Over the last few months I have taken play very seriously.
We’ve played in the house, outdoors, in parks, at the airport, inflight, in the school, while waiting in the grocery line, in the hospital, at restaurants, pretty much everywhere we have been we have played! The last flight we took during take off and landing we had a very loud game of ‘Rock, paper, scissors’ that reverberated through the airplane, As I looked around I saw some smiles and some frowns, but both my children didn’t even notice the take off or landing, instead they enjoyed the whole flight experience and that, was important for me.
As a marketer and someone who has spent many years in the learning space for grown – ups, we’ve been trying to help grown ups learn through play in their work settings. Gamification is a thing – it talks about how people are motivated to learn and apply that learning when there is an element of play – say scoring, competition, risks (that don’t necessarily eliminate you), levels / achievements etc. These play / gaming aspects are being introduced to adults to help them learn better. And yet, here we are telling our children to play less.
While learning numbers, writing skills, and other school skills is important, what is more important to a 3 year old is to understand and learn
- How their world works
- How to manage their emotions
- The how of taking a risk and understanding consequence
- How they can solve problems
- How they can take decisions
When children play they can do all of the above without thinking about failure. If they fail they don’t know it, they just get back up and keep playing.
This mindset to overcome failure and keep going on is what makes play so important. As parents we often tend to correct our children as they play, we tend to show them the right way to play with something. The reality is, children are quite capable of playing by themselves and they should. While we model play in some cases to show them novelty, its best to let them explore on their own, only offering very little guidance if any.
What changes with your child as they play more, here are a few things I’ve observed with my 5 and 2 year olds. We have created play nooks around the house and invested in a few open ended toys to get started –
Confidence – Our V’s perception of himself has changed significantly since he has started playing more. He approaches a task with a lot more confidence then he would before, he thinks about what he needs, how he can get it and what he wants to achieve. If it doesn’t work he just approaches it differently, he doesn’t let it get him. If he still doesn’t get it, he actually talks to himself about the mistakes he’s made. Mr S has been exposed to this earlier than his brother so he has the power to choose according to his developmental stage and he does it. There are days he will outright reject any games / toy I provide because he is simply not interested in that, then he will choose for himself what he’d like to do.
Attention / Focus – Even as a 10 month old I have seen S stay engaged with a toy for more than 20 minutes. Now between the 2 of them they can stay on a game for over an hour. V was not aways like this, his attention has improved over the past months as he’s more engaged with toys, books or outdoors rather than when I used to make him sit and do his school work.
When they play, children are happy and as with us their minds open to better learning when they are happy.
Taking decisions – When do you feel strong or empowered? Is it when someone else is running your life or when you enjoy the power of decisions? Children are little people, as much as you and me, they do not enjoy being told what to do all day long.
Get ready for school. Do your homework. Eat this food. You have to wear these clothes!
As parents we don’t have much of a choice in this, that’s how our world runs but once my 5 year old starts playing, he runs his world, sometimes that means giving me some orders. He will finish his lunch of rice, dal and veggies and then come and make pretend pizza J that’s his decision in his pretend world, my little one can make a good looking cake with his stackers and that would be his dessert for the day.
Managing their emotions – If the little one is in a good state of mind, all his play animals will get yummy food and they will be happy little things that he will cuddle and love. When he is ‘not-so-happy’ the animals will invariably be fighting with each other, once he has been at it for a few minutes I ask him why are they fighting, can they share? Would they like some water? Just to show him ways to calm down. This sometimes works and he also takes a break to cool down. This has been my biggest revelation so far.
Creativity – This is my pot of gold with play. I have often felt our system and education does not provide to raise creative children, we mould, we structure, we evaluate what we don’t do is free up. Free up mind space to let them think and create. Play does just that.
When they are playing my kids use anything to make ramps, they create little worlds, they cook, they clean, they design, they draw basically they do what needs to be done for their play with what they have and this creativity that they are applying in play is not offered to them in the real world.
I think it’s time we let our children play.
They are learning a lot more than in the classrooms for their early years development through play than structured learning.