In India a trend in the lives of children has been that activities like playing are given lesser significance than activities which seem to have more evident role in "growing up", for instance studying. We have proudly adhered to the idea " Padhoge likhoge banoge nawab, kheloge kudoge banoge kharaab" (A Hindi saying which translates to: if you study you'll be successful, if you play you'll turn out bad).
When COVID-19 brought with it the lockdown and children of all ages had to start staying at home, the world worried about the delays which will come in education, but few worried about the lags that have come due to lack of play, and lags have come!
As it turns out, "Play" the fun, often mindless, and spontaneous acts children engage in, has an important role in child development.
Evolutionarily, it has been found that many animals develop important skills during play. For instance, lion cubs play with their siblings and emulate hunting. They crouch and pounce at each other, try to fight, bite, and take the other sibling down. And in this play they begin to develop the innumerable important hunting skills. Later, when their mother will teach them hunting, they will have the foundational skills of it ready.
The same is true for humans.
Human children develop all types of skills when they play. They run and climb and fall down which builds both their strength and stamina. They also begin to explore and obtain information of the world around. As children grow their play develops with them. There is indeed stages to play development. They start learning incredibly important social skills, or what is technically known as social cognition which refers to the knowledge and thinking required when interacting with others.
Language, both verbal and non-verbal is developed when we play with others. The winning and losing, the turn taking, and being in teams with different types of people also teaches regulation of our emotions and impulses. And last but probably the type of development most valued by people, various thinking skills and intelligence is developed with play. Additionally children also learn a great deal about themselves, their own preferences, and how to become their own person.
The value of play in the development of children is such that UNICEF has considered it a right of the children. Furthermore, psychologists across the world have developed therapeutic models based on Play for children. Play therefore becomes much more than "games". It is an expression of the children selves and a tool with which children learn the ways of the world and they do so in a manner which is fun and stress free.
Maybe next time, when we set schedules for the children we are connected to, we will recall that studying is not the only place growth occurs.
Find the downloadable version of the poster below: