It was a usual day when I was skimming through my WhatsApp groups and came across a forward which quoted “Life was simpler when Apple and Blackberry were just fruits”. I had read this forward so many number of times but when you become a mom you start looking at life differently. Suddenly my thoughts were on what my little one would face 10-15 years down the line and the next moment I started remembering how my life was 10-15 years ago.
Times were not simpler, I feel they were just different. Most of all, play was a part of our lives just like anything else. It was never enforced, nor scheduled. In fact, I remember my mother had to scream my name to remind me to come home in evenings after play. Some of the “games” I remember were enjoyed with friends, whereas some were best enjoyed alone. One thing I realise now is that that these games empowered me with imagination, creativity and the confidence to be whosever I decide to be. Some of them that top my list are:
- Dress up and Role play – I remember the time I was eight and my uncle had gifted me a colourful pencil with a fancy top that looked a wand. I’d pretend to be a princess with a magical wand. There were no limits to what you could be, especially when you are a child. Another all-time favourite was playing teacher whether it was with friends or all my soft toys lined pretending to be my students.
- Cooking and tea parties-While growing up, I had a wooden modular kitchen set, with tiny steel utensils. I would say my mum was my first mentor in cooking because she showed me how I can make groundnut laddus with jaggery. The recipe was to break open a groundnut, add some jaggery in and put the groundnut back together and pretend it’s an actual laddu. An apt recipe for those tiny hands. It was all pretend play, including the deliciousness of everything I ‘cooked’.
- Racing hot wheels – So hot wheels were not so readily available like the fancy sets we see all in toy shops today. I had two from when I had visited Dubai when I was four and they were my prized possessions. Racing these cars with my cousin was the fun thing to do and kept us busy for hours.
- Frisbee football – This game was our proud invention that we played during vacations. The rules of football were followed, with goal keepers and goals, but instead of a football we used a frisbee.
- Camping in the house – I am sure one time or another we have camped in our homes during our childhood. Whether it’s under the dining table using bedsheets as your doors or just going under your quilt and using a torch light to pretend you are camping was the experience to have.
- Outdoor Sports – It’s not like all games were make-believe or indoors. I remember playing outdoor sports too. Sports like cricket and football were fun on holidays but daily outdoor games consisted of Lagori, Sankhli, Langdi, Tikkar- billa (also known as Hopscotch), Vish-Amrut (popularly known as Ice water). There were no fancy tournament or sponsored events, but victory was as sweet as it could be even then.
- Indoor Games – Playing cards, UNO, Snakes and ladders, Ludo, carrom were all time favourites when you were stuck indoors due to summer heat or rains.
- Arts and Crafts –Playtime was not restricted to games and make-believe. Art and crafts kept us busy too. Making paper boats and trying to get them to float on muddy water after rains or making paper planes and seeing whose plane flies higher kept us busy. Making chic chocs (origami paper game) and predicting future was another fun thing to do. Arts and crafts were not restricted to origami though. Making a parachute man using a simple plastic bag and tying a small doll to it and testing it by launching it from the roof of the house gave us immense joy.
- Reading – This was not the curriculum reading I am referring to. There was no agenda to increase your vocabulary although once you start loving books it is one of the perks. Reading took you on adventures with Chacha Chaudhary, Pinki or Billoo. We had fun reading Tinkle comics and Amar Chitra Katha and slowly progressed to adventures with Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Famous Five. Even today I can still pick up a Tinkle comic and enjoy it like I did when I was a kid.
If I keep listing and elaborating how our childhood was, I think it was filled with endless fun and games and was filled with imagination. So how did it all change so much? I somehow don’t see anything I listed above, just bits and pieces of it but overall, I see kids busy or stressed. I see moms enquiring about sports classes if they get a breather from enquiring about tuition classes. So, these sports classes will give the physical exercise the child needs but where is the free play in all this? True free play is any variation of unscheduled activity that pushes your child to use their imagination. They just miss the power and benefits of play, depriving them from developing their creativity or growing socially and emotionally.
A general scenario today is –
There is no time – If the kid is not going to school, he is going to tuitions or extracurricular classes like Abacus, Phonetics from a very early age to be competent from the very start.
Overscheduled kids – If there is any time remaining, we get kids enrolled to swimming, dancing or music classes and these are not a part of summer vacations anymore. It is very important for parents that kids are all-rounders and learn as many extracurricular skills as they can. Don’t get me wrong! Extracurricular activities are very important but overscheduling kids exhausts them mentally and physically and doesn’t give any scope to wind down. While there are multiple benefits of play, the importance of play in early childhood will show its positive effects only if the child is allowed to play freely.
Unscheduled downtime is screen time – Now this is a classic. If there are parents who don’t overschedule kids, their unscheduled time becomes screen time. With faster internet connections and easy access to tablets and mobile phones, kids free play is defined by the videos on YouTube. Screen time, however, does have a few advantages when talking of the benefits of play, when delivered in limited doses.
Too many too little toys – Kids today have so many toys that they are not attached to any of them anymore. I see kids wailing to get a new toy at Hamleys and parents trying to persuade them saying they already have so many at home and finally giving in their demands. Any new animated movie comes out and you would see kids wanting all the featured toys but lose interest in them within a week. Toys are either electronic, battery operated or with screens not capturing the imagination of the child. Without the benefit of play, such scenarios can cause a child’s mental and cognitive development to be stunted.
So, what do we do?
- We can’t prevent exposure to screens. I keep trying to prevent my 9-month-old from looking at screens by not watching television around her or operating my phone but at the back of my mind I know I am going to have to resort to new tricks as and when she grows up like instead of restricting, limiting screen time. While parenting in the digital age does prove to be tedious, you must remember that you’re doing this for your child’s overall growth and cognitive health. This way it will be easier to introduce them to free plays and the benefits of play will be able
- We can make sure that kids are not overscheduled. Take a step back and think if enrolling in something is going to overschedule your kid. This way you can plan your child’s day thoughtfully.
- We can be thoughtful while buying toys. While we grew up, toys were always limited for special occasions like birthdays and Diwali but not anymore. If we don’t buy them, we feel we are depriving our kids of love and if we do, we are buying too much for them. We need to strike balance by buying thoughtfully for infants and toddlers and as they grow giving them a monthly budget to spend which will teach them the value of toys too. If you already have too many toys, nothing is lost yet. You can ask your child to play with 3-4 at a time rather than unloading the complete collection.
- Read to your child often and try to instil the habit in them. Sit with them while they play and conjure up fun scenarios so they can revisit the same story when playing by themselves. These stories that they create are exactly the kind of benefits of play you will see once they grow up.
The benefits of play can help your child to unleash their true potential of creativity, imagination and help them grow to become better individuals. Don’t undermine it and concentrate on only the structured activities of your child. As Plato quoted aptly, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Now that’s the power of play!
Monica Thawrani is an IT professional who is also a bookworm, a scribbler, has an opinion on everything and not afraid to speak her mind, a foodie, go-getter & hopeless optimist. Inspired by her latest muse, her infant daughter, she has taken up blogging in her free time.