Making time for play is vital and those of us who were fortunate enough to grow up before the emergence of cellphones and technology appreciate the sense of freedom and delight playtime brought. Playtime was synonymous with playing outside, skinning our knees, using our imagination and just having fun. Thinking about my own childhood, and particularly playtime, fills me with nostalgia. I remember how much I looked forward to recess in school and all the games we played from hide and seek to seven tiles. It was a time for us to form bonds of friendship, learn how to reason and negotiate, and understand something about the world and ourselves. Playing certain games, built teamwork, developed our problem-solving skills and forced us to think outside the box.
Playtime was encouraged at school as it gave us an opportunity to learn and explore a world outside of the classrooms. For me, the worst punishment a teacher could administer was to make you stay behind in class during recess and the next worst punishment was being a class prefect who had to stay behind to monitor those who were being punished. In case you are wondering, I was a class prefect, so I would spend the time staring with disapproval at the offenders who confined me to a classroom during recess, hoping they would give me a reason to take down their names thereby earning themselves further punishment.
At Amara Charitable Trust, we understand the importance of playtime in the schools we support and have created safe playing spaces at six primary schools and one special needs institution.
In the rural schools we partner with, the young learners find joy in the simplest of pleasures. Technology has not yet infected these schools, so their pure unadulterated happiness at playtime is a real joy to behold. The innovative ways they make playtime fun for themselves is evidence that this special time can encourage creativity, curiosity and resourcefulness all of which are fundamental to a child’s intellectual development. Through play, children develop physically and discover a multitude of emotional and social skills, as well as learn how to process the world around them as they interact with other.
I try to envision a world where young children have no idea how to play outside anymore or instances where games that I enjoyed in my childhood are long forgotten, and it fills me with some sadness. Imagine never knowing how to play hopscotch in the playground? As I write this blog, I took a moment to Google hopscotch and the first item that came up was HOPSCOTCH, a coding app from a well-known technology company, that teaches young children to code. For me hopscotch is this ground game that gave me and people of my generation hours of amusement:
At the rate the world is advancing, if we do not make outdoor playtime a priority for young children now, they will reach adulthood never knowing the excitement and delight of playing outside. Playgrounds are where they form their first real friendships outside of their immediate family.
Most of the young learners come from difficult family backgrounds and playtime can be a great way for them to just be children, even if for a brief time. During playtime they can forget about the stresses of life at home, not having the right shoes to play football in or sometimes not even having the correct school uniform. Playtime makes them all equal as there is no judgement or grading taking place and all they need is enthusiasm and a free spirit which thankfully these young ones have in spades.
Playtime never needs to be complicated. It is one of the simplest forms of self-expression a child will ever know….and we as adults can learn much about a child from watching how they play.
Playtime at school maybe the only time some of these young learners have to enjoy their childhood. We know from speaking with them that, when they go home from school, some have to do household chores like fetching water or looking after their younger siblings so playtime at school becomes even more essential.
From my own experience, I know that playtime, much like reading a good book, has a way of liberating your troubled soul and providing an anchor when things get rough. These young learners need a safe space, free from judgement and worries to enjoy their childhood. Studies have shown that playtime has the potential to build confidence and positive interactions with others and is pivotal to their development.
Creating playgrounds is in line with our mission which is:
“Providing an all-round learning experience to children in rural Kenya.”
Playtime is not just the preserve of the young and the Trustees at Amara Charitable Trust never miss an opportunity to allow their inner child out! It is not unusual for them to let their hair down and enjoy dancing to celebrate a successful project or even have a go on a swing if there is one in sight!
Seeing the young and the young at heart enjoying moments of fun, especially on a swing takes me back to my own childhood. Back then, there wasn’t a swing or slide I wouldn’t try out. I may have lost some of that spontaneity over the years but have realized that it is never too late to let out your inner child.
To all of you reading this post, I hope you find your inner child and I hope that moment ignites happy memories for you of days spent outside, playing games, chasing butterflies, looking for ladybugs and sometimes skinning your knees in the process!