I surf and contribute to a lot of facebook groups, mostly having to do with Israel and touring in Israel. And I am tired of seeing posts of this form: Looking for someplace “interesting” to take my kids, then there is the variety of ages, or maybe they are looking to take away the entire family and looking for something “special”, “kid friendly”, or “fun”. I am tired of seeing these posts because they assume that these qualities are inherent in the places themselves. And while I guess there are extreme examples of places which would not fit the bill in any of these categories, there is so much more to visiting and touring and experiencing a place than the actual physical reality.
To show what I mean, let’s take the example of a playground. A playground at its most basic level is a conglomeration of steel, plastic, wood and perhaps rope. These elements are not “interesting” nor are they particularly “special”. They are, actually, quite boring and regular.
But, when a child goes to a playground, he does not see the boring, regular elements. He sees something that exists in his mind. He tests his body, pushing himself to move and experience his surroundings. She imagines a world existing in the playground and playing out in a story which is just inside her head. He is meeting others there and interacting socially with them. When parents enter into the picture, the child feels love, caring. The regular, normal interaction at a boring playground is transformed into something “interesting”, “special”, “kid-friendly” and “fun”.
And while a high-tech, state-of-the-art playground may help to spur those thoughts, it could just as well happen in a backyard with very rudimentary elements. Because it isn’t the physical space at all, but the imaginative space and the interactive space which carries the weight. It’s all about the story which is weaved there.
Why, then, when people go on vacation, or, more accurately when they start to see the world as adults, do they expect the physical to provide the stimulus? When does it happen that we adults lose the story?
I hear all the time from clients that they are afraid of going to a particular site because it is “boring for kids”. They ask, “How will you make it interesting for kids?”
When my kids were little (and even now), I shlepped them to all kinds of out of the way archaeological sites, national parks, hikes, and museums. We laughed and learned our way through them and found a way to “play” with wherever we were. Playing is the most natural way of learning. It is turning something over in our imagination and not being afraid of where it would take us. Because playing is casual, you remove fear. Fear is the mind killer. Remove fear and your brain is open to absorb.
We wove our stories with our surroundings and were able to remember things because they were tied to the story. We talked about our experiences, giving us room to process. We discussed the things we were seeing.
Do you remember the Druze at Nebi Shueb?
Which painting do you think best represents who you are?
Which path should we take to ascend the hill?
Could this house have belonged to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi?
Where does the water flowing into the aqueduct come from?
Why is Ben Gurion buried in the Negev?
Do you remember all the crabs we saw in Nachal Prat?
How long will it take for the Carmel forest to reginerate?
Which animals live in the burrows in Be’eri?
These places are all just regular, boring, physical places with regular, boring physical objects. But it isn’t about the place or the objects within it. It’s about the story and your interaction and what will come out of that connection.
We adults like facts – our world of imagination is scary for us. I saw this in the writing project I managed for 6 years. Adults have “day-mares”, our imagination is filled of what-if’s and worse case scenarios. We have lived long enough to know that things could be really bad and we have responsibility to keep ourselves and our loved ones out of those situations. When I guide adults, they like facts – When were these walls build? What happened here? Who ruled and when? What do the archeologists fight about? Facts are interesting and you need facts. But facts are only half the story. The other half of the story is: Why should I care about these facts? How do these facts impact me? And then we enter the scary world of uncertainties as we enter the world of who we are and what we are doing here. We enter the world of our own stories. And while facing our own stories can be scary, if we combine them with the element of play, the element of otherness that you get when you are out of your everyday routine, we can process. This is what touring with a qualified tour guide or, better yet, a tour educator, does for your experience.
Next time you are in Israel, contact me for a special experience which integrates information with experience. Because every site is a “fun” site if you allow yourself to play and enter the world of the story.