assumed the role of an 1980’s San Franciscan (decked out in the finest dress-up clothes our dramatic play area had to offer).

[Me] “What is this? Who are you??
[Jeremy] “I’mJeremy! I’m from 2016!”
[Me] “Really! Crazy.”
[Jeremy] “Is this 1984?”
[Me] “Yes it is! Reagan is president, Bruce Springsteen released ‘Born in the U.S.A.’, and The Raiders won the Superbowl.”
[Jeremy] “Oh, cool! Well, I have to go now before I mess up the space-time-continuum.”
[Me] “The what?”
[Jeremy] “Bye!”

Then Jeremy stepped back in the box after putting in 2016 as his destination. The box shook and hummed until he found himself back in his own time.

[Me] “You’re back! What happened? What’d you learn?”
[Jeremy] “I went to 1984! Reagan was president, Bruce Springsteen was born in the U.S.A, and the Raiders won the Superbowl!” 

Then he paused, looked up at me and asked, “Wait…who won the Super Bowl?”

[Me] “The Carolina Panthers. Why?”
[Jeremy] “Uh oh…”

Child development experts agree that pretend play is a vital component of a child’s healthy development, cognitively, and socially and emotionally. In an age of ever-increasing pre-packaged modes of play (branded toys and video games), making the most of an old cardboard box can do wonders to a child’s imagination.

We’ve always had this rule: “no screens in the Playroom.” And for good reason. Tablets and the like limit a child’s freedom to be creative with their time and mind; to use their imagination and explore without limits.

I believe our fun with the time machine last week is a testament to the Playroom’s success as a creative and free place. It’s one of many stories of children engaging their imagination, creating for themselves new experiences and worlds.

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