Children should get their hands dirty and be prepared to nurse their real bruises
My friends and I loved playing in the nearby parks, gardens, and grounds. Until I turned 15, I would not return home until mum called out to me, with threats. Yes, 15, you read that right. We'd play games like hide-and-seek for hours, cycle around the neighbourhood or indulge in basketball matches. We'd come home exhausted, hungry and sometimes injured. I have the fondest memories of those days. At home too, in our free time, we'd convert our room into a clinic, office or school to 'play' doctors, managers, teachers. We took hours to set it up and tidy up later. We had our share of video games as well, Tetris, bought on our trips abroad. So, you can imagine my surprise when the news that the American Academy of Pediatrics prescribing play for children reached me. The report states that the kids are so over-scheduled that the doctors are being told to prescribe play.
Huh! When and why did we reach a state where children need to be reminded to play as a must-do daily activity? Isn't the whole idea of childhood based on running away from studies to be able to play? What's childhood when you don't give enough grief to your parents over repeated requests to be allowed to play an extra ten minutes?
These are a few pressing questions that need to be addressed. In Dubai, it's a known fact that children spend comparatively less time playing outdoors. Fair enough, keeping in mind the heat and humidity. Another known fact is that they are enrolled in many classes. How many classes does your kid attend? Is his/her schedule packed with drama, swimming, karate, horse-riding, art, violin and more sessions? Take a look at the diary of classes and make note of the activities that the young one is learning without the pressure to clear a Trinity exam, participate in an inter-school competition or gathering points for senior school years.
Experts suggest that parental guilt and peer pressure combined has led to a focus on enriched learning for children. "Play is not frivolous," the report says, "Rather, research shows that play helps children develop language and executive functioning skills, learn to negotiate with others and manage stress and figure out how to pursue their goals while ignoring distractions, among other things. The report warns that parents and schools are focusing on academic achievement at the expense of play."
Research aside, we can all agree upon how essential playing is in a child's life.
Yes, the issues one is facing today when it comes to playing for unlimited hours and freely are real - nuclear families, working parents, lack of space, the pressure to perform, single child, and more. And hence it's easier to send a child to attend a tennis class than to take out time to play a game with him/her. Start slow. A 'board games night' on the weekend, everyone loves a game of Scrabble and Snakes and Ladders. A 'Dumb Charades night' when you have guests over. Spending a day brunching at the Ripe Market - carry along a frisbee. Or ask your child to overrun you as you reach the picnic spot. On a trip, when you have time in hand, add a short trek to the itinerary. On a Friday morning, ask them to play the chef (under your supervision) - plan the meal, DIY menu card, etc. At your own risk, get them a pet to play ball with!
And yes, fill them up with your real stories about how you'd draw out the stage for a game of hopscotch on the ground with chalk or played cricket in the narrow alleys of your home town. Let's give our children a chance to get their hands dirty and be prepared to nurse their real bruises. As for me, what did I do after school? Homework, play, and sleep. And I wouldn't trade it for an Abacus class.
This piece was first published in Khaleej Times.