I’m usually a very relaxed person, and there aren’t many things that annoy or frustrate me. I do however have one major pet peeve, and that is when toys are labelled and marketed as ‘educational toys’. This is however, not limited to toys persay, but to gadgets as well. Everything from Playstations, to Wii, to X-box, and not forgetting the seemingly infinite number of iPad apps!
Whatever happened to teaching without a screen as the primary source of information? I am not at all, undermining the role that technology has in our day-to-day lives, or even the fact that these toys do have great benefit, however, I refuse to buy into the ideology that it is the BEST way to educate our children, especially the very little ones. I have lately come across a young child who is an absolute wizz-kid on a tablet colouring-in app, yet has not yet mastered the pincer grasp! Learning in this manner completely undermines the necessity and importance of sensory and textural play, which has long lasting negative impact on fine motor skill development.
Another issue I’ve noticed is that parents seem to have adopted an idea that the more they buy for their kids, the better a job it is that they’re doing. It comes back to something I’ve mentioned previously… ‘Our children don’t need our presents, as much as they need our presence’
More especially, for the parents of the kids in my playgroup, I’ve been trying to show them how anything and everything can be educational! Sorting caps, counting leaves, learning shapes from pictures on a cereal box, playing with water,learning colours by looking at the sky and the grass and the insects, collecting stones, making macaroni necklaces, even using icecream sticks to make simple puzzles (posted about this on my Fb page here: https://m.facebook.com/281283328678402/timeline/story?ut=69&hash=1855962116707620267&wstart=0&wend=1383289199&ustart&refid=17)
There is so much to be gained from unstructured play. Often times, we get the best ideas from simply going on a trip down memory lane. Think about the things you loved doing as a child! Play hopscotch, jump-rope, hide and seek, pretend ‘mummy and baby’ games, cowboys and cops. Play is the most natural source of happiness.
Instinctively, children like to play. They have an innate curiosity and a healthy sense for adventure, exploration and excitement. Play is the real learning playground, where children learn essential life skills such as social and emotional intelligence. Through interaction with their peers, children learn how to socialise, to show initiative and demonstrate leadership. They have to solve conflicts, learn about rules, negotiate and communicate ideas clearly.
Unstructured play enables children to find and pursue their own interests. It gives them the freedom to be who they are. It allows them to discover their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses in their own time, which helps them master their lives independently. By contrast, structured play activities, where children work for grades and trophies conducted in an adult-directed environment, or even those done on gadgets where the desired end result is to complete the level, don’t provide the same sense of freedom. Teachers and coaches, or video games and apps, provide detailed instructions of how to play the game. This has the tendency to limit natural creativity.
Free play is about facing uncertainty, about being resourceful and about becoming risk-takers who make decisions for themselves. It is about learning through experiences, touch, and texture.
Unstructured and child-directed play teaches children intrinsic motivation, a skill that is difficult to teach directly in the classroom or in structured after-school activities. We need to stop being so obsessed by our childrens academic success, and encourage them to simply play!