Understanding the Nuances of Children’s Play Amid the Pandemic

Confined and limited to the four walls of the household, adults have to play a constructive role in making life beautiful for children during the pandemic.

PARENTING AT THE TIME OF A PANDEMIC

It has been observed that crises and disasters have had their impacts on vulnerable sub-groups such as children and women of our society. The COVID-19 pandemic is no other exception. While  the nation is putting every possible effort to fight back the pandemic for the last one and a half year, with the help of motivated and inspiring front line workers, the challenges posed by it have been immense too. There are certain everyday struggles emerging inside our homes. The socio-emotional disruption caused by the pandemic is devastating, especially for young children who were ready to enter the outside world via academic institutions such as the school. Now they are inside homes all day long with the limited resources and environment. Parents are making every possible effort in planning and designing the day for  these young learners along with their  professional work from home schedules. Homes have been transformed into learning stations by adapting different techniques and tricks. Parents are seeking help from the internet to understand what is right for the cognitive growth of their children. They understand and acknowledge the earliest years of a child’s life as the most formative years. Keeping that in mind it becomes significant to understand what is important for a child in these years and how a child is a cognitive being? This might help the parents to have a comprehensive knowledge about the physical, social, and psychological needs of their children as well as how they as parents can help by becoming constructivist adults for children.

Children are curious, investigative, and active learners seeking to learn everything at once. They have an innate urge to do things on their own since birth. We often find a child exploring, playing, taking things apart, and continuously asking questions of how and what, almost about everything surrounding them. From cognitive and physical growth to socio-emotional growth, every aspect of learning is a significant necessity for a child. Many constructive and social theories of learning explain that play is a leading form of development in early years. The whole concept of sending children to play schools and Kindergartens is based on the reason that children learn best through activity, play, talk and self reflection. The 19th century German educator Friedrich Froebel founded an establishment for caring and educating young learners, called Kindergarten. His approach globally influenced education in early years. As per Froebel, Kindergarten is a place where children can grow and develop at their own pace, nurtured by knowledgeable and supportive adults. 

Outside academic spaces, these supportive adults are parents, family members and elder siblings. Parents sharing their doubts and dilemmas regarding ‘what’ and ‘how’ of teaching young children have become the new normal these days. After spending their day over video lectures as a part of online schooling, children are majorly engaging with their family members only. Concerns like ‘we want children to learn while playing’ (khel khel me seekhna), ‘are toys important for learning?’ and ‘how an adult could be a team mate and co-learner’ are some major questions asked in family video calls these days.

First, a parent should build an understanding about children’s play. In my six years of teaching and engaging with young learners of different age groups, I have observed that the central importance of play is that it is not located in discourses of outcomes or accountability. Play is the highest level of child development. It is the spontaneous expression of thought and feeling. 

It constitutes the source of all that can benefit the child. In early years play is never vital, it is serious and deeply significant. Froebel explains, in play, a child is active, moving freely, feeling, thinking and willing. Play helps the child to relate their inner worlds of feelings, ideas and lived experiences. Play is significant as it motivates and encourages the child to reflect and develop awareness about the symbols and symbolic thoughts. While playing, children develop determination, concentration, persistence, and satisfaction. We often find children becoming more social and begin to have dialogues with their playmates.

Second, to enable the above mentioned, play requires a significant approach to be considered. Parents can begin with providing rich and first hand experiences to their children. This might increase their interest and endless possibilities. There is a cognitive gap between parents and child hence time and patience requires much more emphasis here. Many times parents share that children do not play with their toys or they switch from one toy to another very soon. The reason behind this would be restricted and closed resources. Children need open ended resources where there is a scope to explore and invent. There is enough material present inside our homes for children to engage and play with. Creating toys using waste and old material could be a very fruitful and environment free activity, which will bring a sense of construction among children. One must let the children choose and have control over their decisions and results. This would enable them to take responsibility and understand their roles. While creating such an environment for children at home, adults should evolve as sensitive co-players, and keep interacting with them to initiate dialogues and develop speech. Children see adults as their companion if there are no other children around. They will ask you to play with them, but not as adults who will always help and guide. Adults’ guidance is an important aspect with mutual respect, freedom and flexibility. Froebel quotes “freedom is the biggest tool to learn and grow”. But the notion of freedom is not just licence to do anything and everything. Freedom can only operate within a framework of responsibility and respect for each other, the resources and the natural environment. There are certain steps to carefully introduce freedom to children. Parents can ask children to make choices by providing opportunities to move freely. They can help the children to perform challenging tasks themselves which will encourage them to think for themselves and also to develop self discipline.

Every child is different as every kind of parenting is and there is no singular or correct way to do so. Parents these days do not want to overlook any possibility of learning for their children. Given the time and situation the priority here is to keep everyone safe and healthy. Playing cautiously and patiently with the children will definitely bring some sanity in the times we are living in right now. We as adults only need to remember that children are always learning and having fun, we are the ones who can make their play meaningful.

Isha Anand  is working in the field of Education . She has completed her Post Graduation from Ambedkar University, Delhi.