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The room is tense. All eyes are glued to the board. Will it be a checkmate or will Shoumick find a way out? Pawan is closely watching Shoumick’s eye movements. Renu tries to give a clue when Pawan hushes her up, “Shh…, that’s cheating Renu.” Angad keeps a close watch, his face almost at level with the chess board. Shoumick raises his hand to grab his piece when suddenly Shoumick’s mom shouts, “Since when am I asking you to wrap up? When will you get serious?” She comes over and speaks to the rest of them, “Don’t you all have some studies to do? Come on go home and do your homework.”
All of them look crestfallen. At the peak of the game that they built over almost a good hour, they were heartlessly torn out of it. Dejected, Pawan got up and started walking towards the door. Shoumick asked him to wait but he paid no heed. Angad followed Pawan quietly. Shoumick stomped his feet and went away into his room with tears in his eyes. Renu, Shoumick’s twin sister, put all the chess pieces into the box and put the board away. Both Shoumick and Renu took out their books and sat to study but neither of the 9 year olds could put their minds to the study.
“Why can’t we play?”
This is the question that is raising its head in all parts of the world today. So much so that today it is being debated and advocated by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. Play has been stripped off from the routine of the average school-going children today. Frequent assessments and deadlines at school make it impossible for children to make time for themselves and free play.
“Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” says Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Play is children’s work. It is serious business. It is the time when children are in charge of the world around them. It is in play that they act out as the elders they wish to be. They take decisions, build friendships and develop social skills. There is much learning happening while children are at play. Not to mention the physical benefits that come along.
The intensity and the passion with which Shoumick and his friends were engaged in the chess game is as ‘real’ as one would expect of them to have for their studies. The outcome of both play and studies are equally important as they prepare the child in their own different ways, yet leading towards the same outcome which is ‘to deal with life’. However, the importance given to one has far superseded the other.
Children who are being pushed beyond their age and abilities due to parental or societal expectations lack free play-time. This deficiency is creating unusual behavioural patterns amongst children today. They show signs of distress, lack of appetite, lethargy, disrupted sleep, anxiety, etc. Incidentally they lack passion and commitment as well. These shortcomings are limiting the scope of classroom learning too. The damage is manifold.
So what can we adults do about this? Take charge, but in an unauthoritative manner!
Know that play is essential for the well being of children. This is true for children of all age groups. Ensure that your child is able to get away from books and structured play time on a regular basis to engage in free play which is totally unstructured and unpredictable. Let them choose what they wish to do with that time and avoid interfering. Let them be. Trust them enough so that they learn to trust themselves. Be less prescriptive. Redefine the limits set on them. Provide guidelines regarding safety, time, etc. giving them the freedom to do as they please yet be responsible for their time. And yes, empathise, be ready to forgive them for getting carried away and forgetting their time limit every once in a while. Allow them the simple joys of growing up. After all, passions run high during play time.
Be their messiah, respect play, provide free playtime and liberate their childhood..!! And you will be surprised how strongly they bond with you.