When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. —1 Corinthians 13:11
Children have a lot of time on their hands. In my case, there was a fair amount of solitary time, and I filled it with musings and experiments.
For example, there was lying-down-on-the-grass-and-looking-up-at-the-sky, great for studying floaters and musing on what they might be. Insects trapped in the eye? Single-celled creatures, likewise (close, but no cigar)?
And then there was the eating of dirt, an activity I tried only a few times before I abandoned it as unsatisfactory. But I still remember the taste—gritty and complex. Likewise, sucking on a wet washcloth during down time in the bath, an interesting combination of rough and refreshing.
Shining a flashlight on the fingers to see the red glow was rather nice. Lying in bed at night, waiting for sleep to overtake me, an entertaining feature was to press gently on my eyes with my fists and rub, causing the activation of phosphenes and a bit of a light show (the Greeks had described the phenomenon long before my time, but I was unaware of that and thought I’d invented the activity on my own).
Then there was the repetition of a familiar word until it became strange. This was accomplished by simply saying it aloud over and over to the point where it was leached of its original meaning and devolved to a mere sound. I recall this happening most effectively and dramatically with the word “pink,” but others will do quite nicely.
Many of these explorations took place in my yard, which had some dirt patches where grass stuggled to grow, and in the summer anthills were plentiful there. These were opportunities for some very mild ant torture that involved covering an ant with a bit of fine light sand and watching it emerge after a very short struggle, now temporarily and somehow satisfyingly light-colored rather than dark (did that make me both a budding racist and a PETA offender? Mea culpa!)
Our block—a dead-end street—featured areas that had been patched over with tar, and on hot days these bubbled up in splendid fashion. There was a plentiful supply of rocks in the gutters, the pointiest of which could be used to strike the tar bubbles and cause a pleasant pop, similar but not quite as good as the scented zap! of that same rock used on the dots that lined the paper rolls we otherwise would load into our cap guns as ammunition.
I wonder whether children still have the time and inclination to do these things. If they do, they’re not telling the adults. Nor did we—till now.