Finding Love and Magic at a Rummage Sale

junkdrawereverybodys-rummage-sale-224x165It was my idea of a great rummage sale. I skipped the tables with crowds around them and headed for the empty corners where creative possibilities were disguised as junk. I found old transistor radios and alarm clocks to take apart, horn rim glasses and a long blonde wig for the dress up box, a tin of colored thread on wooden spools, and best of all, a large cardboard box of ancient Coleman camp equipment parts (valves, screens, springs and brass coils) waiting for the uninhibited to reinvent the lantern.
I love rummage sales. They hold all the ingredients for expanding creativity and brain development in children. On their stacked tables and boxes are portals to functional freedom. Its opposite, functional fixedness, is a fascinating concept described by psychologist Dr. Karl Dunker as seeing an object only for its intended purpose—a box for holding shoes for example—where the reality is the box could be used to construct a space ship, a shelf, or broken down to make a shield. Up to around five years old, kids possess functional freedom in spades. It is only as they get older that fixedness takes root, cutting off a wide range of problem solving. As our kids were growing up rummage sales were pirate ships of booty for us.

As I made my way to the cashier, I cast one last glance over the toy table when an old peanut butter jar caught my eye. Curious, I pulled it out from under the pile of games and books and read the label: “Ma-Jean’s Magic Jar (For times when the kids say there is nothing to do but watch TV”). Inside were slips of paper. I unscrewed the lid and pulled one out. “Make a house! Use chairs, couch cushions, blankets.” I added the jar to my pile of treasures.

Later that night I read the rest of the slips. “Have a picnic on the front porch,” “Pretend you fell down and bumped your head and broke your leg, Grandma can be the doctor,” ” Play Hot Lava with the cushions.” The slips went on to suggest that making Jell-O, jumping on the bed and turning seven somersaults were a lot more fun than watching TV.
Before TV gets locked into your routine, turn it off and try some Ma-Jean Magic. Sit down with your kids and fill the jar with ideas together. Ask them what they consider fun. Add your own. Some of our favorite things to do were as simple as reading a book together or making pancakes in the middle of the day. It is the shared pool of suggestions that make this project a success. They are not vague orders from an adult like ‘Go outside and play,’ but instead offer tangible alternatives a child thought of himself.  Ma-Jean’s Magic worked for me too. Sometimes I needed a piece of paper to remind me how important it was to sprawl on a bed with my children to read Where the Wild Things Are. Because you never know where you will find magic, it may even be at a rummage sale.



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