Has playing become a lost art?

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Today, within the ‘attention economy’, with technology as it is, it seems ridiculous at times the amount of stuff there is to deal with. And it is affecting how we live. Both parents in many families often work long hours and the pressures at work and at home become conflicting polarities – a dizzy juggling act of priorities.

According to a BBC report this August, reviewing a survey conducted in the UK, most working parents want more family time, almost two thirds of them believing their work/life balance was "not ideal". The results indicate that it is a global trend.

Another report in The Guardian this August, revealed that 1 in 5 parents say they have forgotten how to play with their children. The “State of Play, Back to Basics” report interviewed 2 000 parents and 2 000 children aged 5 to 15 about their play habits. It concludes that, “play is in danger of becoming a ‘lost art’ for families, with 21% of parents admitting they no longer remember how to play and struggle to engage their children in creative and imaginative activities that will help their development.”

The researchers suggest there is a lack of clear advice on how to engage children in effective play – play being vital to a child's development. “It improves the way they interact, communicate and develop key life skills," they point out.

The studies show that parents feel alone, but does this have to be the case? Is there another way to deal with this mayhem? The answer may rest in new models of education that align learning at school and at home, by developing the right skills in parents, nurturing their relationships with their children.

“Successful businesses have human resource departments that work on developing the relationships within the business. Yet in our most valued and cherished organisation (that of our family) we kind of meander along unguided and often unskilled in effective communication and relationship-building,” says Robin Booth, founder of Synergy School, a Pre-primary and Primary school in Cape Town that emphasises that schools and parents work together to develop a child.

They offer an Effective Parenting Programme which helps parents give their kids the right learning experiences. And sometimes it is as simple as just stopping for a moment to play along – every morning, before school, parents are invited to spend half an hour with their children and to interact with teachers and other parents.

“For some parents that half an hour is their only quality time with their children,” says Katrien Heere, a parent who has 3 boys at the school. “Life is very demanding and it is becoming increasingly important to align parents and schools in bringing up children. There should not be a gap in learning between home and school. Learning is a lifelong thing, and for children its happening all the time.”

Dr Bruce Perry, an Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University in Chicago, makes an interesting observation about sharing of experiences in an article in Early Childhood Today magazine: “What is most pleasurable about discovery and mastery is sharing it with someone else. We are social creatures. The most positive reinforcement – the greatest reward and the greatest pleasure – comes from the adoring and admiring gaze, comments and support from someone we love and respect.”

Learning together is a powerful experience and the Synergy case in Cape Town proves that there are ways to conquer the crunch of modern life with a community effort, and simply taking the time to play a little.

Are you struggling with the work-family balance? How have you made an effort to bridge the gap?

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