October 16, 2019

Free time and play

When I was teaching guitar, I had a student (I think she was 5 years old?) walked in one day crying, saying that she did not want to attend the class. When I started talking to her more, I found out that it was actually because she felt that she was busy. And that there wasn’t enough time for her to do what she actually wants to do. 

Busy. At 5 years old. 

The pressure that our children face nowadays – the pressure to compete and be better than everyone else. What kind of costs does it come with? 

Does it allow the children to be able to engage in play? Or must their day be so structured that there is no breathing room for them except to go from tuition classes to enrichment classes and to all sorts of supplementary classes? 

Now, I don’t have children at this point and so I don’t claim to fully understand the hearts of parents.

But that day, while trying to calm my student down, taught me some very important lessons. Just do a quick search on Google, and you will be able to read all you want about the importance of play for children. It has to be unstructured playtime. Not the kind of play that we try to convince ourselves that they are having by signing them up for non-academic classes in sports, music and art. 

There are many things we can learn from through music classes. But most of the time it is not a substitute for unstructured playtime. More often than not, learning a musical instrument requires discipline and the ability to stick with a routine until it becomes second nature to you. 

Our society values meritocracy. When you are willing to work hard, you will have a chance to succeed regardless of your family background. 

But has it been taken to the extreme? 

Are we saying to the next generation that if they ever want a chance to succeed in life – whatever that means – they will actually have to spend all their waking moments scurrying from activity to activity trying to be better than the person beside them? 

What a mindset of scarcity it is, isn’t it? Is there really not enough for everyone to share that we have to strive so hard to compete to come out ahead of others? 

I think I have more questions than I have answers. 

But for a society that has accumulated so much material wealth that we have climbed up the ranks for GDP per capita and yet has kids crying out for more freedom, more playtime, more time to do the things that kids should rightfully be doing, at what cost does the striving come with? 

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