Food for thought: childhood and play

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Do you let your children play or do you make them focus too much on academics?

Think about the happiest memory in your childhood, what were you doing? Many would say that they were playing, either with their friends or family. Childhood and play go hand in hand.

Twenty to thirty years ago, children of aged four to six spent much of their time playing instead of focusing on their academics. Unlike children today, a successful businessman from the pioneer generation, Mr Low, has shared with us that he had plenty of opportunities and freedom to play with his friends during his preschool years. From playing outdoors to constructing personal toys, he spent a great amount of time enjoying his childhood. Play has enabled him to develop creativity and life skills which have led him to where he is today, despite only receiving minimal education.

The early years of life are a period of great opportunity and of crucial importance for every child’s development. Within those years, play has notably a positive enduring effect on later learning and development.

On the contrary, in the academic-driven society of Singapore, many four to six years olds are attending tuitions and enrichment programmes during their free time. This reveals that the emphasis is placed greatly on children’s academics as compared to them playing and enjoying their childhood. A study conducted by the Straits Times revealed that 40% of 500 parents interviewed have preschool aged children and the former have sent their children to attend tuition classes.

kids playing outdoors, Leftose, Isoderm

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned parents in his 2012 National Day Rally Speech about over-teaching children as it does more harm than good, and stressed on the importance of learning through play. We should allow our children to enjoy their childhood and not place them in enrichment classes and tuition during their early years. We should not overwork or over-teach children as rushing through developmental phases will affect their interest in learning.

This in turn increases their stress levels, considering how they will eventually experience an endless work stream once they enter primary school. We all hope for our children, the future pillars of Singapore, to grow up happy and contented. But are we doing so in the right way?

Although it is important to focus on academics, children should first be given the opportunity to grow up healthily and holistically. There is growing international evidence with regards about childhood and play and how play is tied to the nurture and growth of various developmental domains.

Play is indispensable to the extent that South Korea, despite being an academic obsessed country, has made it compulsory for preschools to dedicate five hours each day for children to engage in free play (besides prohibiting worksheets and enrichment classes). If they have realized the importance of play and are able to make such drastic educational changes, why can’t we do the same in Singapore as well?

There is an urgent need for children in Singapore enjoy childhood and play, and to have longer hours of play, be it indoor or outdoor, simply because play matters. Now is the time for you to bring your children to the nearby playground or park, and see the smiles and laughter on their faces as they play. That is how real childhood should look like!

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