When play becomes work
Vibha Sharma

Unstructured play is missing in our children’s life as supervised play dates and hobby classes encroach upon their childhood

Child psychologists believe that playing in the absence of any adult supervision is the best environment in which children learn to interact with each other
Child psychologists believe that playing in the absence of any adult supervision is the best environment in which children learn to interact with each other

Adults of today are a part of perhaps the last fortunate generation that can relate to the feeling of ‘playing with abandon’. When they talk about their childhood play days, a lot is laden with the feelings of freedom, the touch of verdant grass, the feel of mud, the rustling sound of dry leaves under bare feet, the feel of first rain on the face and much more. It was the combination of these that made the childhood play, a pleasure and a complete experience which the new generation may never get to experience.

‘Simplicity’ and ‘relaxed’ are two terms which have become extinct when it comes to the pace and nature of life now. Seeing the children of these days, it feels as if they are constantly on a treadmill running to meet some deadlines. Their schedules are much tighter than that of a person who is working full-time in a highly demanding job. A dance class on Monday, tennis classes on Tuesday and Thursday, art-and-craft class on Wednesday, music class on Friday, swimming class on Saturday, plus the regular tuition classes on all days or alternate days — yes, this could be a typical after-school schedule of a child these days. Whatever limited free hours are there, these get spent in front of one screen or the other.

We, as parents, are a generation who want value for everything — whether it is time, money or resources. We do want children to enjoy various activities for an all-round personality development but then the unstructured play has fewer takers now. Since the benefits of free-form play cannot really be quantified as such, so it gets side stepped easily in favour of scheduled times for everything, even play.

Innumerable stadiums, clubs and sports complexes are haven for people who, earlier, could not find any place to hone their skills in any sport but these same centres are now seeing beelines of parents with their children in tow right from the toddling stage. In the hope to see their wards grow up to become another Sachin Tendular, Saina Nehwal or Abhinav Bindra, parents want to start early. There may be some child prodigies who could get benefit at some level by early coaching and training but such children form only a small percentage of the whole lot. For the rest it is testing, judging, evaluating, appraising, comparing and training all the way with no foreseeable respite.

Playtime that should have been easygoing and carefree is losing its charm under regimented version of the same that rests on strict time schedules and evaluation-based promotion. Hobby/after-school classes is one of the most discussed topic among parents soon after they are out of discussing the sleeping-and-eating patterns of their infants. Number of classes that a child goes to and his/her performance in these become a sort of status symbol among many parents. Unaware of this, the tender minds of children get overwhelmed by trying to meet innumerable expectations at countless fronts.

With nuclear family system and surplus income on the rise, hobby classes have become a good way to keep the children positively engaged. This apparently solves security concern of many parents as well, who are more comfortable sending or carting their wards for guided playing than unguarded and unsupervised street play.

It is a proven fact that play nourishes every aspect of a child’s development from physical, emotional, social, intellectual to creative. Child psychologists believe that playing in the absence of any adult supervision is the best environment in which children learn to interact with each other on their own. They gradually figure out the nuances of social skills rather than being taught every step of the way in the fast-evolving ‘play-dates’ settings and instructions-driven coaching classes. By interpreting and trying to fill the gaps between children’s interaction, they are not being helped in anyway, rather their natural ability to understand and make sense of the world, get snubbed, overshadowed and overpowered.

We as parents are going overboard on various accounts — over protective, over indulgent, over paranoid…. Since children do not have anything else to compare their situation with, they take it as the norm of this world. They will not ask for their space and time but we as responsible and compassionate parents need to realise this basic requirement, which is a fundamental right of every human.

Sadly, the children of today when grow up will never be able to reminisce thus — Woh kaagaz ki kashti woh baarish ka paani... (that paper boat...and that rain water...)