On Play and Child Development : A Clarion Call for 21st Century Parents

By Haleemah O. Ahmad

Today, my daughter’s school organized an event tagged ‘Nursery Play Day’. When asked the reason for such, the school head responded that the teachers noticed that the children do not know how to play!!

When asked to go and play, many of the kids simply don’t know what to do, aside some boys who know about football.
She also said that many of the children lack social interaction skills. Hence, the school has decided to organize play day for them once monthly, where they would be taught ‘how to play’. Buckets of sand, leaves, and other materials were provided.

Since then, I’ve been wondering, ‘how did we find ourselves in this mess?’ That our children now have to be taught ‘how to play’. What else should a child know naturally if not how to play? What happened to all the play we engaged in as kids and even young teens? Did we somehow refuse to pass them on to the next generation?
I’m not an educationist by training, but I surely know that play is an integral part of child development. How can a child not know go to play?

I’ve been searching my memory for the last time I saw a child flying a kite, and I’m yet to remember. I’m sure it’s not less than four years now. As kids, we would cook ‘Amala’ in discarded tins, and cook vegetables alongside with leaves. When was the last time you saw children playing ten-ten, boju-boju, suwe, who is in the garden, change your style, and the other dozens of games we engaged in?

21st century parents need to rethink our parenting styles. We keep ‘caging’ our children in the name of not wanting them to pick up bad habits. With our increasingly nuclear settings with less interactions with extended relatives, and our ‘mind – your – business’ housing arrangements, our children get little opportunities for social interactions and play.

The proliferation of technology and satellite television is also not helping matters. All the play some kids know now is playing games on their parent’s (or their own) mobile devices and watching TV cartoons. It is his becoming increasingly clear that technology is clearly taking over our human interactions, and that is not good for humanity. Like it’s common today, some people have thousands of ‘friends’ in social media, but can hardly get a friend to call upon when in need of real human support.

I wish to call on all parents and teachers to devise means of allowing children to express themselves through play. Allow them to play in the neighbourhood, and you can correct any bad habit they pick up. Limit television and game times, and let them interact with real people.

And during those low times when you are wondering if you made the right decision by allowing your kids play with other children, the following quotes may inspire you :
“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” -Leo F. Buscaglia

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity .” -Kay Redfield Jamison

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.” -O. Fred Donaldson

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” – Fred Rogers

“Play is the work of the child.” – Maria Montessori