It is so easy to get bogged down when the society keeps giving constant onslaught of what our children should or should not be doing or else they will be left behind. What our children really don’t require is worksheets, tests, colouring books, educational games, videos on nursery rhymes, games on laptops or any other so-called “educational applications”.
What they really require is unstructured, unconditional free play time, what they require is “time to get bored”, what they require is to play freely in the outdoors.
Playing outdoors, playing with sand, playing with water in an independent environment in the company of kind adults engaged in ‘sensitive observation’ is the need of the hour for the overall sensory development of any child.
A playground, a park are facilities that are freely available in any city. Parents should explore these facilities rather than taking children to consumerist malls, gaming zones in malls. The more our children play outdoors, the more they are getting a rich opportunity to connect with nature, outdoors is such a powerful tool that is available to us to raise intuitively intelligent adults.
While free play itself is vital, an outdoor playground is the only place that contribute towards the overall sensory development of any child. To understand the relevance of playgrounds for the optimal sensory development of children, please refer to this blog. How to design playgrounds for optimal sensory development? It is a good read to understand how the different sensory skills are developed through playing with various playground equipment.
Let us now commence our journey towards discussing a more beneficial, a more conscious, a more meaningful process of connecting with our child in a playground set-up.
1. GIVE SPACE
It is not our right to intrude in the personal space and the internal mental thoughts of a child. When we take our children to a park, the best thing that we can do is step back and observe our children. Some kids might instantly start climbing the hill or climbing the stairs leading to the slide. While, a few other kids might just stand there looking at the joyful kids playing.
To an uninformed parent, this might feel like the ‘child is not playing’; or ‘child is not enjoying’ or perhaps the child doesn’t like going to the park.
However, these impressions that we make about children are based on our perceptions.
The child is there observing, absorbing, processing the new surroundings, the energies, thinking on where he/she wants to play? What does he/she really want to do?
What looks to an adult as a child not doing anything is in-fact a child who is keenly observing the bright colours of the playground equipment, the child is in-fact learning by observing how the older kids are climbing the stairs or how the toddlers are swinging? The child is In-fact analyzing the risk associated with each playground equipment and making mental notes about which equipment he/ she would want to play with.
For an analogy, let us compare a child’s first visit to a playground to what happens when an adult visits a bungee jumping site. How many adults would straight away wear the harness and take the jump? I bet on a ratio of 100, perhaps 1 adult might do that. Adults would normally scan through the area, observe others taking the jump, muster the courage, visualize themselves taking the plunge and then finally decide on taking the plunge or perhaps decide not to take the plunge.
So, now as an adult, when you take your child to a playground, put yourself in the shoes of your child. Empathize. Imagine yourself at a bungee jumping site.
2. MINIMAL INTERVENTION
Interrupting the child and not giving the child the space to breathe leads to the joy slowly fading away and the enthusiasm of playing disappearing.
Intervene only when it is inevitable, when there is a ‘real’ safety issue involved as opposed to ‘perceived’ safety issue.
For instance, there is a slight danger if a 2-year-old decides to stand up while sliding. I have often seen that many toddlers chose to climb the slide from the opposite direction, to my observant eyes, I have never seen a child hurt himself/ herself by trying to climb from the opposite side. What I have observed is that in due course the child realizes himself/ herself that it is better idea to take the steps instead. What I have also seen is that the child coming from the opposite direction would usually not slide down till the child coming from the other side has not stepped down. When adults step back, kids learn to take turns, learn to share, learn to be patient and above all learn to trust themselves.
So, intervene only and only when it is “absolutely necessary”.
A parent’s urge to kiss/ hug their child; a child’s favourite uncle or a favourite friend or a child’s favourite bird flying above does not act as a warrant to interrupt. Trust that your child will any ways in due course spot their favourite uncle/ friend/ bird. Unless there is a “serious” safety issue involved, there is no need to interrupt the child.
It is definitely not in our child’s interests to be physically lifted and put on different playground equipment based on the likes and dislikes of parents. As parents, it is our duty to take steps that are in the best interest of our child. So, have “trust” that your child is enjoying, “trust” that your child is learning, “trust” that your child’s senses are getting developed even when it might look as if the child is not doing anything. The child is “thinking”. Give your child the space that he/ she deserves.
A really small child might look at the parent for approval, all a parent needs to do is acknowledge the child. The adult needs to be present with the child and yet not intervene. This process is similar to an adult getting absorbed in admiring a tree or sea waves. The process of ‘silent observation’ is akin to observing the leaves fluttering or observing the sea waves roaring to the shore.
At this point, I would like you to answer these questions:
- Should a parent interrupt their child’s sequential arrangement of thoughts? (By lifting her and putting her on a slide or showing her or comparing what other kids are doing)
- Should a parent trust the ability of a child to decide on which playground equipment the child wants to play?
3. RAISE INDEPENDENT THINKERS
It is okay and and in reality a cherished moment if the child plays with just one equipment for the whole evening or chooses not to play with any equipment. Depending on the personality trait of a child, the child will take a day, a week or a month to decide to play with a different playground equipment.
I will take you through my journey with my daughter. She would initially just play with sand at the playground. After, almost 5 visits, she decided to play with the toy car at the playground. After, a few days, she commenced to play with the merry-go-round. On one of the visits, she chose to play with the puppies instead of the playground equipment. As a parent, let us not attach any predetermined notions on how the child should play at a playground. Let the child lead the way and the parent should just follow her lead with trust and conviction.
After almost 20 visits, she chose to play with a tunnel. The beauty of this process is when she decided to enter the tunnel, she was able to hop on and hop down the tunnel all by herself without any support. She is yet to explore the other playground equipment, but, I have the trust in her that when she is convinced of her own physical strength, she will choose to use slides, the see-saw and the rest of the playground equipment
The inner joy and lessons learnt from being able to independently decide and successfully execute a thought are immense. She is building her confidence, her concentration and independent thinking skills. Life skills that shall support her throughout her entire life. If you wish your child to excel at one particular subject at academics or to triumph at a particular sport or any activity, a playground is the perfect place to build the right foundation.
4. ALLOW YOUR CHILD TO FALL DOWN
Most of the playgrounds are designed keeping in mind the safety of the children. Every park will normally have sand, grass or soft play-mats as a base to create a safety net for children. To my mind, children have an inherent mechanism to judge the degree of risk involved. Children should be encouraged and supported to take age-appropriate risks.
It is typically seen that parents intervene, parents continue to demonstrate what equipment to play with, how to play with it, what to do, what not to do?
“Don’t go so fast on swing, you ‘will’ fall down”- When we say something negative, we have in a way manifested a wrong intention. So, choose your words carefully. Ideally, trust the child to understand his/ her strengths and if you chose to say something, “Be careful“ is all you could say. Avoid making statements that might either be negative or instill an element of fear. These unnecessary interventions take away the joy from playing.
In some cases, some wealthy families will ask their nannies to be with the child. So, the nanny will constantly hover around the child keeping a hand behind the child (so as to hold the child and prevent the child from falling). Falling down and rising up is an integral part of growing up. A child who has never fallen down will grow up to be an adult who cannot accept failures. An adult who cannot handle emotions of failure is likely to enter a state of depression or in some cases suicide.
However, let us understand what messages are going out to the child when parents keep worrying about their physical safety even at a playground.
When we intervene, these are the messages that go out to the child:
- ‘I am incapable of making independent decisions’
- ‘The world is not a safe place to play’
- ‘My decisions are not important’
- ‘It is not okay to fall’
- ‘Adults have no confidence in me’
When we keep worrying about a child playing with sensory appropriate playground equipment in a relatively safe environment, we forbid ourselves from nurturing a parent-child relationship based on trust and open communication. When we constantly protect our children and worry about the physical safety of the child, we are building a relationship based on fear. In our attempts to protect the child from any physical harm, we let the child get harmed from within. Physical harm can be repaired with bandages, would we as parents ever be be able to repair the psychological and emotional harm done to the child through meaningless interventions?
So, the next time, you visit a playground, relax a little, give the child’s nanny a break too, let your child play independently. You can observe what your child is doing, how is your child playing, learn from your child. We need to shift our perspective from ‘I have to teach everything to my child’ to ‘I have to learn everything from my child’. Do read my blog on My learning journey as a parent to get an insight on my progress as a parent.
5. NO ‘SELFIES’ PLEASE…
In the world of social media, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, it has all come down to clicking those perfect pictures.
We have forgotten the magic of enjoying the moment and our focus has shifted from finding inner happiness to pretentious display. Does every moment of your child’s life need to be captured on camera? Does every moment of your child’s life need to go on social media?
As parents, we need to focus on instilling in our children the right values, the right ethos. Do we fully understand what this generation will grow up to become? A generation that will grow up to give more importance to selfies is likely to grow up to be narcissists. Imagine a world filled with narcissists with no love and compassion for fellow human beings. Imagine a world where friendships are harnessed for social media platforms and there are no real feelings? My heart cries when I see parents intervene, specially to click pictures. When a child is climbing the stairs leading to the slide, the child is doing it with a lot of concentration, all the focus of the child is on safely climbing these stairs without skipping a step. It is dangerous to intervene and that too so that we can take a picture of the child.
If this is not enough, I often find parents marching orders to kids to dance or to smile to jump for them to be able to take Instagram perfect pictures. Ever wondered what the child feels? If you really wish to click pictures, click natural pictures from a safe distance. These natural clicks would speak a thousand words and create memories to last a lifetime.
Not all teachings have to come on the same day, not all moments need to be captured on camera. The most beautiful moments can be experienced when we observe in mock silence and let children lead the way.
Let kids play freely!
Keep the joy of playing alive!
Disclaimer- The blog is an expression to advocate the rights of every child for free play and outdoor play. Kindly note that, neither the author nor the website are responsible if any unwanted accidents happen owing to poor maintenance of playground equipment.