“What do you like to do in your free time?” is a question I ask all children and their parents. Answers are varied and sometimes sad. Younger children talk about drawing, colouring, playing with toys; some talk about singing, playing a musical instrument, reading and even looking out of the window. As they grow up, answers become monotonous and screens occupy their free time.
In my play room it is increasingly rare to find an older child (more than 8 yr old) play freely. They look for electronic stuff and get disappointed when they can’t find any. This is not just Indian scene; it is happening all over the world. When a child is not in charge of how time is spent and there is a task to be finished in that span of time, it is classified as work or study. Children often work longer hours than adults! Extending to 14 hours even!
Ability to “play” is the essence of creativity, happiness and mental health. When you use objects to project your inner themes on them and create a world that is somewhat similar to real world but with a lot of freedom and creativity it is “play”. This can be seen as play with toys, dolls, any object, musical instrument, pencil, colours, any material and even words. As Picasso famously said, “everyone is born an artist; challenge is to keep that spirit alive”
We make a concentrated attempt to kill this artist from the earliest days of baby’s life. When we see a baby playing quietly in crib, may it be making sounds ( playing with vocal chords) moving hands to catch light and shadows ( playing with visuals and muscles) or just looking around, we pounce on the baby and start “playing” with him/her. So we destroy a baby’s play to facilitate our entertainment. Most babies can play alone for a few minutes till they realize a need to be with mother. Letting them develop this ability to be alone and entertain themselves creatively is THE most crucial milestone that is often destroyed by adults (especially grandparents) in the family. In my opinion this is sacrilege.
Disruption of this early play-ability is seen later as total dependence on other humans and electronic gadgets and need for connectivity. Inability to spend time alone is a hallmark of our times and its seeds lie in destruction of un-structured play of children.
A child playing happily alone in his play corner with things that do not require power is a healthy child and holds our future in her tiny creative hands. Let’s respect the freedom of those hands.