Five essentials to meaningful play for kids

The medium for self learning is play. Toys, objects, body movements, rhythms, all contribute to cognitive enhancement of a child.

By Ritesh Rawal

Childhood is that stage of life when the brain is still developing and trying to make sense of the surrounding world. In fact, the age span of 0-5 years is said to be most vital in terms of brain development, absorbing information, learning new abilities, discovering more of life’s offerings, understanding relationships and the numerous social systems making up human communities.

Before a child begins schooling, the learning is more through observation and self discovery. The medium for self learning is play. Toys, objects, body movements, rhythms, all contribute to cognitive enhancement of a child. Here, it is important that guardians create an enabling environment for the tiny tots to engage in play which is constructive and adds value to their growth trajectory. This may be something as small but as crucial as gifting a construction block set or crossword, jigsaw puzzle or clay set to allow the child to go wild in the exploration.

In the technological age, childhood learning too has shifted to the digital medium. But this must be regulated and restricted. Of course, early learning and play apps are more than facilitators of cognitive function for toddlers but any divergence from the app may prove to be not so conducive.

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Childhood is a very special and meaningful phase of life for almost every individual. That is because the memories of learning through action and knowledge through wild play make this phase an unforgettable and cherishable one. Everyone loves playing with children, deriving joy in giving joy, engaging in a form of bonding unmatched in later stages of life. It is important that the pleasure and pampering parents received in their time as children is given back to their kids.

Let us enumerate such imperatives for catalyzing an environment of meaningful play for the young generation.

A safe, creative environment

We ought to give children a safe play environment and let them play by themselves. Distant supervision allows security of the wards while enabling them to improve decision making, understand consequences of actions and relish freedom of individuality. To inspire independent thinking, it is also a great idea to provide foam pieces, little wooden sticks, ribbon scraps, and other reusable resources for play time. Open-ended materials instill creative thinking and delight children to create pieces never thought of.

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Discovering interests

It is surprising but true that the innate tendency and inclination to play in the early years is in large measure due to the fact that the young guns wish to discover and learn more and more through their action, through social engagements and collective play. The parents must thus keep the fire to play burning in children, and perhaps give a proper channel to make play a profession later in life.

Teaching focus

It has been observed that during play, children offer single-minded devotion. Play becomes priority as all else gets forgotten. This is laying the foundation of focus and concentration. These are the first signs of understanding a kid’s ability to avoid distraction in areas which aren’t of interest. This ability to focus on one thing at a time can be leveraged by parents to drive home scientific temperament through explaining natural phenomena, trying new ideas, helping them understand their cartoons or virtual life from the real life and the laws that govern real life. For instance, in their play time children may try to emulate their superheroes by trying to fly. Explanation of the phenomenon of gravity will come in handy here.

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The importance of free play

In infancy, play is often about jumping around and enjoying the moment spontaneously. It is here that children learn that not everything ought to be super structured. A child may start with a toy in his hand but may end up climbing his bed to discover cotton from pillows whetting their curiosity. This unscripted fun helps them relish flexibility in thinking, in organising life and in decision making. Often, success comes when efforts continue in a focused direction without too much micromanagement. The first lesson to such home truths are learnt in the fun and frolic of kindergartens.

Finally, the emotional joy which kids experience during play is unparalleled. Playing is the “me time” for children. It is their moment to develop emotionally albeit subtly. It is not an activity per se, but a springboard for learning above and beyond the conventional.

(The writer is Founder of Dudes & Dolls World, Adhyay School, and Ritesh Rawal Foundation.)

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