Sunday, June 28, 2009

Let’s Play

Have you ever been to a kindergarten? Or ever observed toddlers play? I bet you are missing a lot if you have not. I did a kindergarten observational study as an assignment in my graduation. My course on child psychology devoted an entire module to the concept of ‘play’. Now don’t you frown thinking, what’s the big deal with playing? Play is not as natural as breathing, as you may think. It requires a kid to pass through many developmental tasks to master this skill.

Now you would laugh if I said play therapists exist, but the truth is they did not fell from Mars. It’s so amazing that with no prior coaching on how to play (kids these days have a coaching for everything under the sun before joining a day care centre), the sort of behaviours children exhibit when left to their own reminds us how unique each individual is right from the beginning.

Observing play patterns are important because it gives you insight into the developmental milestones of children. If you still don’t believe me ask this to those parents who worry as to why their two year old son does not kick a football? Or why is one’s kid not holding a pencil? Why doesn’t my kid respond to colours or music? Why is my one year old destructive with toys and fights with other kids. Get into a crèche and be prepared for a mess. Tearing of papers, peeing into paints, fighting over things etc., to just name a few, are tantrums of varied nature that would definitely frighten you. But it is also cool to see them forget these behaviours in minutes and settle down into new activities that engage the minds of our little geniuses for the whole day.

Now play does not just mean throwing a ball, playing with dolls and making sand castles. Anything amusing to a child becomes a game. Now take this case of an eighteen month old who was trying to gain mastery over clicking a ballpoint pen and the whole activity turned into a game. She tried it on and on. When she failed she looked around. Seeing me she held the pen towards me, which meant “HELP”. I showed her how it should be clicked and soon enough this became our game. She would click and give it to me and I was expected to give it back to her and this went on for around forty five rounds until she got tired. This is what therapists would call ‘cooperative play’. When you see two or more kids sharing stuff and doing something like building a castle or making clay models, its cooperative play behavior. Mostly their discoveries are through trial and error method and it’s amazing how they learn through consultation and howexhaustive the whole process can be.

There are many solitary reapers as well. It might seem unnatural to some that kids prefer being loners. Recent research on solitary play states it to be beneficial for the cognitive development the sensory, perceptual and information processing abilities constitutes cognition). While girls engage mostly in solitary – constructive play like puzzles and colouring, boys engage in solitary- functional activities – building blocks, kicking a ball around etc. Solitary activities could also be imaginary games, like when kids sit in a corner and talk to imaginary play pals. These Calvins discuss game plans and strategies and even feed their Hobbes. There is a third subgroup in solitary players called reticent players. These are kids who are onlookers, do not engage in any play but observe others playing. Try giving them a lump of clay or a colouring book, they would not engage in these activities. It is said these kids are isolated or insulated to be so or have certain cognitive as well as physical deficits making them onlookers. They could also be observing to pick up language and behavioural skills they think they lack. I remember my brother who belonged to this category. Now that I think of it I understand why he could not get along with our girlish games of make believe- kitchen. Another interesting observation about solitary players is that they engage in imaginary games. Calvin and Hobbes is a typical example. A friend of mine who read this post during the editing said being the youngest at home with no one to play with, she lived in an imaginary world where she believed she had two homes and would sneak food from her real home to the imaginary one.

It’s amazing that initially kids don’t realize the difference between their fantasies and reality but later on when they distinguish the difference they still stick on it for some time.
Sometimes it’s interesting to observe kids sitting in groups or in a circle and using the same set of resources. But they do not actually play with each other. This is called Associative play. You can observe kids building rail roads and bridges avoiding the pathways of others. They are not entirely solitary players who would not share their resources. The barter system in associative learners is interesting to observe. When they have pieces that don’t get along with their plan they offer it to the person next to them. This level of decision making is quite significant at the developmental stage. Here they are playing together yet they are not together.

Now if you observe another group, you would find children sitting together in a group yet they play individually. One might be building bridge, the other moulding clay or maybe even doing the same activity but with no interaction with their neigbour. You could call them islands. They don’t socialise at all like which happens in associative play. Sometimes you see kids who grab all the toys from kids nearby and play all alone. Neither does s/he play with others nor do they share resources. Single borns who never have had to share with other kids mostly engage in this play pattern as they grow up. In an interview with a Montessori school teacher, one of the biggest problems she said, she saw in the present generation was this attitude. She mostly taught single borns and they do not know what it meant to share. She said it would amaze you but one of their agenda is to teach resourcefulness (definitely it would amaze anyone who never had to learn to share as part of the curriculum. I felt a generation leap hearing this.) If you ask them to share a seat in a bus, since they all come in cars occupying the entire back seat, they don’t realise it’s a bus and that they need to share. So even teaching a kid, to share a bus seat becomes a big lesson.

A child has a rationale for any game. S/he puts in more effort than any adult to make sense of the world around him/her through exploration. Their industrious and inquisitive mind could drain our energy and put us to shame.

One another very important thing I have learnt from kids was determination. They might get tired and leave the activity for a while but they aren’t quitters. I observed a boy trying to water a plant in the kindergarten using a mug which was broken. It took him lot of effort to run up and down with a leaking mug to water the plant. I wanted to see if he would give up and even more curious to understand if he did realise that the mug was leaking and his efforts were getting wasted. I finally saw him exasperatedly throwing away the mug. But after sometime he started running with handful of water. Later on, I saw a little army of kids, in line from the tap to the potted plant, passing handful of water. Now how much of it reached the plant, I am not sure but, I found the whole experience touching. Even conservation of nature is a game to them and conversely destruction a game to us adults. We have come a long way from being kids and all the while learned a lot of things by playing, but today when we stand at the crossroad of being an adult, we neither remember half of what we learned as kids nor are we ready to play again.

1 comment:

Who said...

if you have had observed me and brother playing then you could have found many more of these play styles, like - beat the crap out of you, wait let me show you, run for your life, who the hell are you, now tell me that again etc etc... we missed a research scholar then.. we could have made good subjects