Telling Tales and Sharing Play Stories

When I went to college, I couldn’t decide on a major. I didn’t switch my course of study the way lots of college students do—I just smooshed it all into a double major. One major was in English because I loved writing and reading stories. The other major was in history because, well, I loved stories about the past. Now that I’m a museum curator, a lot of what I do involves storytelling. Every day, as I study the museum’s objects, I’m continually working out the stories that they have to tell.

Even though I’m dedicated to the museum’s collections, I’d be the first one to admit that sometimes objects can’t tell the whole story. Here at The Strong’s National Museum of Play, we have the largest, most comprehensive collection of toys, dolls, and games in the world. But what I’m looking to collect right now are firsthand stories about the ways that real people really play. And that’s where I need you. On March 1, we’re launching the America at Play: Play Stories Video Contest. This is your chance to share stories about play and help us preserve the kinds of information that can’t be found in the artifacts, photographs, documents, and other kinds of historical evidence that the museum collects.

Just as an example, we don’t have any objects that tell about neighborhood games of hide-and-go-seek or kick-the-can. We have toy tea sets and miniature kitchen appliances in the collection, but we don’t know how you played with those kinds of toys. And everyone knows that plenty of types of play combine toys and games in unexpected ways—or use found objects like cardboard boxes and sticks.

Between March 1 and March 31, the America at Play: Play Stories Video Contest invites you to share a story about playing with friends. I heard lots of those kinds of stories when I did some prototype videos with colleagues around the museum. Eric told about playing with Matchbox cars with friends on his street. Amy recounted how she and a friend would play a game they called “Mrs.”—essentially a combination of dress-up and house, all conducted on her grandmother’s front porch. Joan told about creative alternatives to a swimming pool that she and her sister enjoyed on summer days. And, naturally, I told about playing kick-the-can in my neighborhood.

So take a couple minutes to tell us your story. Your video will join ones from people of every age and background. Together, these video stories combine to create a permanent resource and preserve otherwise unknown elements of play from today and yesterday. Make sure that your story is part of the America at Play project!