Teachers attest to the fact that when children spend too much time playing or watching TV, it creates windows for unlearning, and may also cause a child to start losing concentration in class as his mind repeatedly drifts off to playful thoughts.
Does this mean children should have little or no play? I think not; all work and no play still makes Jack a dull boy, last time I checked. However, parents can help their young ones by varying their play activities, and also by engaging in the kind of play that includes learning. Some tried and tested edutaining activities include:
1. Reading aloud: This one has been unrivalled over the centuries, and experts say you should read aloud to your child every day. If neither you nor your partner is available for daily reading (ideally at least one should be available on each day, but sometimes both parents work), ask a relative the child loves, or their nanny if she’s literate, to read aloud with them. For smaller children, looking at picture books and talking about what you see is a fun way to learn while playing. You don’t have to quiz or drill them about what is being read: nurturing a love of books is what is important here.
2. Drawing pictures: Get out the paper and coloured pencils and settle down with your child for a fun time of drawing. Your child can draw a house, their favourite animal, a flower or even a family picture (usually stick drawings, but those are just as precious!) while you sit by and verbally encourage them. You can also talk about what they’ve drawn; this can bring about some fun discussions about cross pollination, or which animals lay eggs and which give birth to their young alive, for instance. Remember to save their artwork in a special place, or display your “family picture” on the refrigerator door.
3. Planting something: It doesn’t have to be a garden, although that would be great. It could just be a small flower pot or container with soil. Putting seed in soil and nurturing it until it germinates and grows is an incomparable learning experience for your child. They learn firsthand where food comes from, and they learn the importance of sunlight and water to all of nature. Caring for a plant or garden also helps teach them to be responsible for another living thing. Gardening holds many lessons for a young mind. It’s fun and fulfilling too!
4. Exploring the outdoors: Many kids today spend way too much time indoors, due to many factors. As a child growing up in a very spacious compound with six flats full of children, I feel a teeny weeny bit sad at just how much time my son spends indoors. Take advantage of the dry season whenever it comes around, and take your child for a walk. Point at things and talk about them. Take time to stop and look at things that typically catch children’s attention, things our adult eyes often don’t notice. Be ready to answer questions, and ask a few of your own. Not only will your child have fun and learn something new, you will see the world through their young eyes too, and learn.
5. Using your hands: Boy, did we play with our hands as kids! We made little vehicles with empty beverage tins. We made paper airplanes and kites and flew them with joyful shrieks. We made meat pies with wet sand, filling them with tiny stones for meat, and taking care to make those little lines at the edges using broomsticks. We made “babies” from school sweaters. We moulded shape after shape with Plasticine. We played with Lego blocks. We tackled different kinds of puzzles. We had fun, and we learnt stuff and discovered passions while at it. Encourage your children to use their hands. There’s so much to be learnt by handling things. Not only will they enjoy it, they will be thrilled by the sense of accomplishment that comes from putting something together, no matter how small. And they will love doing it with you.