Grow your child through Play
In India as a small girl, I used to love helping my Father wind up his old gramophone, one with a big horn, like you see in old pictures of ‘His Masters Voice’, to listen to songs like the ‘Teddy bears’ picnic’ and Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace’ and the ‘Chirruping of the birdies in the Sycamore tree’.
His records (‘vinyls’ to my DJ son!) included Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, and Stainer, and military brass-band music, which move me even now when I hear them.
I am deeply enriched by so many wonderful experiences. I would love my children to have known and been in that sort of place as small children.
We made dolls from sticks and leaves and scraps of cloth. We marvelled at the cross flowers on the passion fruit, played ‘bunnies’ with the antirrhinum flowers, and made guinea pigs from hairy mango stones.
We visited different village homes where we were always made welcome to join the family for their breakfast of idlis or rice and hot chilli sauce – much more tasty than our porage and eggs!
And we shared our boiled sweets: Mother would get us to make paper cones out of newspaper and fill them with small boiled sweets, which we would take out to our special play places and share with our friends, the children from the orphanage.
Birthdays were special – birthday meals were occasions of beauty, with flowers we all gathered, and put on the table in front of the birthday person, and decorated her chair.
We climbed tall trees and weirdly shaped ones, trees that had fruit of all sorts, often ones that nobody could tell us the names of. There were trees with hollow spaces where we sometimes kept ‘secret’ things, and the tall, massively solid jackfruit tree, that none of us tried to climb.
My brother, born up in those mountains, was full of adventure, an experimenter at heart, who loved to try out things he saw other people doing, especially his Dad. He used to enjoy sitting in the tree by the open-hearth kitchen, that spread its branches over the wall next to the small garden gate. When he was about five, he took his Dad’s saw up into the tree with him, and was busily engaged in trying to saw off the branch on which he was sitting, when our Aya spied what he was doing and dashed to rescue him!
We found ‘evidence’ of a fairy village near the custard apple tree, where mysterious rings had appeared in the sandy soil, and toadstools grew that were perfect homes for elves.
We would ‘help’ the villagers, who all gathered to winnow the grain and rice when it was harvested, in their flat baskets that they flapped expertly, teasing the chaff from the grain.
We followed the long file of ducks waddling to the paddy fields, herded by the Duck boy to enjoy the water for the day, protecting them from the marauding jackals that fancied duck for lunch.
Sometimes Mother would ask us to watch the straggly goats that had the privilege of grazing their fill in the rich grass of the bungalow’s garden. Our task was to stop them from feasting upon our painstakingly-washed clothes that were spread out on bushes and grass to dry. That was much more challenging than it sounds! The goats enjoyed our tasty clothes more than the lush grass and were not so easily beaten off by us!
We played hopscotch on the verandah, hide-and-seek in the fruit gardens, and raced round the bungalows.
My experience of childhood showed that children do not need expensive toys to give them opportunities to learn. In fact, the sort of things we played were full of imagination and fun, with very few and very primitive props.
Sadly, lots of the natural, fun things I did are not accessible to our children. But we can still give opportunities for simple, imaginative and exploratory play – even if we need to restrict their play places for good reasons. Positive themes woven into our children’s play are important. Many games are age-old ones that parents pass down from generations past.
Creating, Helping and Sharing
Our homes are full of all sorts of fun things to play and do, give and explore. Mums can nurture the natural curiosity and adventurous spirit of our youngsters - even if you do not consider yourself to be creative, there are lots of ideas online! But perhaps the best way is to look with your child at the paper, boxes, cartons that you throw away, and see what he or she thinks could be made from it!
Or you can find projects like the Mawada Project, in which children learn how to make dolls out of small towels, and cuddly animals, to send to children in troubled areas of the world.
Helping is something children can learn from very small – and best from example - so it becomes the norm.
Music, Imitating and Games – as a wonderful Teacher said recently, music ‘can open the heart’, though it can also destroy. Children’s hearts are so vulnerable, in their parents’ hands to open them wisely.
Games and music are linked, and small children love games like ‘Ring a roses’, and ‘This is the way we wash our hands’, with actions. ‘Old Macdonald had a Farm’ is good for the animal sounds even if all the words are too hard yet.
Imagining, Celebrating and Exploring
All these are so important in a child’s life. Even if very limited with cash, families can make their own celebrations and fun.
Imagination is bigger than the universe – so let’s help our children see past the walls, using pictures, images, sounds, feelings, to help them make their own stories, dramas and adventures.
These are things they will remember, that nourish their personalities, souls and minds. Enjoy! And do share what works for your family.