Spinning Tops and the Spark of Imagination
Written by
Karen A Szklany
January 2018

Toy Tops

What is it about a spinning top that fascinates us?  With a snap of our fingers, a small toy with a thin rounded stem and a portly head spins around a table or a rugless floor.   It seems impossible that such a thin stem could support such a heavy top, yet it does and we are fascinated by that.  It resonates with us because it echos the spinning motion of planet Earth.  We want it to keep going.  Its continued motion fills us with wonder.  We root for its endurance and I am sure some of us believed that by merely wishing it we could keep the top spinning longer.  Tops are part of the memorable magic of childhood which we never lose appreciation for as we grow to adulthood.


The details in the top's design make a pattern when it is spun, which adds to its mesmerizing effect.  Though tops have a basic design that make them move the way they do, there is great room for variety in making each of them unique.  Some are carved from wood with etched patterns that follow its natural grain. Some are painted a rainbow of colors, which add to their appeal.  All of the creative ways a top can be crafted magnify the pull of our attention on its motion and keep us watching.

Wonder in Simplicity

A top is a simple toy that's been delighting children for thousands of years.  The design for tops was inspired by the acorn, a natural object that all children spend happy moments playing with in a wide variety of ways, including spinning it.   The infinite ways in which we can play with such an object light up the creative centers of our brains.  We become scientists for a while, desgining experiments that answer questions: How long will the top stay moving?  Can I make it spin longer with the way I set it in motion with my thumb and forefinger?  If I spin two tops at the same time, will they collide?  Will one spin longer than the other one?  We forget the worries of the world for a while as we play and explore.  And racing tops is less dizzying than spinning our own bodies.  The rush of endorphins through our brains can set giggling in motion that lasts longer than the toys' spinning.

The Role of Imagination in Creativity

Playing with a simple toy such as a top, we can shepherd our creativity toward solving problems in our work, whether it's a technical glitch that needs unraveling or a plot twist that needs resolution.  Our minds relax, allowing fresh ideas to blossom in our brain cells.

When we are watching the top, we might feel as though we are floating through the universe looking and down on the movement of a small planet.   We might follow the movement of the top with the same anticipation we bring to watching a suspenseful movie.  The top seems to take on a life of its own and we wonder what it will do next.  We could pretend that there are invisible beings that cling to it and depend on its movement for transportation.  When the tops need a rest, we can continue the story plot we've created through play with other toys, such as wooden blocks or Legos.  Having children to play with increases the joy we experience in such an exercise.  Place a microphone nearby and you may have the beginning notes for a new story that has been waiting to emerge. 

I will leave you with this spinning top video that I published on my YouTube channel.  May 2018 be a year of fresh creativity and joyful discoveries for you! 

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