By Chintan Girish Modi August 2007 It is through play that the child develops its physical, emotional and social skills to become a full-rounded individual. so lock up the telly, and let your kid loose Balloon RattleYou NeedA balloon, a few grains, a bamboo stick and a piece of thread. How to make itPut the grains inside the balloon, fill it with air and tie it with a string to the bamboo stick. On shaking the toy a rattling sound is produced. Machbox RattleYou NeedA thin bamboo stick, two matchboxes, a pen-knife and a few pebbles. How to make itSplit the thin bamboo stick into two with the help of a pen-knife. Insert the two split ends into the recesses of the two matchboxes. Place a few tiny pebbles inside the matchboxes. Shake the toy and you hear a rattling sound. Try OutTry using boxes of metal or plastic. Find OutWhy is there less sound if instead of holding the toy by the stick, you hold the matchbox?Why does the sound change when pebbles of different sizes are placed inside? Walk into Anurag Tated’s house in Baroda, and you are more than likely to find the eight-year-old jumping from sofa to table, playing with cushions, pulling someone’s hair, cooking up his own lingo, or inventing his own steps to go with the latest Bollywood dance number. He loves playing ‘dark room’. Getting blindfolded, running around, making all sorts of strange noises before you eventually get hold of someone who will then get blindfolded and do all of the same – the sequence is thrilling enough for Anurag to want more of it. He enjoys playing badminton, with a racquet usually snatched from one of his sisters, although he is still learning to hold one properly. There’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm bubbling inside him, and he needs to use it his own way. If you try to force him into staying put, sitting quietly, and learning math tables, he’ll find a way to dodge you; else, he will stay glued to cartoon films on television. Unblock their CreativityAnurag is still young, and since the burden of studies isn’t too overwhelming, he can make enough time to have fun. But older kids are so caught up with school, homework, tuitions or coaching classes, that there is little time left for recreation. Their natural impulse to play is curbed under the pretext of equipping them for the competitive world. Lavina Gulati, who was formerly a counsellor at Bombay International School, feels that play is the only way in which children get to express themselves freely. She says, “When children play, their creative potential comes out. But parents want to structure every moment, sending them from one class to another – dance, art, music, swimming, etc. They want their children to be super kids. Kids are hardly ever just allowed to be, and to do their own thing. Thus their creativity gets blocked.” Lavina’s two-year-old son, Ahan, loves water. He finds it soothing, so Lavina often takes him to the swimming pool, to let him enjoy it. She also takes him along to the bookshop, the zoo, and other places. He always finds something fun to do. Lavina feels that it is important to let children make what they wish to of what is given to them – be it toys, colours, or pieces of paper. “These bring out a lot of things going on in the child’s mind. Kids cannot come and tell you about everything that bothers them. They express through their play. But look at the kind of toys parents are buying these days, operated using batteries and buttons! Everything happens for you, and you just sit and watch. Play becomes mechanical. One should just give them stuff, and let them play in their own way. This will enable them to try out different things, learn on their own, and discover their creativity.” Let them use their imagination, and you’ll be surprised with the ideas they come up with. A kitchen utensil may double up as a musical instrument, and a chair may serve as a driver’s seat. But for this, you must let them experiment, and even make mistakes. In her book, The Treehouse, Naomi Wolf records a conversation with her father, Leonard Wolf, a well-regarded poet and teacher for 60 years. Leonard says, “We played with pebbles, corks, spools from thread. We built cities out of mud and twigs. I haven’t the slightest memory of a single toy in my childhood. But there was plenty to do. There was a grain warehouse owned by a Jew – ten- or twelve-feet-high bins filled with wheat, corn, and oats. He would let us play in the bins: we would climb to the top of the mounds of grain, slide down it, roll in it. It was marvellous.” Allow SpontaneityThe argument about play becoming increasingly mechanical, and far removed from unstructured joyful expression, is a strong one, and is supported by many. Aban Bana, who teaches at Tridha, a Mumbai-based Waldorf school, run in keeping with the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, is among these. At Tridha, children play in specially built sand pits, with sand from the nearby Juhu beach. They also frolic about in water. In addition, they learn eurythmy, an art of movement practised to infuse oneself with health-giving rhythms, and develop one’s self. Aban advocates playing with traditional toys as opposed to the plastic, battery-operated, so-called ‘educational’ ones. She says, “Children can learn so much from traditional toys. The skipping rope is a wonderful way to co-ordinate movements. When children play together, they give and take and share. One holds the rope, and the other jumps. It’s a great way of learning rhythm. How many children play marbles these days? It is beautiful hand-eye-brain coordination. They push and pull and make a lot of noise. It’s so exciting. The more they play, the more guileless, innocent, natural and spontaneous they will be. Let them fight. What’s wrong with a fight? It shouldn’t get ugly, parents should keep a watch on that.” Be NaturalComet Media Foundation, a Mumbai-based organisation, has been holding children’s festivals called ‘bal vividha’ in different parts of India, exploring and making accessible alternative approaches to learning. The idea behind each festival is to provide hands-on and activity-based learning, to de-stress the learning process, and to make it joyous. A section of the festival is devoted to interactive corners, where children can play with toys, meet rural artisans, and learn to make handicrafts. This concern with encouraging creative play has led Comet to take up the promotion of toys made from organic materials like wood, lacquer, bamboo and cotton fabric, which provide employment to rural crafts persons. Chandita observes, “Playing is often children’s way of recreating the big world in a miniature form, and trying to make sense of it in manageable proportions. That is why you see them playing shop-shop, doctor-doctor, home-home, mummy-daddy, etc. There is another kind of play, which is logical, and involves strategising – hopscotch, ludo, chess, etc. That helps to develop skills of another kind.” Chandita feels that children should be allowed to play with puppets, because this gives a boost to their imagination and encourages storytelling abilities. “No tale is static; it is constantly re-told in the light of one’s values, emphasising the parts one liked, reinterpreting the parts one didn’t like.” She speaks of a child who swore that the woodcutter was the real villain in the story of Little Red Riding Hood, while the wolf was the victim. How could the poor thing survive when the woodcutter was chopping down forests? Understandably, the wolf was compelled to encroach on human territory, and devour people! This was the child’s explanation. And the line of argument is quite convincing, especially in an age where environmental consciousness has become so important. Bridge BarriersChennai-based Kreeda is another organisation actively trying to revive and popularise traditional games, many of which are played with stones, marbles, shells, tamarind seeds, cups and coins. Vinita Sidhartha, founder of Kreeda, believes that play is crucial, for it goes a long way in breaking down barriers and building relationships. “Today, with nuclear families, it is sad that kids are losing touch with their grandparents. There are many single-child families, and sometimes, even one of the parents is missing. This is becoming more and more common. Relationships don’t have a chance to blossom beyond a structured environment. The beauty of traditional games is that they can bridge any barrier. My son is 15, and my grandmother – his great grandmother – is 95. There is an 80-year gap, but when they play together, it is bridged effortlessly. Old people may not be comfortable with a computer game, but traditional games appeal to the child in everyone.” When the Kreeda team was working on their gilli danda, Vinita showed it to her father. He talked about how he used to play with his friends and siblings, the mischief he did, how he cheated, etc. She says, “There is something so magical seeing the child in your parents. For most people, their happiest memory of childhood is laughter, and this is often associated with playing. To win a game, to lose with a friend – these are such important things to learn.” Deal with Eyeball AddictionParents are not always the ones at fault. A number of kids today prefer computer and television screens to the playground. During a recent Comet workshop at Devlali, Chandita met with a lady whose eight-year-old son has a tendency to obesity because his attention is constantly focussed on one screen or the other – the television or the computer. Even here, there is no concentration involved; the child is either switching channels with a remote, or browsing
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