SINGAPORE - Play is not a waste of time for kids - Ms Sumitra Pasupathy never tires of sharing this piece of parenting advice.
In fact, the Cambridge-educated chemical engineer turned social entrepreneur believes so strongly in it, she co-founded Playeum in 2008 to advocate for more play among children. Among other things, the non-profit group organises makers' activities for kids to encourage hands-on exploration.
Ms Pasupathy says it is common for parents to think that "playtime should not be prioritised in their child's day unless something else gets done first". More often than not, this means doing assessment books and going for tuition classes.
"Play is actually just as important as any other task," says the 48-year-old mother of three boys aged nine, 14 and 16. "It's a time where they learn."
When kids are playing, they are taking creative risks and solving problems; if they are in groups, they also learn to develop empathy and work in teams.
These skills and qualities have become all the more important - even for adults - in today's rapid-changing world.
"It's no longer 'What was your math score?' but 'Can you respond to change? Are you solving problems?'" she says.
She points out that some technology companies are embracing playfulness, too, with foosball tables in fun workspaces.
"We as adults need to be more playful too. I have to remind myself about that all the time because I get so busy with work," Ms Pasupathy says with a laugh.
"And I think play is a wonderful way to connect with your kids when you're playing together."
Give your children open-ended play opportunities and let them take ownership of the experiences.
For example, she suggests giving them Lego bricks to create an original design from their imagination, as opposed to building a Lego structure according to the instruction booklet.
You can also give them cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls, bottle caps and other recyclable everyday items. With some colouring and creativity, these can transform into a little man, a whale or a Christmas tree.
Ms Pasupathy acknowledges that kids are spending more time playing - but on digital devices and at an earlier age.
Besides making screen time agreements with their sons, she and her husband try to model good practices, which include no phones at the dinner table and in bedrooms.
"You know, your phone should not be the first thing you look at when you wake up," she says, adding concerns about addiction and cyber-bullying.
"We need to help our children make the right choices for their well-being."
That said, there is no need to overplan for your kids during the school holidays.
She says: "Give your children time to be bored, to tinker, to daydream and to do things that may not always be productive, but could be very creative."
- Playeum runs free makers' activities for children from three years old on weekends from 3pm to 6pm at Our Tampines Hub, its current pop-up event venue. It closed its exhibition space at Gillman Barracks earlier this year (2020) and is continuing its work as a charity at Common Ground in Bedok.
In partnership with the Centre for Fathering, Playeum is also calling for families to play, cook and raise funds in a live online event on Dec 20.
For details, visit this website.
- For more stories on how to help your child succeed in school and life, visit the Smart Parenting microsite at str.sg/smartparenting