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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 05-Mar-14 17:01:43

Child's play

At what age are we "too old" to play make-believe? Are we ever too old to entertain our grandchildren in this way, or is there a point at which most people simply lose the impulse to play along? Well, Virginia Ironside certainly hasn't lost it yet...

Virginia is the author of No! I Don’t Need Reading Glasses! out now in paperback from Quercus. She is currently touring her one woman show, Growing Old Disgracefully – to find out more see her website.

Virginia Ironside

Child's play

Posted on: Wed 05-Mar-14 17:01:43


Lead photo

Are we ever too old to make-believe?

It was a call from my cousin, Nell, which set me off. She rang to say she’d found my old doll’s house in her attic - she’d inherited it when I’d grown out of it. Not only did had she found the doll’s house, but also a box full of furniture and little people. And yes, the bendy "father" of the house was there, with wool bound round his wiry limbs, and the dressing table with the tiny round bit of glass stuck on.

"Next time you come to stay we’ll play with it together!" she said, jokingly.
But she’d hit on one of the major problems about being an adult. You can’t play with them. I suppose you could, self-consciously, in an earnest therapy group. But every time your teddy hit another person’s stuffed dog, a ponderous counsellor would be on hand to tell you that it signified the rage you felt for your father. Not a hell of a lot of fun.

But is there ever quite so much fun to be had as playing with children? And before you dial 999, let me assure you I mean playing, not playing. Goodies and baddies. Hide and seek. That sort of thing.

A lot of my granny friends clearly do not go in for playing. They love their grandchildren, but beyond a bit of colouring or making biscuits together, they can’t join in the fun. They are quite prepared to go to the park to feed the ducks, and read endless books to them. They will help them collect dried leaves and stick them into a chart and buy them toys galore. But they won’t actually play with them.

A lot of my granny friends clearly do not go in for playing. They love their grandchildren, but beyond a bit of colouring or making biscuits together, they can't join in the fun.

But I’m afraid to say I enjoy it. And I say "afraid" because I’m worried I’m a bit weird.

There was nothing I liked more, when my grandchildren were smaller, than pretending the sofa was a boat, and the cushions we’d thrown on the floor were fish. We used a string bag to catch them with and every so often my grandson would dive off onto the carpet to kill a shark, which I would then cook and we’d eat – unless, of course, the shark escaped from the oven, as he so often did and we had to start all over again.

Once we built an entire city out of cardboard boxes on the lawn. There was a prison (his) and an art gallery (mine) and a hospital and a post office, and luckily I took a photograph before a huge monster came down from the sky and destroyed it by jumping up and down on it until it was flattened.

When my son was tiny we used to play dinosaurs in the bath. I’d make my hands into a couple of these creatures, my fingers as legs and my middle finger as their waving heads.

This pair would walk along the edge of the bath making rude remarks, occasionally pushing each other in to the water and constantly demanding hats and coats from my son, who would obligingly cover them in bubbles. My son talked to them as if they were real, in a completely different voice to the one he used to me.

Until they are about six, children do regard their grannies and granddads as huge playmates. And is there anything nicer than hearing: "You be the bad bear, grannie, and I’ll be the good bear." Or "Watch out grannie! He’s coming to eat you up! I’ll save you!"

I once taught in a pre-nursery school and I’ll never forget one little boy painting an elaborate picture of a house. Together we built up a picture of its inhabitants and added a car, a kennel, a dog, until a rich story emerged. Every event was painted to cover the last, but you could still see the faint outlines of the old story underneath. At the very end, he got out some black paint and proceeded to cover the entire picture.

"Why are you doing that?" I said. I’d been looking forward to showing off his
imaginativeness to his mother when she picked him up.

"It’s night-time," he explained, perfectly rationally, "And they’ve all gone to bed."

Playing is like that. Nothing to show for it except a whole treasure trove of memories and laughter. Oh dear. Sentimental old me. Can’t wait to see the doll’s house again, though.

By Virginia Ironside

Twitter: @Gransnet

jinglbellsfrocks Wed 05-Mar-14 17:08:18

Oh God! Is there anything more boring than listening to other people's accounts of playing wifh their grandkids. So I won't bore you with mine. Except to say that it usually involves the SAS.

Ana Wed 05-Mar-14 17:12:23


lifecycle Thu 06-Mar-14 20:45:47

It's not boring! I love playing with children, grandchildren or not, it's a whole other world. sunshine

Ana Thu 06-Mar-14 20:51:01

I think jingl meant that listening to people talking about it can be boring, lifecycle. Not actually doing it! smile

rosesarered Thu 06-Mar-14 21:00:34

I can do a certain amount of 'play', maybe up to half an hour, then I have had enough. Usually 'shops'. This has nothing to do with age, as I could only do about the same time for my children when they were young.Luckily they played happily together [3 of them] so I didn't need to do too much.Walks, stories, chatting, I did a lot of that with them.

Ana Thu 06-Mar-14 21:09:25

Yes, 'shops' is good if you're feeling a bit tired! grin
I have a container with 1p and 2p pieces in it for that very purpose. They like playing 'teachers' too...
(you'll probably have guessed they are girls - I don't think I'd have the energy for boys!)

lifecycle Thu 06-Mar-14 21:15:19

Yes I know she did Ana but I don't find it boring listening to other people talking about playing with their grandchildren either smile. But tales of toilet training dilemmas and traumas - now they bore the pants off me!

Ana Thu 06-Mar-14 21:23:07

Oh I see, sorry, lifecycle - although I have to say I found the toilet training dramas involving my own GDs absolutely gripping! grin

janeainsworth Thu 06-Mar-14 23:53:44

Well, I have pretend tea parties with my DGC and have also pretended to be turned into a monkey or a frog by the spell of a Wicked Witch aka DGD, but I have never thought of having a conversation about these things with my grown-up friends hmm

harrigran Fri 07-Mar-14 00:57:26

I play pirates, princesses in castles, Peter Pan, Snow White and we have endless picnics on rugs on the floor. We play poorly dollies and Mummies and daddies and DH is always the Prince's white horse. I think we are the first generation of GPs that actually get down on the floor and play. With my GPs we had to be seen and not heard.

janeainsworth Fri 07-Mar-14 01:31:55

I remember my Grandma playing with me, Harri from when I was 2 or 3.
We used to play at going to pretend Blackpool (sitting on the stairs, pretending to be on the bus) and Lost at the Fair (my favourite book which I could recite in its entirety, about a mouse who gets lost at the fair and is rescued by an elephant) smile

penguinpaperback Fri 07-Mar-14 10:50:45

I would love an Edwardian, Victorian style Dolls house with the servants and family. There are a couple in a local museum.
Like everyone else I've played schools, hospitals, shops with the grandchildren. smile

lifecycle Fri 07-Mar-14 12:41:41

Ana - grin

inishowen Fri 07-Mar-14 14:59:52

My mum was a playgroup leader so she was brilliant with my children. I try to do as well as her, but sometimes it's a case of putting something on the telly cause I'm exhausted.

Aka Fri 07-Mar-14 15:21:42

Playing Hide and Seek last night, I hid in the bath behind the shower curtain, and clutching the shower head leapt out and liberally sprayed GS1 & 3. Not had so much fun for years, even though I was banished to the naughty step grin

jocelyne Fri 07-Mar-14 15:47:48

Playing Coppit an old board game with my grand-children is still exciting.

jocelyne Fri 07-Mar-14 15:49:56

Playing Coppit (an old board game) with our grand-children is still exciting

jinglbellsfrocks Fri 07-Mar-14 17:51:56

I so wanted to buy one of my grandsons a dolls house, and he wanted it too. But his dad put his foot down. He thought it was going a bit too far with the gender neutral thing. [sigh]

whenim64 Fri 07-Mar-14 18:17:16

My grandsons play with the dolls house here. They trash it and then their step-cousins come along and put everything back neatly. As soon as they saw it they abandoned the cars, Wii and train set. Good imaginative play. smile

harrigran Fri 07-Mar-14 18:32:13

I bought an enormous doll's house for GD1, I furnished every room, she hardly even looked at it. it was brought out for GD2 and she just scattered the furniture about, they don't take after me sad
You were lucky jane to have a gran who played with you, mine was in her 70s when I was born and was Victorian in her attitude to children. She was lovely when I was a teenager, seemed to relate better to older children.

lifecycle Fri 07-Mar-14 19:52:24

We still have my daughter's dolls' house, lovingly made for her by her grandfather when she was three. She hardly played with it or with dolls really, though she was interested in furnishing it when older. But it has been hugely popular with a generation of children since, boys & girls, who play contently for hours when visiting us so we always keep it accessible. Part of its charm for them seems to be that it is old-fashioned and imagination is all they need to play.

jinglbellsfrocks Fri 07-Mar-14 19:53:42

smile sounds lovely.

janerowena Fri 07-Mar-14 20:05:08

I LOVE being a patient. DG2 has a doctor's bag. I get to read in bed for ages while she tends to me.

Deedaa Fri 07-Mar-14 22:16:56

I joined in with GS1 (7) and GS2 (14 months) tearing apart their sofa to build a fort while we waited for Mummy to come home. She wasn't too cross and GS2 thought it was hysterically funny grin