Saturday, November 8, 2014

7 Lessons Play Can Teach a Child?

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Till the fifth grade, life mostly revolved around play. There were at least three - four hours of play everyday. The big open playground next to my house played a major role in making that possible.

Children of different ages from the 1st to the 12th grade would come together and we would self organize ourselves and play late into the evening. There was an element of intelligence and superior understanding in all that we did. There were various things I learned from play which include:-

1.  Self Organization 

    For instance most of the students were of different age groups, from different countries or different parts of the same country. But we would ensure each of us turned up on time everyday. Then we would create our own mental rules for how the game must be played. Finally we would put aside all our differences to accommodate the people around us and to ensure play resumed.

2.  Understanding of Human Behavior   
    Unconsciously all the children in that ground were involved in a course of understanding human behavior. Most of the play was self-directed. We would do absolutely anything to ensure play resumed. For this to happen, we had to ensure everyone needs was met. We had to come to a general consensus on the set of rules the game would be played on. We had to develop an intuitive understanding of how people in our group worked to do this. 
    We observed body language, expressions and words used by our teammates. After the game we would have lots of conversations about our personal lives as well.  To ensure play resumed we would use this information while we were interacting with a particular player. Whenever two people got in an argument at the ground, each child would immediately go back to a contextual understanding of the other person’s situation. This was empathy at its best. We would actually think about what the other person was going through at home and school and the deal with the situation as such.

    For example one day, the father of two of the boys who played with us had passed away. A month later the boys came to play with us again. Everyone in the ground was more accommodating, flexible and understanding to the sensitive situation they were in. We would not argue on the day or get into too many conflicts, because we knew it would be very hard on them.

    This was an in-depth understanding of human behavior at play. As children we did not learn this through a college or online course. We had no background in psychology. We learned about other humans through real life interaction.

3.  Teamwork, Cooperation and Flexibility 

    Every time we played a new game the teams would be shuffled and we would have to play with a new team. We had to re-adjust, cooperate and be flexible and open to the needs of all the new players in the team. If it was a team game like football, we had to find a way to coordinate and cooperate with each other. We also had to develop an understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and put it in the larger context of the team very quickly. Sometimes, the team would be formed and within five minutes play would start. In these five minutes we had to sort our individual responsibilities out, understand each player in our team and just start play.

4.  Understand and Accept Failure 

    I was in Delhi, India recently. I had decided to go to the Lodhi Gardens to spend the afternoon reading a book there. I settled down on a bench and was about to start reading when I heard some children playing in the distance.

    I walk towards the noise and find a group of boys playing football there. For the next twenty minutes I sit down on a bench near them and just observe them play.  I noticed understanding of human behavior, teamwork and self organization. But I also noticed one more very important thing.

    At the end of the game, one team had scored more goals and won the game. Then I overheard a young boy from the team that lost say this, ‘It is alright. Let us play the next game.’ This child was slowly developing an understanding about how failure is part of life.

5.  No Stress Environment 

    Most importantly students were not afraid of being evaluated by a teacher or guardian. So they were involved in free play and freethinking. Like school, university or college, they did not have to fear judgment by anybody. They could just play, explore and be themselves here and that is why children like playing so much.

6.  Imagination and Creativity 

    Both formal and informal play requires a considerable amount of creativity and imagination. Children create their own games and set their own rules. 

    When I was little boy, I liked collecting toy soldiers and toy sport cars. I then created a Super Hero organization within my house,  that was on a mission to save the world. Each toy of mine was given a compartment or drawer to stay in. Since I was the biggest, I became the chief commander of this family of super heroes. I would overlook all their missions and tasks. Every night before going to bed, I would bring a few of my toy soldiers, cars and fantasy toys with me. Then I would send them on a mission.

    The mission would always be an adventure through the furniture and cabinets of my house. This team would face one obstacle in every mission and had to get themselves out of this problem. I would create dialogues for each toy of mine and it was all on the spot. Once they completed their mission, they would find a way to get back home, either by flying above the furniture or taking the road home. Every night, I would create a different adventure in a different part of the house for my toys.

7.  Exploration and Everyday Adventures 

    On rainy days when the playground would get flooded, or on the days we would not feel like playing any game, we would explore our neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods as well.

    We would walk into shops, buildings, parks and homes. We would climb trees, ride bikes and go for a jog to the beach nearby. 

    Sometimes, we would just sit down and have discussions on random subjects. We would brainstorm ideas and debate on topics. We would also speak about personal issues and things we were passionate about here. We would create entertainment clubs and charge each other a certain amount of money for different kinds of entertainment. We would organize meet-ups with friends from the next neighborhood and play games in larger groups together. Sometimes we would plan outings and visits to interesting places in our city. This could be the mall, a friend’s home or an interesting social event happening in town.

The city was our teacher and all the buildings, people and parks our toys (tools)

Let us learn together
Tweet @AbhishekShetty_

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