Gifting Play to our Children in Our Modern Lives

Have you ever looked at your children’s play lives and exclaim how your play was so different from their play? The places you explored, the time you spent playing, the people you played with, the materials you played with and what you played is so different from how your children experience play. And therefore life. Deep down as intelligent and sensitive human beings, we all long to recreate the carefreeness and the freedom of our childhood for our children. Modernity and now the lockdowns have impacted our lifestyles in a way that it seems impossible to take our children to those play opportunities which we enjoyed and cherish till date.

Researchers across the world have established that play is a fundamental biological need for humans and it has a role to play in our survival and well-being. Play is how children make sense of the world around them, how they process big emotions and discover a role for themselves in life. Play is to a child what work is to an adult.

Play is as fundamental and biological as sleep. Children play wherever they can, whenever they can and with whatever they can. It’s a choice for us to make whether they meet this fundamental need of theirs respectfully or they glean play amidst the many challenges which modernity has created for them. Loss of play is a direct outcome of loss of habitat for our children. Yes, the way other animals have a habitat, humans also do. And the habitat for humans also has been changing fast and unfortunately, the change hasn’t been very desirable.

With all the constraints, it still is important to spell out and occasionally revisit what forms a “habitat for our children“.

Let’s look at our child’s play life as the central pivot and start working on making it more fulfilling by taking small steps towards reclaiming their habitat for them. According to Michael Follett, the four fundamental aspects of this habitat are:

Time to Play:  We all know that our children have very little time to play. They act as gleaners for play where they find time to play between two activities. Let’s schedule our children’s lives less, protect their concentration and let them control their day. Remember losing track of time while playing? Let’s give that gift to our children!

Space to Play: Play spaces of children are ever-shrinking and are being turned into spaces to meet needs of adults. Even the spaces which are dedicated to children are designed by adults and most of the elements of those spaces do not meet children’s needs. Spaces where children thrive are diverse; flat manicured landscapes do not do justice to their needs. Children need open spaces, enclosed spaces, trees, stairs, grass, streets, mud, nooks and they need all of it. Qualities of required space change with the type of play which is taking place. Restricting them to one type of impotent play area is not a helpful idea. 

Material to Play: Well… this one is a little complicated. Our children do have a lot of material to play with and we are constantly providing them with more material. Many of us also worry that our child doesn’t play with the toys we own. The important point here is to choose material which aids child’s self-construction. Use material which is not fixed-use, which can be combined, manipulated and explored in multiple ways. Have a variety of natural elements and non-commercialized material available for them. Markets are a trap wherein they make us buy expensive toys through their advertising and paradoxically we can’t even let our children fully explore those toys as they are way too expensive for us to lose them. Let’s keep material natural, inexpensive and based on children’s needs.

Permissions to Play: Some times, we do manage to provide the right time, right space and right material for our children. If you think you have reached there, here’s the final ingredient to make your child’s play life fulfilling. If you haven’t reached there, here is the magical ingredient which can still make your child’s life happier. Gift these three permissions to your child:

  • Permission to make mistakes
  • Permission to get hurt
  • Permission to get dirty

Our next post explores these permissions in more detail. Let children explore the joy of being, without worrying about upsetting us for getting hurt, dirtying their clothes or for any other mistakes. This could be the most profound gift we can give to our children.

Have you experienced your child engaged in play where she has completely forgotten about her surroundings? What do you think was the core reason for her engagement? It would be lovely to read about what made your child reach that state of flow in her play. Do share your stories with us in the comments section.

Keep playing!

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Nisha Sharma
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