Many children in Singapore are forced into highly competitive environments as early as 4 years of age. Their schedules are chock full of enrichment and preparation classes until they don’t even look forward to school holidays anymore because they have holiday camps and more classes.
These kids go to primary school and feel bored, causing the bar to be raised even higher for future batches of students. It’s a suffocating cycle. With two very young children at home, I wish to let them play and explore and ideally, pick up concepts and develop their own reasoning through play.
Eventually, I will have to prepare them for primary school to ensure that they know enough to not fall behind their peers and suffer from low self-esteem. Before that, setting up an environment which stimulates learning will be beneficial for their holistic development.
My own childhood was less stressful and I remember having my own huge playhouse with working fan and lights, constructed by my father from a TV box. He crafted cardboard shelves from pizza boxes for my Barbie dolls and taught me to cycle. Okay, I completed Mixed-Up Mother Goose, watched my dad play Wolf 3D and Prince of Persia, so I wasn’t all Tarzan. I felt real academic stress when I started primary school.
Here’s why open-ended play is important. How do we start? Popular beliefs of open-ended play are that “Passive toys make active learners.” and “The best toys for babies do nothing”. Rather than buy an electronic toy drum set, hand them pots and pans. Start a collection of bread tags, bottle caps, toilet paper rolls, rubber bands, pebbles, leaves… things readily available in the household.
There are many ideas available online I’m only beginning to clear out my toys. In the meantime, I try to bring them out for playdates at least once a week to socialise and explore non-digital environments. On days that we don’t go out, we sometimes let them go to the playground to climb, run and expend all that energy. Letting kids sit on grass does wonders for their immune systems. Also, you know those electric shocks you get when you brush against another person? Standing barefooted on the ground, though icky, dispels static electricity from your body into the ground.
Children are like flowers; fragile yet with the right environment, they will flourish.