children playingCounselling psychologist Gayatri Ayyer rues the fact that today’s children have stopped playing and explains how badly it’s going to affect them.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. – George Bernard Shaw

How true is this statement by Shaw? It epitomises the current scenario of our society. Our children don’t have time or place to play anymore. They keep busy with their PSPs, Wii, internet, computers or TV, rather than enjoying the sunshine, grime, sweat and emotional happiness that you get when playing outdoors.

Take a trip down memory lane to your own childhood – remember the games we played as children – Hide & Seek, Lock & Key, Dodge Ball, Hopscotch etc. or climbing trees or playing sports or zooming on our bicycles. Some of our best memories are of spending time with friends outdoors. Looking back I can see how many invaluable lessons I learnt through these activities as well as from my friends. Where have all those happy noises that children make while playing, their adventures, their hurts and the fun? (Read: Video games, even violent ones like GTA could be good for your child!)

In my childhood, TV was a novelty, seen only on weekends for probably an hour or so. Nowadays children can be found in front of it all the time. A sad state of affairs! According to a study by Sandra Hofferth of University of Maryland, our children spend more time in organized sports and more than three hours to passive leisure. The time of spontaneous play seems to have been obliterated. It’s not surprising that childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic all around the world.

The importance of playing

Research shows that playing is paramount to our physical, intellectual and socio-emotional development. The play I’m talking about here is the unstructured, spontaneous and imaginative escapades that we had in our childhoods; not the structured and organized sports of today. The benefits of playing are immense. They learn different academic concepts, the rules of behaviour with peers, manners, friendship, decision-making, conflict resolution, cooperation and competition.  It teaches them about relationships and affection and is a safe and natural way to burn their excess physical energy, get rid of their emotional frustrations and stay fit. In fact, playing would be great in adulthood as well, though we debase it by claiming it’s only for children. Psychologist Erik Erikson had said that ‘The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.’

We really need to bring back the spontaneous, free thinking and imaginative play back into our lives. The technological flooding that has happened in the last decade or so has endangered our children’s as well our own future by restricting our creativity and making us all couch potatoes. (Read: New-age parenting: Understand your adolescent better!)

Look beyond books

Let’s start with our school systems. I know that studies are important, but can’t learning happen through play? Why does it need to be only through books? Why can’t it be outdoors or through play activities? My Class 7 History teacher, Mrs Rebello used to teach us our history chapters through enactments, that is, we had to stage a play with appropriate accessories on the lives of Mughals or Shivaji in the school gardens. A Science teacher, Mrs Shalini Sharma, in my current school takes her students on nature walks around the campus and they learn their scientific concepts there, with being conscious of learning them. We desperately need to bring back creativity and imagination in our lives and the best way to inculcate them is thorough creative teaching methods.

Give children some playtime

The next steps should be taken to increase recess times for children. Generally what children get is about 10-15 min of recess, which is sufficient only for eating the snacks in their dabbas. Where is the time for running or playing on the grounds?

Another important factor is the lack of playgrounds – in schools as well as in residential areas. Upcoming residential projects should have large areas demarcated for playgrounds having a variety of things like jungle gyms, slides, swings as well as open areas for running around and playing games and sports.

We have to start thinking of playtime as beyond organised sports times in schools. Our children are becoming zombies without the enthusiasm and imagination required to become enriched individuals. As best-selling author and art therapist Lucia Capocchione noted: ‘Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn’t taste good.’

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