These days children juggle between school and after school activities. There is no room for free play. We are, somehow, unconsciously refraining our children from the carefree and playful childhood which we enjoyed. We could still go down the memory lane and recollect the old incidents where we spent hours playing with our friends. Best childhood memories consist of time spend with friends. It is sad to see that children don’t even know the names of old Indian games (like vish amrit, kho kho, unnch neech) which were popular among children a decade back.
I do not want to undermine the importance of structured activities; they definitely give the child a chance to improve his/her skills. But free play in childhood is like a fixed deposit for the future of the child. It not only ensures physical fitness but also improves group skills in children. In real life we can meet a person who graduated from an Ivy League college but is still facing challenges at workplace and has collaborative issues in large teams. On the other hand a person from a very humble educational background might be extremely successful at work and have a charismatic personality too. Some parents give so much importance to studies and academics that they tilt the scales in favour of it and create an imbalance.
The early years of a child’s life are considered the formative years and they lay a robust foundation for the entire life. It’s sad to see that parents do not understand the importance of playing for the growth of child. Mothers, vying to lead the rat race, pack and push the child from one class to another. Some of them take pride in flaunting the list of after school classes the child goes to. No one understands the plight of child. Most of the times, it is the child who has to bear the brunt of the choices made by parents. In a futile attempt to make the child excel in every field, child looses the most important thing- his childhood. It is the most precious and irreversible phase of anyone’s life. Children have an innate potential to discover and create. It’s a natural instinct for them as they are born explorers. If uninhibited, they come up with amazing ideas, better than what they do when they are monitored constantly. We forget that they learn best in their natural surroundings.
Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore were the strong proponents of naturalist way of education. They have done great contribution to the field of education and were strong advocates of learning through experimenting and experiencing amidst natural surroundings.
What is unstructured free play -Any activity without adult intervention which lacks set rules and a set structure is free play. There is no definite outcome in free play. According to a study by American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), children who indulge in free play grow up to be happy and confident adults. Play is essential to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children.
- Physical fitness– These days children are prone to obesity due to sedentary lifestyle and are hooked on to gadgets. Play helps the child in staying healthy and active.
- Imagination and thinking skills– A person can outperform with his ‘out of box thinking’- free play unleashes their minds. Never stop a child from doing things in a different or unique manner. For example- if a child wants to make a house round or a car in a conical shape, let him do it. We actually limit the imagination and thinking process by correcting these things. We can propel their thoughts by appreciating new ideas.
- Happiness- a child is always happy while playing. Children never sulk or feel sad while playing.
- Creativity– when we make no effort to keep children engaged, they explore new options to keep themselves busy. This boosts their creativity.
- Social skills and collaborative skills– playing with other children of their age builds up their soft skills. After all when they grow up they have to work amongst different kinds of people.
- Decision making– free play gives children self confidence and decision making authority.
- Negotiation skills– children set their own rules, select a leader, agree/disagree to terms while playing with other children.
- Observational skills-Small observations lead to big discoveries. You never know that a small observation made during free play can lead to a big discovery one day. After all, Newton founded law of gravity while sitting under an apple tree and observing an apple falling.
- Adaptability- children learn to adjust with different children with varied interests. They start accepting differences.
- Sensorial learning– children play with sand, water or come in contact with different textures. This develops their sense of touch, smell, sight, sound.
- Fine motor skills– Small movement of fingers improve while playing.
Ten accidental discoveries that had a major contribution to mankind– these discoveries were not done in research labs but happened due to simple observations and a mere chance.
- The big bang
- Vulcanized rubber
- Coca cola
- X ray
- Play doh
May be we also have a budding scientist amongst us. The key is to strike a balance between studies, play and other important activities. Some parents would still be skeptical about the importance of free play in a child’s life. So parents, before you stop your child from going to a park, recall the names of some highly successful people from different fields (like Michael Faraday, Srinivas Ramanuja, Dhirubhai Ambani , Coco Channel) who took little or no formal education.
(The author has written a similar post on http://www.mycity4kids.com/parenting/3cs-children-competition-and-compassion/article/nurturing-young-talent-through-free-play-building-the-new-india)