Keeping children busy

 Where go the Boats?

Dark brown is the river,

Golden is the sand.

It flows along for ever,

With trees on either hand.

Green leaves a-floating,

Castles of the foam,

Boats of mine a-boating –

Where will all come home?

On goes the river

And out past the mill,

Away down the valley,

Away down the hill.

Away down the river,

A hundred miles or more,

Other little children

shall bring my boats ashore.

By R.L. Stevenson

This was childhood in the mid 1800s. In Edinburgh, yes, but this part of it does seem pretty universal for that time. Even two generations later it hadn’t changed all that much. Later, when I was a child, it was more of floating paper boats in rainwater flowing along the edge of the sidewalk, wondering how far they would go.

One of the things I remember about growing up is spending whole afternoons dreaming while adults took their siestas. Mostly nothing tangible came out of these lazy afternoons. Not immediately at least. But it was nice. And not boring at all. My head was an interesting enough place and I can remember a few of my preoccupations between Grade 1 and Grade 4: thinking up new places to hide when all the neighbourhood kids gathered to play ‘Hide and Seek’ in the evenings; wondering whether the other kids would agree to planting beans again in our front garden, a small patch of earth measuring 6feet x 10feet. This had become a communal garden for all the kids, and there had to be consensus before anything was planted in it. I remember being excited about how we dug up the soil and gave the garden a slope, and created an irrigation system that we believed we had invented! And the clay pots we made from that same sticky, clayey soil and baked in the sun.

Almost all parents I know talk wistfully about their childhood. So do I. There’s been quite a bit of criticism in the press on how parents drive their kids from one activity to another and rob them of their childhood. The way I see it, when moms take their 7-9 year olds to tennis classes, they are merely trying to give them some space to play and get some exercise. To their credit, coaches don’t drive the kids hard, and make sure they have fun by arranging non-competitive races and relays at the end of the session. Most moms waiting on the bleachers are not interested in pushing their children to become another Federer or Sharapova. Those who do, get more realistic as time passes. Dance classes are also seen as a fun activity involving other kids, and space to let off steam. The energetic routines, preceded by warm-up stretches, provide some exercise as well. Maybe that’s the best they can do, especially if they live in an apartment block with no yard, set on a busy road. These activities seem preferable to staying cooscan0001ped up in a flat watching television or playing computer games.

I think most middle-class mothers in cities are doing their best to give their children as nice a childhood as possible. Where are the playgrounds? How many people think that expensive space in the middle of the city should be left with nothing constructed on it? If parents urge their kids to excel, it is to help them gain confidence: if they tell them not to give up, it’s to build endurance, as most Indian parents know Indian school, college and job realities.

Where parents are going wrong is in following the herd, sending a child through activities because other people are, without tuning in to their child’s needs to ascertain that he’ll like it. Also perhaps in treating them like future resume-enhancers. My nephew took a course in Magic in the summer holidays when he was 11 or 12. He loved it, and seemed to have a flair for it. Eventually the magician he was training under began taking him along on shows as an assistant, mostly to children’s birthday parties. And no worries, he turned out well enough – he is an engineer now!



2 thoughts on “Keeping children busy

  1. play is a very important psychological release for children much as sleep is important for undoing the trauma of day to day existence-the hurts , the scoldings etc,free play is the way to go and too much stuctured activity may seem like school all over again.


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