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Childhood Entertainment: Avenues, Analysis & Orderly Application


 Essay submitted for and awarded second prize in National Essay Competition ‘Mindapple 2006’ organized by Indian Academy of Pediatrics

 

Childhood entertainment has always been a topic of concern not as much to the children as to their parents. To a child any activity that gives pleasure and holds his interest is entertaining. They can create play from anything.  But they are immature to make the right selection of toy, game or hobby. To an adult entertainment mainly applies to some sort of activity that helps relieve boredom, that help utilize free time, that relieves oneself from stress or just because one enjoys it. It may not necessarily teach them, or train them. When they entertain themselves with a movie, a book, a stack of play card or chat on internet, they have the maturity enough for reasoning and understanding the realities. Entertainment to an adult carries no more significance than “just for joy.”

 

 

Childhood entertainment – a concern for today’s parents

 

Parents are always eager to provide the best entertainment to their children.  Their concern is justified as for a child source of entertainment is as important as the need of entertainment itself. In olden times the question of entertainment was not very bothersome because there were large and joint families with many children to play with each other. There was no nuisance of electric media like television, computers etc. Today’s parents face difficult situation because most families are nuclear with both parents working. Families are limited to one or at the most two children with often an age difference large enough that they cannot be each others companion in play.  There are dangers of demons like television, internet access, video games that can spoil the children if allowed to use them unobserved. Our culture is so rapidly changing that today’s parents cannot rely on their own childhood experiences. They need to update themselves about all matters pertaining to child rearing and that also includes child entertainment. In this age of competition and awareness parents are overcautious about child’s play. Toys have become a prestige issue. They are more than necessary enthusiastic to teach maximum skills through play. That is why playschools, activity centers and toy industry are flourishing like anything. With many avenues for child entertainment today’s parents need to make judicious selection depending on the child’s age, maturity, personal interests and not to forget the economic status of the family. As pediatricians we should extend our duty beyond the care of physical health. We can be the best guide to the parents in making choice of perfect play items and activities that would bring best out of their child.

 

 

Why children need entertainment?

 

When we discuss childhood entertainment, first question to arise in mind is why children need entertainment? Do parents stack their houses with variety of toys or enroll them in playschools and activity centers just to keep them happy and cheerful? The answer is ‘no’, as most of us know. Contrary to adults who need entertainment to relax from a busy schedule children need it to keep them busy. When we see life through a child’s eye, say a two years old, we can realize how difficult it is to spend time if there’s no access to anything else accept the basic requirements of food, water and sleep. He is having a mind which is growing rapidly but is still an “empty slate”, a body which is blossoming with abilities to sit, crawl, stand, walk and climb, and a soul full of curiosity. Every single hour appears like a long long day to him. Expecting such a child to sit idly is more than punishing him. As goes the saying that ‘an empty mind is a devils home’, these little power machines need some activity to outlet their energy positively. Older children need entertainment to counterbalance the weariness of school and homework. ‘All work and no play make them dull.’  Besides this, children learn from play. For them entertainment and skill development are the two sides of the same coin. Useless is the lesson that is not entertaining and fruitless is the play that does not teach anything.  How can the need be fulfilled in the best way? Or what are the factors to be considered while selecting a mode of entertainment is the next issue.

 

 

Avenues for childhood entertainment

 

Rightful entertainment should provide activity that keeps the child involved interestingly. It should stimulate child’s logistic thinking, boost his imaginative and linguistic skills, bring out his creativity and help improve hand eye and body coordination. It should help social and emotional development of child. It should enhance or at least does not harm the physical health. Safety of the child is also to be considered. Understanding these concepts, the spectrum of childhood entertainment can be extended from a crib to cyber café i.e. from simple toys to the use of electric medias. The list includes variety of toys; commercial and homemade, puzzles, indoor games, books, activities like arts and crafts, hobbies like dancing, music, sports like cricket, swimming, family outings, bedtime stories and much more.

 

 

Analysis and orderly application of the avenues

 

The need of entertainment begins with the birth of a child. A newborn loves soft music. Bright and colorful objects act as visual treat whenever the baby is actively awake. At 3 to 4 months a baby can relieve boredom by looking at bright toys hanging on cot. Wind chimes, mobiles and music boxes are quite entertaining at this age. Parents can create innovative cheap toys by hanging few pieces of colorful clothes, or woolen threads or small plastic and metal balls and bells. Remember to remove these objects away from baby’s reach when he learns grasping. He may pull it apart and there is a hazard of choking. Child at this age also loves occasional outdoor ride in a stroller.

 

At the age when child learns to sit and starts teething, mouthing is great joy. He can be surrounded by anything that is large enough to be swallowed, soft, unbreakable, made of nontoxic and washable material and easy to mouth. They should be frequently cleaned to sweep off the germs. Baby enjoys item that make noise on manipulation. Bells, rattles and balls that sounds while rolling teach them motion-sound association.  Battery or key operated moving toys help visual coordination as the infant follow the moving toy. Toys that help hand eye coordination like musical piano, press and move toys, colorful rings that can be staked from largest to smallest or chain of kiddy-links are  liked by infants. They need not be the costly branded items every time. A handy musical toy can be created by katoris of different sizes and metals and a spoon. Parents can make a picture book by slipping the photos of family members or pictures of objects loved by the child in an empty or unused album. Unbreakable mirrors can be fixed at various places. Bright posters can be pasted on the walls in the baby’s room.

 

Infants love swinging in baby swings hanged outside the house. It should be frequently checked for safety. The child should never be left alone even for few seconds. Walkers can be introduced when the child shows eagerness to be mobile. Serious and life threatening accidents have made its use obstinate. It also results in defective and delayed walking. However if parents wish to use it, it should be always under observation. A tape of soft music, nursery rhymes and lullabies are always a handy, cheap and easy source of entertainment for children of any age from newborn to preschooler. Parents can provide their child a riding toy like a rocking pony or a car when the child has learned balancing and climbing himself.

 

At the age of two years imaginations, imitations and language all grow rapidly. Give spur to his imagination by providing clay and molding dough. He will enjoy instruments for imitative play like doctor set, carpenter set, and a kitchen set. A toddler loves make believe play like playing house, postman etc. A ‘play house’ with doors and windows and in which he can crawl make a great gift. Besides this indoor games like shape sorter, puzzles, building blocks give him idea about spatial orientation. Scribbling is the first step to writing. Provide him with papers, crayons, chalks, black board and finger paints. Children often create mess with these items. Providing a special corner or an unused bathroom with tiles will make cleaning easier for parents. Outings to park, zoo, post office, railway station, shopping can be entertaining as well.

 

Preschool age (3-5years) is marked by independence. It is the age at which child is ready to separate for some time from parents and play with other children of same age group. For parents it is the time to make decision about enrolling the child in a playschool.  The first and foremost thing to consider while selecting the proper playschool is to see that it is meant for play only, as the name suggests. There should be no academic approach. It should remain immune to ambitious parents who want to start the training for their future engineers and doctors from the playhouse itself. A play oriented approach teaches children to love learning. It should not appear like a classroom. There should be areas for music, painting and crafts work, clay molding, building blocks and many toys. It should also have enough outdoor space for playing and preferably a small garden to keep children close to nature. Some areas should change daily for projects like post office, shopping etc. There should be quiet corners for individual play and for rest when a child needs it. The child should have the choice about the activity and stick to it for a while. The teacher helps only when he needs it.

At home, the preschoolers start loving group play. Other children can be invited for games like cricket, basket ball and dancing or acting on nursery rhymes. Puzzles which require matching of shapes and colors, a set of picture cards with what’s wrong, a pair of child scissors and papers and a pen with a magic slate make ideal play activity when the child is playing single. Our heritage of bed time stories from ‘panchtantra’ or ‘hitopdesh’ and fairytales should be passed on to the future generations. When a parent sits besides the child to narrate a story, it gives him much more than just entertainment. It helps his imaginations, improves his listening and vocabulary skills and gives him the invaluable joy of being close to the parents. Stories are the best way to teach him the morals and values of life.

 

After the age of five years, when formal school starts, the time after school and homework seems quite a luxury. Children loose interest with toys and puzzles and a stage of informal play begin. They get attracted to after school (extracurricular) activities like music, drawing and painting, day camps, aerobics, skating, swimming or dancing. They may demand for particular classes because it is appealing to him or because his friend is joining it. He may eventually loose interest in some of the activities. Allow your child to make choices and experiment. After all, any activity even pursued for short time will help him develop interest and social skill. It will make him realize his own aptitude. Parents should take care not to overburden the child with activities. Family oriented activities like picnics, visits to friends and long drives give pleasurable time together and help families bond. Parents should encourage children to play traditional street games like ‘kho-kho’ ‘kabaddi’, etc. They help develop team spirit and also provide lots of physical activity. The child should be provided with large amount of books and allowed to watch television for some time or play at a friend’s house. Children’s computer, typewriter, or camera and binoculars and origami kits are good purchases at this age.  Teach your child to play checkers, carom, scrabble, password, or jumping over a rope. Encourage the child to write down on some special events, to create stories and poems on his own. Subscribe to a children’s magazine. Help him learn flying kite and gardening. Let him involve in activities like Boy Scout.

 

 

Media and children

 

Parents need awareness, good sense and courage to help their children get the best from the media.

 

Television: The so called ‘idiot box’ displays some programmes like quiz, documentaries on nature and science, etc. These provide wonderful learning experience but such shows are in minority. The disadvantages are manifold. It shows lots of advertisements to sell products to children. As viewing television requires no mental activity, it promotes passivity and lack of creativity. Obesity- the pandemic is spread by the television because it promotes no calorie loss and increased consumption of junk food. It presents distorted version of reality- women are unnaturally thin. With this image in mind most teen feel unattractive and create a bad self image. Boys carry the message that smoking and alcohol make you cool and attractive. It also promotes violence. For working parents it is an easy idea to keep children occupied with TV. It serves as an electronic babysitter. The best advice to parents is not to have a TV at all or at least stay away from channels. Parents may miss their favorite shows but if children never get into the habit of watching TV they never miss it. It takes less effort in making the decision then to spend time on arguments over setting limits for time and  programme to be watched. Even if parents opt to have it they themselves should limit its use and watch programmes with children and explain the reality.

 

Videogames: They can serve as ideal teaching tools for they improve eye-hand coordination and help develop logical thinking. Children often become addicted to it because they provide instant reward. Violent Games played on virtual images like gun shooting gradually train the tender minds to accept violence and result in children themselves becoming violent. Parents should take control by providing peaceful games that improve reading and math. Some games like building houses and roller coasters are creative too.

 

Movies: Children below 7to 8 years should not be left alone to watch movies. Even a children’s movie may contain some disturbing scenes and young children cannot differentiate drama from reality. A parent should accompany to explain and comfort when necessary. Parents should strictly not allow movies with violence and sex to be watched by children. Sometimes they may feel unhappy and argue if their friends are being allowed. They may even watch it at a friend’s house. But at the back of mind they carry the important message that what they are watching is wrong and feel proud that their parents are denying the wrong thing and ultimately they may give in to the parents limit. Music videos should always be a “no” as they contain pornography and violence.

 

Internet: It has immense teaching potentials. It helps create global village. Children can talk and discuss various topics on chat rooms.  They can gain information about any topic by a search. It helps them to prepare their school assignment and projects. Dangers are the websites that show pornography and violence. The anonymity afforded by internet can allow an adult to pose as a child and exploit the children. A parent can sit in the same room with some activity say reading and keep a watch. The best way to avoid children misusing the media is to keep the TV and the computer in the living room so that they cannot use it in privacy.

 

Books and children: Books are evergreen source of knowledge and entertainment for children of any age. Someone has rightly said that parents teach children to walk but books give them wings to fly. In contrast to television it promotes active thinking. While reading, child has a freedom to read at his own pace, pause to think over and re read the topic. Even neonates enjoy being read. What they love most is the voice of the reader and the feeling of being held while listening. By six months a child starts loving books with large colorful pictures of babies and other objects. Though he doesn’t understand the words but he loves listening to the rhythmic sounds. At nine months he enjoys turning pages and using it as a play thing. Around one year he loves to hear the names of everything. Show a book with all familiar objects and name them aloud. Soon the child will amaze you with his vocabulary and start naming everything correctly. At around eighteen months he begin to understand what the picture shows. Preschoolers love story books. Parents should read aloud to their children. This will help if a child is having difficulty in reading. It will also help child keeping up the interest. Keep a habit of placing books at many places in the house and reading frequently whenever the child demands.

 

 

Summary

                                                                                            

To summarize, parents need to open up the world of entertainment to their child thoughtfully. While selecting the toys and play activity, they should consider the interest of the child and try to reinforce it. At the same time they can help improve the less developed skill by making proper selection of play item. They should also realize that with increasing age the interest of the child and his way of playing with a particular toy changes. A toy that did not hold his interest for months may suddenly become his favorite possession. A toy with a label of particular age group may be appropriate for a younger child if he is mature enough. Children should be coaxed for outdoor activities and play. The idea of making child ‘learn while fun’ is good but let some entertainment be just for fun. Do not overburden them with extracurricular activities to a point of exhaustion. Access to electronic media should be restricted and that too under observation by an adult. The last but not the least thing to be remembered is- “You can always design your child’s entertainment to fit into your budget. Costly toys and the admission to a well-known playhouse are not the markers of good entertainment. Good books, stories, your creative games, family outings and not to forget your companionship can provide the world’s best entertainment to your child.”

 

 

Dr. NEEMA SITAPARA

MD (Ped), PGDip. (Adolescent Pediatrics)