Unstructured Playtime

Free play and Informal Learning

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Children Playing

Growing up, I remember play time to be as unstructured and unrestricted as it can get. Prior planning for play was minimal.  While precious, endearing and sacrosanct, play time was not a scheduled activity and parents were not under pressure to carve out time for parks or any other activity on a regular basis.

Formal classes and coaching opportunities were few and far between. Informal play was the activity of choice for children to stay engaged. These informal interactions with friends and playmates  were a highlight of the day. I remember looking forward to coming back from school, grabbing a quick bite and finishing homework to go play with friends.

I also recall that the only thing that I disliked about exam days or sick days was skipping play time with my buddies. On sick days, more than medicine or tender loving care of parents, it was the joyful shrieks of friends playing that would work faster than medicines.

Absence of smart phone and smart devices made outdoor playtime as the best means of socialization outside school.

Someday when a soccer ball was available and not out of air, it was a day for soccer. Another day when at least four of us could find our racquets and a shuttle cock, it was badminton day. On most days-chase was the default choice of play and fun since no external instrument was required to play and no one risked going back home to be retained by a parent.

Since decision making and its implementation was a collaborative process- curfews set by parents were always up against some of the best counter arguments that I can recall.  “Come home-you have school tomorrow.” “But I have not had a turn.” “Its dinner time.” “I am not hungry.” “Dad is waiting.” “My friend is still playing.” “You can play for longer tomorrow.” “You said the same thing yesterday.”

We learned more about the power of negotiation, group play and teamwork from these exchanges than anywhere else. With no parents and their smart phones taking another video or picture in sight, children were allowed to grow without continuous intrusion of technology in everyday life.

Now as I drive and chaperone by daughter to various classes and activities, I recall with sweet nostalgia my own childhood and the carefree ways of the bygone days.

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