(Polyglot Puppet Theatre: We built this city)
When my kids were little, lounge cleaning became cubby time. (Is it only Australians that call playhouses cubbies?) The sofas would be pushed together and blankets draped over them to make an enclosed space to play in while the vacuuming was done all around. Then, more often than not, the seemingly new spaciousness of the vacuumed room made for wilder plans and the cubby would be extended and enhanced with more blankets propped up crazily by brooms, the drying rack, and chairs. It gave birth to a new understanding of the old saying that nature abhors a vacuum. Inevitably someone’s temper would fray, or vital pegs would come adrift one too many times, and it would all collapse into a just an ordinary pile of blankets, and it would all be over until next time.
We had a favourite picture book by Shirley Hughes, Sally’s Secret, which was about a little girl who has a cubby in the garden. Sally has various inadvertent
visitors, one a ladybird, and then she and a friend dress up and play ladies with a little tea set.
Our kids and their friends played cubbies in spaces under shrubs or overhanging branches, too. Sometimes the houses were for games with soft toys, other times gang clubrooms. Later, one friend in the cul de sac used garden clippers to tunnel a cubby into a thicket of bushes in the nature reserve at the back of the houses. Nearby the kids made a treehouse, only to discover that a bunch of boys from another street (and school and religion!) regarded it as theirs. Exciting rivalry ensued with much messaging and spying, but strangely I don’t remember how it was resolved. There was also camping in the garden, which might be regarded as a kind of advanced cubby play?
For a few years on our Christmas beach holidays when my nieces came to stay, five of the six kids would share the bunk room and convert the whole room and all the beds into a maze of interconnecting blanket cubbies. So it would stay for days at a time, with the kids disappearing inside for long stretches between trips to the beach. It was guaranteed to produce tantrums from the littlest who was not always allowed in. Years later during a Christmas dinner when much wine had gone down and someone jokingly came up with the idea of a ‘family sorry day’, there was a confession of deliberate provocation, though at the time, of course, there was never proof.
The handful of children I taught at an alternative school in 1980 were seriously into cubbies, too. The school resided that year in a government house in O’Connor. The kids constructed an elaborate cubby in the pile of firewood outside, making passageways and rooms and furnishing them with odds and ends for their games. It would be outlawed at any school these days.
I’m guessing that the intimacy of a room of one’s own; the satisfaction of the process of construction; the collaboration, role play, decisions, secrets and power play of the group; and the way a cubby becomes whatever imagined world you desire must all factor into what makes cubbies such essential play.
Do your kids make cubbies, or did you?
(Polyglot Puppet Theatre: Interview with Sue Giles about We built this city)