Play is Work

For most of my adult life, I have been fascinated by the way children play; the impact playfulness has on their development and play as a language of children. As an educator, I have observed children at close quarters and admired the way they took charge of their own learning by interacting with the environment and with the people around them. I have also witnessed some exceptional teachers perform magic by engaging the imagination of their students – by giving them the opportunity and incentive to interact with seemingly ordinary objects – and fired developmental neurons in the child’s brain.

However, my opportunities for observing and learning were greatly enhanced with the birth of my own son – Aaryan. It was as though a new window had opened up for me, which provided fascinating new insights. As can be expected, there was no structure or sequence to when these opportunities for learning presented themselves and all that was required was a keen sense of observation and in many instances, giving my toddler son a slightly longer rope to interact and play with materials, spaces and people – whether it was him wanting to repeatedly crawl up and down the stairway (under the hawk-like gaze of his parents – always ready to catch but never interfering), or him chatting up the pretty young lady in the payment queue at Walmart, even before he acquired verbal language.

As Aaryan grew from being a free spirited toddler to walking, we started giving him more freedom to explore his surrounding. We would take him to Chapters and Early Years Centre and let him play on his own, observe him from a distance, as he learned to play with the children’s toys strewn in the play area, first by observing other kids, then by experimenting and trying himself – sometimes curbing our own instincts to help him with a problem. We also saw him learn to interact with kids of all ages – first by following them, and then by running with them, subsequently settling into what he considers his most effective, “Will you play with me?” For him Play was what he did, it was the way he learned and in that context play was serious work.

We made a conscious decision to return to India when Aaryan turned two. We did this to enable him to be with his extended family and to experience the sensory delights India has to offer. Closer to home we found Landmark, a poor cousin of Chapters and Aaryan is a regular there, a beginner reader with many books to choose from and then the toy sections, that fuels his imagination and lets him vent his internal narrative. At home, Aaryan finds more joy in cutting newspaper with scissors (under close supervision) and in playing with bubble wrap or cardboard cartons than with playing with the toys in his toy bin. Everyday household products have contributed to his learning and fired his imagination, as there is a story around everything he constructs.

During these four years when my son turned my greatest teacher, I have also engaged in extensive reading on the subject of play which has in many ways validated my interpretation of what I observed and in other cases influenced how I looked at the next sequence of “Aaryan’s work”. Encouraged by what I saw and learned, I decided to write an e-book late last year, to share my experiences and get the opinion of other educators. I have been overwhelmed by the response it has received, from India as well as Europe and the Americas and surprised at the distribution my work has achieved. I am truly humbled.

This is just the beginning as there is a lot more to learn from children at play. My musings in my eBook potentially represent only one chapter of a much more detailed book on early childhood education that I am researching and propose to have ready in the next few years.

I would like to grow some more by learning from other parents and educators as well as share with them my experiences and learnings. In the next few weeks, I will be organising a series of interactions, with parents and educators, the details of which are yet to be finalised. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to participate.

My experiences reproduced in this blog was originally published on futurechat