“Dear over scheduled, busy world please leave me alone. I need to play for my future. It is my work so I can grow”!!
There is an unspoken or even spoken pressure on us as a parent to organise activities for our kids. I see every 2nd mother in my group talking about swimming classes, phonics classes, Reading classes, sports classes etc. We are living in a structured society and for our children also we want a method. My little one is going to be five and believe me few years ago I was also the same, though I never sent her to any activity classes but I used to have nagging feeling of guilt for not enrolling her for any activity.
A working guilty mother took an effort and attended a workshop on parenting at www.facebook.com/secretpassageslessonsoflife/ . When i expressed my concern, i was advised at the workshop not to enrol my little one for any classes. Instead, on Saturday morning send her for free play. I understood that these days kids are so much engaged that there is no time for free/pretend play. Free play does not mean playing any musical instrument, sports or arranging a playdates by mommies. Free play means playing on their own either with a friend or alone, where there are no visible signs of progress. What is essential is invisible to the eyes and I strongly believe it. We often talk about phrases like Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Emotional Intelligence. What are these? These are the skills which come from Imagination. The way to create kids imagination is to provide them with opportunities to free /open ended play. Playing with paints, playing with crayons, playing with costumes, making a mess, exploring the woods, splashing in the puddle, pretending to be bird, fairy, and superheroes. Unfortunately, these important things have taken backstage, our kids are either busy with their activity classes or electronic gadgets. I did a little research on providing screen time to the kids. The American Academy of Paediatrics discourage any screen time for the first two years of life, but after that recommends less than two hours in a day. In the UK the official screen time rule comes from the National Institute of Health and care Excellence, which recently advised trying TV /Gadgets free days or limiting for less than two hours. Steiner Waldorf Schools exclude screen time before the age of 12 and is in favour of physical activity, art and experiential learning. There are concerns that these devices have negative impacts on children’s attention spans and social development.
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning, but for children play is serious learning” – Mr. Rogers
What is Free Play?
The other day I was engrossed in my book and suddenly my little one says “Mamma I got a job”. Not willing to put down my favourite pick I simply replied “hmmm”. “Mamma it’s important, I got a job and it is very good job you will be proud of me”. I raised my head from the book “Ok, but what job”? “I got job of taking care of dogs, feeding them, covering them with blankets because it is cold and singing songs to them. Are you proud of me”? “Yes, Of course I am proud of you” I said. I was so intrigued by her way of expressing herself that I actually put down my book and went to see her play area where she had made imaginary dogs with pillows and cushions.
In her play she was at a dog shelter where her job was to look after the abandoned dogs. I was happy and proud that she has surprisingly learnt in her free play a valuable life lesson, to be sympathetic towards the creatures of god and that’s a job to be really proud of.
When she has to make her soft toys sleep in her pretend play evening is morning, night is afternoon and morning is evening. We adult think it’s silly but kids know the difference and with this they learn that they also need to adjust in life according to the need and requirement just the way they have shifted the sun rise and sun set according to their convenience.
Free play is as old as human civilisation. Earlier, creating fantasies was the only way that children could play. Playing “Ghar Ghar” wasn’t our favourite as a kid? These days’ kids play with smartphones on the pretext of saying “mamma I am bored, I don’t know what to do?” I have stopped believing my little one when she says that she is bored. I simply choose to ignore her demand only to find her putting my dupatta to become a teacher of her dolls in a corner of the room.
There are many developments which happen when kids are given ample situations and environment for Free Play:
- Creative Development: It has been found through various researches that every child at play behaves like a creative writer, in that they create a world for themselves according to their wish. When children use their imaginations in play, they are more creative, perform better at tasks and develop a problem solving skills.
- Language Skills: They invent scenarios and tell stories which leads to vocabulary building.
- Social Skills: Children learn compassion, empathy and understanding through free play.
- Self-Control: Free play teaches children to be less anxious. It teaches them resilience which is an important factor in predicting success as an adult.
Provide your child with a space in your home for imaginative play. It could be a separate room or just a corner of a room. There is no need to spend money for pretend play toys. Simple items found in home will act as perfect props to spark the imagination. Like dining table covered with bed sheet can become a castle, a cave or a house. Cardboard boxes can become anything such as computer table, beds for animals.
There are different play Schools and Daycares in Mumbai that encourages pretend and free play. one of them is http://cosmikids.in/. I know them with my personal experience as my little one has attended play group and daycare at cosmikids.
Free play allows children to build, imagine,create,experience,explore,predict and use the senses. Let them play today, everyday!!!
Looking forward for your thoughts and experiences!!!