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Published: Sunday December 1, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday December 1, 2013 MYT 12:17:35 PM

When the kids come out to play

Hop away: Playing games like hopscotch not only provides social interaction for children but allows them to sharpen their thinking.

Hop away: Playing games like hopscotch not only provides social interaction for children but allows them to sharpen their thinking.

Sometimes, it is the simplest of things that ultimately equip our children with the desired skills required as leaders of tomorrow.

WOULD it surprise you if I told you that I played football recently? No, it was neither a formal game nor futsal.

One evening, just as I was getting ready to drive out, a neighbour’s daughter and her siblings hailed me from outside my house gate.

They were a group of four Malay children, aged five to 11. The school holidays had just begun and these kids usually hung around in the evenings in the common lane in front of our houses.

On a whim, I asked them, “Would you like to follow me to the park?”

Their mother was in Kelantan and the father in Sarawak, attending to work.

Excited at the prospect of variety, the youngest daughter quickly called up her father on her handphone to ask for permission.

At the park, I spotted two young Chinese boys dribbling a ball in an open exercise area.

To my pleasant surprise, they turned out to be my former students! I had taught them in 2010 when they had been in Form One. Now they are 16!

They were so amiable that I asked them if we could all play together. When they agreed good-naturedly, I quickly organised a friendly game.

The two boys were in one team and the rest of us formed the other team.

We improvised two goal posts and some simple rules. Soon, there were shouts, laughter, gaiety and fun in the air. I even managed to score two goals!

It was fun playing a physical game and we certainly gave the two teenagers a good fight! And yes, we all went back sweaty but happy.

Spending time

Here’s something for you to think about: are we spending enough time with our family due to long working hours?

I felt disheartened reading these results. My elder daughter stays with me but as a finance executive, she works long hours.

I barely get to spend any time with her except during the weekends. I wonder how life will turn out for her once she gets married and has children.

Will she depend on me to keep her children suitably occupied during the school holidays?

If she does, I’m prepared to be a grandmother who will teach her children all manner of games and read to them. In fact, I look forward to it!

As it is, children today, particularly the urban kids, are not playing enough physical games.

Their hands are occupied constantly with their electronic gadgets.

Driven about in cars by their parents, these children don’t even look up to enjoy a beautiful sunset.

They don’t know what it is like to lie on the grass, walk barefoot on a pebbly pavement and race through the rain.

Some 13-year-olds today don’t even know what a tamarind pod looks like or that they can fashion a shuttlecock with frangipani flowers and a rubber band.

And since it isn’t even safe anymore for them to be left unattended, they end up more house-bound than ever.

With maids taking over the role of parents, I sometimes wonder where society is headed these days.

I, for one, am glad that I was a child who grew up in the 60s.

Huge angsana trees grew in the police barrack compound where I lived and under their shade, the games I played with my friends were numerous and varied.

Rounders, skipping, hopscotch, marble games, top spinning ... I played them as a child with much vigour.

These pursuits require thinking, physical dexterity and manipulative skills.

By playing digital games on smartphones, tabs or computers, do the children of today get a similar opportunity to flex their brains and their muscles?

Child’s play

Enjoying competition and relishing the challenges that come with taking play seriously, I was hell-bent on winning.

It’s a trait that has stayed with me, particularly when I do my best to “score” with my students or ingrain in them a desire to “score” in academic pursuits, competitions and games.

Even in my classes, I used to introduce play. In one class where the students differed remarkably in academic ability, one strategy that really worked was this.

I would divide the students into groups according to their abilities and then as I taught one group (with them forming a circle around me at the front of the classroom), the rest were allowed to play for 10-minute bouts at the back of the classroom, group by group.

It didn’t matter to me what they chose to play although their favourite game was football. The ball was a mound of old newspaper tied up with rubber bands!

This simple approach resulted in a lot of noise but surprisingly, the 15 minutes of conscientious teaching allocated to each group generated huge dividends because most of these students had short attention spans.

Play, I believe, is the most undermined strategy in classrooms and in the life of today’s children.

Meanwhile, parents need to know this: the word “school” actually comes from a word that means “leisure” in part.

But, how many teachers make their classroom a pleasurable place to be?

So, when the school holidays arrive, let your children play.

Play provides not only social interaction but also sharpens thinking, develops motor skills, gives satisfaction and allows for laughter and fun.

Play can be both physical and interactive in nature. If they like dance and drama, go for it.

As US president Theodore Roosevelt once said: “When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all.”

If parents adopt this strategy, their children will be culturally shaped for achievement, happiness and success.

But, please let your children play. Plan for it, let them enjoy it and yes, make time to play with them.

And while you are at it, why not play hard too? It’s a great feeling, trust me. Happy holidays!

Tags / Keywords: Education, Teacher Talk, Nithya, Play


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