Summertime in India is typically characterized by the onset of structured camps and hobby classes. In an effort to provide structure and meaningful engagement, children are deprived of playtime. Hobby classes and summer camps, while useful for learning new skills, stifle collaboration and limit creative thinking.
Children are born thinkers driven by curiosity and imagination. Playtime unleashes this potential and harnesses the executive function skills and social emotional skills. During playtime, children make their own meaning of the world around them. They can learn a myriad of ideas ranging from, what it means to include everyone during a game, to more complex problems, how can we ensure fair play? Through this process children both create and understand the language for communication as well. More importantly, in a world where the need for movement has been eliminated by technological advancements, playtime promotes physical development in an accelerated manner.
So what does play look like?
Play does not always have to be with other children or outside. Children can play with a family member, with a group of friends, or independently. They can play with materials such as LEGOs, clay, manipulative and they can play with zero resources. What is happening during playtime is essential in differentiating whether it is beneficial or not. According to the Pedagogy of Play, a working paper by Project Zero at Harvard University, productive playtime is indicated by aspects of choice, wonder, and delight.
- Choice: Children can choose who they want to play with, what games they would like to play, how long they would want to play it, and what rules must they follow. A sense of ownership or a child saying ¨I want to play with…” drives choice making. However, choice-making by itself is not enough. Empowering children to negotiate (rules, teams, play time, wins and losses), share ideas (role play, cooking, and obstacle courses) and collaborate with at least one other person is extremely important. Group play facilitates most of these skills naturally. During independent play or guided play, family members can ensure they are asking questions and challenging children adequately by asking questions (why do you want to play with…/ when will you want to play another game…/ can you tell me how you will do this…).
- Wonder: Having an element of surprise or fascination is a huge aspect of playtime. Have you ever thought about why hide and go seek was such a thrilling experience during childhood? During play, children often begin to create their own imaginary worlds. They will often be seen talking to themselves which helps them develop the inner voice of reason and reassurance. Children who engage with play filled with wonder, develop far more resilience than ones who dabble only in structured playtime. By creating unanticipated challenges (I wonder what to do next…) and waiting for the child to figure out how to solve the problem you can unlock the essential skills of persistence and critical thinking.
- Delight: A joyful child will derive far more out of playtime than a child who feels isolated. Embedding the child’s interest in the games we play can go a long way in making children feel appreciated. This allows the child to feel relaxed and safe which are also key to enabling choice and wonder. You might be able to notice delightful play when a child is singing, celebrating or being extremely attentive. Allowing children to drop an activity or change the rules of the game mid-way might be a small way to ensure they are seeking joy from it. Being attuned to their emotions is important and providing opportunities of choice or wonder at the inception of negative emotions might just do the trick!
Making time for play
Yes, camps and classes also allow children to learn new skills and meet new people. That does not mean we can replace playtime with such pursuits. Provide spaces to children to engage in playtime independently and with others. Play along with them and model how unstructured time can be spent imaginatively. Make it a habit to move to play spaces when you begin to notice signs of boredom. This will eventually be replicated by children even when others are not around. More than anything, use the opportunity of play to know your children better and foster deeper relationships with them.
This blog appeared as an article in Higher Education Digest dated 17th June 2022
(This article is written by Smriti Parikh, Head of Literacy, The Acres Foundation)