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Play, the active form of learning

The love of dirt is among the earliest of passions, as it is the
latest. Mud-pies gratify one of our first and best instincts.
So long as we are dirty, we are pure.

Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in a Garden, 1870

The delights of the outdoors are among the deepest, most passionate joys of childhood. In every child, there’s a need to feel the sun and wind on his cheek and engage in self-paced play with no inhibitions. Hanging across the monkey bars, building sandcastles, spinning down the slide, sketching with colors or tossing a football require intricate behaviors of balance, creativity, and strength--traits we want to encourage in our children.

Unfortunately, with changing lifestyles and the increasing demands on parents working outside of the home, fuelled by a culture of electronic distractions, children are developing mistrust with their experiences of the outdoors. Children are spending more hours behind locked doors watching television, playing computer games, and usually, growing obese. Or they have afternoon schedules full of structured activities, such as music, dance/drama classes, swimming lessons and most often school tuitions.

But it wouldn’t be fair to entirely blame our lifestyles. Individual outlook, environments, weather conditions and facilities also play a large part in determining outdoor activities.

Some parents claim that games are a waste of time, better spent on academics, and that children are at an increased risk of coming in contact with harm and injuries while outdoors. This perspective needs to be changed and parents must understand the significance of physically active games. Play is an active form of learning that unites the mind, body and spirit and is essential for the sound growth and development of a child. A sedentary lifestyle is inevitably bad for a child’s health.

Recently, public parks have developed and most of them are well made and relatively safe. They offer a variety of recreational activities for children. However, their numbers are still limited. Developing open grounds for sports and games across a spread of regions will encourage children to step out and find alternative ways of utilizing their

time and energy more constructively. Interactive games teach children to play freely with friends and develop social skills for cooperating, helping, sharing, and solving problems.

It is, therefore, very important that parents and teachers make opportunities for children to explore their environment. Children spending less time playing outside face negative consequences on their health and social life. Playing outdoors refreshes their minds. Outdoor activities involve the senses of smell, touch, taste, and the sense of motion through space. These are powerful modes of learning that enhance the child’s perceptual abilities. Unstructured play gives the child freedom to explore and experiment. Working with play dough, paints, crayons, clay, sand etc. may be messy, but they foster physical skills and creativity and work to expand the child’s imagination.

However, parents often feel it is unsafe for children to go outside unsupervised. This notion, though valid, has instilled fear amongst children, discouraging them from independent play. Children should be given priority over shopping and socializing. Also, clean children syndrome is widespread among mothers who foster undue concerns over the child’s health and about cleaning up the mess afterwards. Think about it - getting dirty and making a mess is sometimes healthier for our kids.

Teachers also play a very big part in a child’s development. In schools, with the extensive workload, recess is often the only time that children are able to be carefree – a time when their bodies and voices are not under tight control. It is therefore, important that appropriate timeslots are allocated for recess and sports and each child is encouraged to pursue some form of physical activity depending on his caliber. School sports cultivate positive attitutes and enable pupils to enjoy their time at school. Healthy, vigorous games help in  reducing bullying and anti-social behaviour. All these things inevitably lead to children acquiring greater self-confidence, competence  in moving through the larger world, and the ability to navigate their immediate environs. School curriculums at all levels, must have annual sports days and events to instill healthier exercise habits and active lifestyles.

We need to realize the numerous advantages of outdoor physical play and interaction to prevent our kids from losing out. After all we have only to gain by giving our children the freedom to experience.


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