There are many things my toddler is good at, but when it comes to playtime, the Little Mister has got it sorted. He's 18 months old, and he's one little boy who likes to play. In fact, he loves to play. And what does he do? Or how does he do it? It's all by instinct. Of course it is.
Which is why when I read this article in the New York Post on playdates I felt immediately saddened and that the world had gone a little bit crazier while I wasn't looking.
In the 'exclusive' expose, we're told that posh Manhattan parents are spending 400 dollars an hour on 'recreation experts' for their four-year-olds.
They set up playdates and then teach them how to play. The aim of the game is, ultimately, to get these little people into exclusive private schools. The playdates are intended to help them impress the admissions board with their skills when it comes to playing with others. Apparently the children are so busy doing things like learning Mandarin and violin the rest of the week, that they might not have enough time to learn how to play.
The concept of the young, rich Manhattanite who doesn't know how to play is depressing. I agree with introducing children to activities such as sports and learning musical instruments or art or whatever it is that they show an enjoyment of. I think it's good for them to have an awareness of other cultures – and that could be done through learning languages.
The blurry line is how do you know when to stop? It has to be different for every parent. But for me a child's enjoyment is paramount. They are just four precious years old. If you have the means and there is, for example, a sport they love – indulge them with lessons once a week. As long as they are having fun. If they once went to a dance class and loved it, take them there again. But filling every day with structured activities at the expense of free play must be detrimental to their overall development and social skills.
The article, of course, is depressing on so many other levels. Whether or not any such structured classes are suitable for four-year-olds is, however, another debate. I'm saying there's a place for some – but there's a careful balance to be reached, and it will be different for each child. For the parent without the means, I don't believe their child is at any disadvantage for not attending six extra-curricular activities a week before they start school. Many parents, I'm sure, will argue that this child will in fact be better off.
Children should not need to learn how to play. Play is surely instinctive, natural, fun, and surely what most four-year-olds should be doing most of the time. Play is also not just about enjoyment. Surely the child that plays is a child that learns?
Through play, children learn to socialise and interact with each other. Through play, children learn to solve problems and overcome hurdles independently. Through play, children make discoveries about the world around them, the people around them, and the natural and built environments they exist in. Through play, they become independent thinkers, they use their creativity, and they develop and grow in a natural way at a rate that is right for them.
Whether it's through playdates with the neighbours, exploring what's in the mud in the fields, playing chase at the park or banging on pots and pans in the kitchen, our little people need to play. Let's let them do it as much and as often as they want.
I'm Kiran and this is my place to think about the world as it has changed for me during motherhood.
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