By Mahima Dayal

Growing up in the 90s, I was exposed to two kinds of education. The first was what I got from the dreary grind of school {which almost convinced me that dyslexia was something that had to be ‘dealt’ with}, while the second is what I would like to call a ‘hunter-gatherer education’. I am close to being convinced now, that it’s the second that taught me most.

One hour of Dexter followed by Power Puff girls or Swat Cats, and the twelve year old in me was ready to go out and play. Kids of mixed-ages in our neighbourhood would play every day after school, often until dark. These were times when the horrible combination of red and yellow on my boy-who-is-a-friend’s track pants was hardly a reason to rebuke. We played all weekend and all summer long. We had time to get bored and figure out how to overcome boredom, time to get into trouble and find our way out of it and most of all, invent our own games. We would get inspired by Takeshi’s Castle and then devise our very own obstacle courses. Gully cricket was our all time favourite; else we could spend hours etching the roads with red sandstone.

No one taught us how to play hopscotch; we’ve just always played it, much like all the other kids just could. A few years older, and marampitty became a thing among kids who wanted to test their endurance levels. I remember spending hours simply hunting for stones that fit the size and dimension of that idyllic conical pithu mountain. And if by then the girls from the ‘other group’ had left a game of hopscotch scribbled on the road, then there was enough to keep us occupied for the most part.

Let’s hop back to the present. A stroll down the same residential street, even on days that have good weather, and one will sense a curious lull. Obviously, kids live in these places, but they no longer seem to play outdoors. The monkey bar that I would hang on to no end and yet to no avail is now worn out, untouched or perhaps used occasionally by the washing lady to dry her clothes. No marks are ever found on the same roads we would scurry on relentlessly.

A recent study conducted by Savlon, along with a campaign group that goes by the title Play England, shows that while 72 per cent of today’s parents preferred playing outside when they were young, only 40 per cent of today’s children would swap time in front of the TV, computer or even homework, for playing outdoors. It also reveals that 42 per cent of children aged between 6 and 15 have never rolled down a hill, and a third of them have no idea how to play hopscotch! Given these figures, I know that my reflections then are just not a figment of my imagination alone. So I’ve thought of a few theories as to why kids have turned into couch potatoes.

– Probably the obsession with certain sports that are popular on television have taken away from the charm of simpler games like Kho-Kho, or remember gallery? {Windfall of memories in my head now.} For instance, my little sister started going to the DDA sports club for basketball coaching when she was in the 8th grade. After that, she never bothered to play hopscotch again. But this can’t be used as an overarching assumption for all kids, so let’s move on to the second theory.

– When you live in nuclear families, parents get more protective. Especially when both are working and there is no one to look after the kid when he/she is out to play. So eventually, pitthu is replaced by a PSP and hopscotch with HD TV.

– Next, the assumption that there exists a dichotomy between learning and playing is difficult to break. Are both not the same? Playing is, at best, a refreshing break from learning. From that view, summer vacation is just a long recess, perhaps longer than necessary. But here’s an alternative view, which should be obvious but apparently is not – playing is learning. At play, children learn the most important life lessons, the ones that cannot be taught in school.

Nostalgia, of course, has colored my perspective, for when my mother tells me tales of her childhood excursions, I instantly begin to thank my stars for not imposing the rigid rules of a joint family on me. It’s a vicious cycle actually; we never seem to be content with what the younger generation seems to be doing, for hey- I never held any device except a TV remote in my hand, till I turned 13.

This is a part of our fortnightly series, Quill & Ink, which is penned by someone from the editorial team at LBBD. Musings of our life in Delhi, circumstances, experiences, and a bunch of us just… thinking out loud.

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