Musings of a Pioneer: Playschool Learning for Toddlers (Part 1)

“Stunt, dwarf, or destroy the imagination of a child, and you have taken away their chances of success in life. Imagination transforms the commonplace into the great and creates the new out of the old,” said Lyman Frank Baum, the famous author of children’s books who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels, more than a century back.

I must have been around two years old when my parents decided to send me to a playschool. My mother was a stay-at-home mom – and my younger brother was born a year and a half after me. It must have been tough for her to take care of two boisterous little ones all on her own. I may have been away from home for maybe only three hours in the morning; but it probably gave her much-needed space to get ready for the battles of the day.

What I still remember distinctly from my playschool journey is a yellow coloured inflatable water pool in which around 10 or so children would gleefully jump for water play. We were a happy lot, without a care in the world, away from parental eyes, playing and interacting with our peers.

We grew up happy, satisfied, and proud of ourselves. I am certain that most educated adults today, who are now themselves parents of little ones, have also been brought up similarly, with a mix of playschool learning and parental discipline, with minor variations here and there.

Two important development milestones in any child’s life are imagination and socialisation –children need to be exposed to both early in life; and lay the foundation for an adult who is confident of facing the world on their own terms.

Experts say that a child’s basic communication is primarily with their mother till age 1, but they also start recognising familiar people. Starting around 18 months, the child starts playing ‘pretend’ games. They pretend to be someone else, acting out everyday actions, which they have seen adults performing – which is fun, but it also teaches them courage and curiosity. This pretend game may mostly consist of simple acts but is likely to start getting more complex as the child grows up, and by the time they are three years old, their imagination will be vivid – like hosting tea parties, or buying vegetables or teaching a class. By the age of four, they may even be creating and narrating stories.

The child is also involved in play as they are growing up. Till around 18 months of age, they are mostly involved in solitary play, that is, playing by themselves. At this stage, in a room full of other children, they mostly play by themselves, even when sitting next to another child – this is parallel play. This parallel play, at this stage, is only an imitation of what others are doing; but it makes the child aware of the concept of ‘social’. Slowly, they also start developing imagination skills, and by the age of 30 months, they start to develop concepts of sharing their feelings and emotions with reference to the same feelings in other children. These are the social skills that the child is now developing.

Studies also show that the first three years are most the important for building a baby’s brain – it develops rapidly during this period to almost 80 percent of a fully developed brain. It is during these three years that the child rapidly develops cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, and motor skills. For holistic development to happen, the little one needs to be exposed to a peer group and caregivers other than parents, whom they can observe and imitate.

As our society evolved over the years from a joint family to a nuclear family, there was a withdrawal of traditional support from the grandparents in bringing up the child. Increased comforts of life also meant that both the parents started working. Thus, there was also a need for after school support for the children. Playschools stepped in to provide after school day care to the children.

I have also learnt with the wisdom of age that children listen to their teachers more willingly than to their parents – particularly when it comes to discipline. I do not remember carrying a grudge against any of my teachers, even when they did not hesitate to use the cane. But I still do remember events involving my parents when they tried to discipline me. Many of those reading these lines will also probably second me on this.

Why do children not listen to their parents? There are many reasons – but at the root of it all is a reason which may seem contradictory – it is not. A child looks at their parent as a role model – they try to imitate the parent. Thus, if a parent wants their child to listen, then they themselves should be a good listener. Instead, they often shout when the child does not listen or even get irritated if the child is too inquisitive. The child rebels at this curb on their natural urge to learn about the environment in which they have been brought forth.

The child finds a more conducive environment in the school where they can indulge in their favourite pastimes in a non-judgemental atmosphere. It also gives them an environment to interact socially with their peer group.

All the above required additional support for the parents. This was being taken care of by playschools or preschools, Aanganwaadis and many other similar institutions. Till we were struck by a miniscule virus – the Covid 19…

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