Recently, I took my six-year-old daughter on an outing to a living history cabin from the late 1800s. She enjoyed the animals, but what really intrigued her was seeing how people lived back then and learning about the children's lives. The simple games captured her attention most. The grandmotherly lady showing us around the cabin reached up to a beam on the ceiling and untied some string that was bunched up on a nail. The game was called "The Bear Climbing the Honey Tree" and was actually meant to teach children the proper way to milk goats and cows through the gentle, steady pulling motion that it took to master the game. From a small horizontal piece of wood, much like a propeller, hung the two strings, one on each end. The strings were knotted at the bottom so the wooden bear wouldn't come loose. Its hands seemed to be grasping the string, but they were actually just threaded through. Our guide showed my daughter how, if she pulled the right one, then the left one consistently, the bear would "climb" the tree. The faster you pulled, the faster he climbed after that honey. She tried it and loved it. It was more fun and exciting than the animals, the washboard, or the homemade biscuits. She made that bear climb up the tree so fast, the bees didn't stand a chance of hanging on to the efforts of their hard work.
Since we've been home, I've heard strange noises coming from her my daughter's room. Sometimes her door shakes as if possessed and sometimes an awful scratching noise accompanies the vibrations. It seems she has been trying to recreate the bear climbing with some of her play necklaces hanging on the doorknob. The door shakes because she pulls so hard on the beaded necklaces that she is using as the strings for her own version of this game. But these are satisfying noises. However imperfect her imitation of the original may be, these are the sounds of the less-is-more, useful games that children in the age of the pioneers enjoyed. To her, "The Bear Climbing the Honey Tree" is more exciting and fun than the flashy, electronic games that tend to fill and overstimulate our kids' lives these days. Something peaceful happens inside of me, too, watching her in a simple state of bliss as she pulls the strings, right, then left, then right and left again.
Copyright 2005© Jennifer Coenen
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