Let Them Play, So They Can Learn


Children’s time today is jammed up with school first, then tuitions and then further classes here and there, language, music etc. At the end of the day the child has hardly had any time left to ‘play’, because ‘play-time’ comes after everything else today.

I remember one time when my 6 year old niece was crying really hard, with tears in her eyes. I thought she had a major strife with her parents over something. I was surprised when I asked her, “What do you want?”, and she replied, “I just want to play, but there is so much homework left to do.”

This passionate ‘want’ to play, comes so naturally to children cause that’s exactly what their bodies and minds need at that moment. Somehow we adults have a hard time understanding this, even though we probably went through the same thing, or maybe not. Didn’t we and/or our parent’s generation have a lot more time and space to free play? Most of my father’s childhood memories revolve around jumping into the river for a swim or falling from the tree while plucking mangoes and guavas. I believe both our generations are very successfully living our personal and work lives, at full capacity. So, what is it that makes us want to cram our children’s time with so much study and supposedly ‘learning’ time and deprive them of major ‘play time’ .

As we grow into parents, we tend to join the rat race of whose child is smarter, and we start fretting over things like, ‘how many words my child can say’. The most amazing bit is that it doesn’t stop once our children start speaking clearly. It soon becomes about phonetics and then his vocabulary enhancement and it goes on and on. The problem here is we believe that development or growth in children is linear. A common belief of ‘the earlier my child learns something the better it is for him/her later on in life’. However, vast research on this subject proves that this is not true. All living organisms, including human children undergo gradual development. Each phase of growth has a theme that is very different from the next. It sets the foundation for the next, but at the same time needs its own time. Hence, if we trust the child’s natural inner urge for ‘learning by doing’ which translates into ‘play’, the use of mental activity will occur at the right time. You can keep struggling to teach your child ‘A for apple’, but unless you give him that apple in his/her hand to play, drop and maybe throw, it will be difficult for him to process what it is. What we believe is the ‘capacity to think’ doesn’t develop through intellectual understanding, but actually through ‘physical play’.

I will take the liberty to say that children seriously lack play in today’s time. For children ‘play’ is not pass time but serious ‘work’, that is necessary for their development. It is a fact that if a young child spends too much time reading he is losing out on a lot of movement, which actually helps develop their brains. So, we need to give some thought, to what’s more important to us? Having a child who can read books by the time he is 6 or having a child whose brain is aptly wired, and has the right neuron-connections by the time he is 6. According to scientists and researchers “Play is a central part of neurological growth and development. It is the one important way that children build complex, skilled, responsive, socially adept and cognitively flexible brains.”

So then why is time being played considered as ‘time lost’? When, in fact it is the exact opposite. Children need to spend more and more time in the 3d world, engaging all their senses. Children cannot mentally understand the world around them, unless and until they have physically sensed that world. This physical impression happens through hands on activity and play, whilst they are using all their senses. This same ‘play’ which we generally think children ‘want’ but not ‘need’, is responsible for structuring their inner organs and brain, which later on in life transfers in the child’s imagination, thinking and reflective capability.

Today we are depriving children of free play, in the name of ‘efficiency’. The irony is we deprive children of play to teach them, without realizing that they can’t learn without ‘play’. I wonder what is next? Are we going to reduce sleep time, and deprive them of sleep, so as to cram more into their schedules? Where is the limit in our attempts to ensure ‘efficiency’ with this generation?

Mridula Saria

Mridula Saria

An educationist, mother, and mentor. Have mentored 1000’s of children over the last 5 years. Co founder, Grooming Tales (An organization that hones children's personality, and brings out the best of their unique selves, preparing them for the world of tomorrow.) Passionate about educating children the right way, I believe that children must enjoy the process of learning, and learn-by-will, rather than force. Hence, I continually research and explore, on holistic learning, while guiding mentors and parents with the same. I am a firm believer of honesty, and 'just doing' in life.

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