Little Diya sat singing “Walking in the jungle, what do you see? I think I hear a noise, What could it be? ………..Lion!”, adding a low, deep “Grrrrr…” as soon as the lion and then the tiger came in. She looked her merriest as she sometimes marched up and down the hall, her vocal chords doing a good job. Her enthusiasm rubbed off on me and I too joined her, our chorus delighting us both, when suddenly I thought of how the ‘L’s, ‘T’s and ‘1’s and ‘4’s were about to snatch away her time with her ‘lion’ and ‘tiger’ in the ‘jungle’. Torn between allowing her to continue (I would be able to finish the kitchen business in the meanwhile) and continue being with her to focus on more ‘serious stuff’, that is help her brush up her alphabet and numbers (her teacher loves to have her students have them at their fingertips), a childhood scene suddenly flashed back (my Granny sharing anecdotes from her own life and weaving out impromptu stories with her grandchildren as her audience, all under a starlit evening sky on the terrace) and I told myself, “Forget the dinner, forget the L’s and 4’s for now, let us have fun.” Out came the sheep, the monkeys, the teddy bears, the ducks and the dolls from my little daughter’s baskets. “This is a jungle, Diya. We are in a jungle with our animal friends and bird friends,” and then with a pause, “Let’s have a picnic, along with some rhymes!” Her eyes shining with excitement, she set about making porridge (her idea! Porridge is her favourite!) on her plastic stove for the huge gang as we kept singing rhymes she has learnt in her school. Breakfast over, we began our jungle tour. We came across tall trees and dense bushes, came close to a lion and a tiger, saw a rabbit and a kangaroo and even reached a stream! “They are thirsty, give them water to drink!” said Diya.
Imagination had begun through a make believe world we had just created and Diya was totally into it. It took me a little coaxing to pull her out of it to get ready for bed (I cooked and fed her dinner as all this went on!). Dinner was not that great, but we went to bed, feeling very happy and satisfied. Since that evening, my daughter, yet to reach the milestone of four years, usually shy and not voluble enough outside and also very moody, has wanted to gather all her play-mates from her basket to go for a jungle trip in our hall or the balcony, every time she runs out of activities and senses that her Mom has her hands free. If it’s not a jungle trip, it’s doctor-patient game that we play because she is fascinated by this kind of pretend-play and cannot get enough of it! She is slowly coming out of her shell, talking more and more indoors and even outdoors. With school emphasizing on academics and branded toys and gadgets gate-crashing into her world (with her friends having them, she too is acquiring them) more and more to excite her, charm her and finally win her over, will a jungle trip right in the middle of the hall find a slot in her day and be still that enchanting? Will Diya still love to pull out her friends from her baskets to go on a jungle trip, singing “Walking in the jungle…..”? Will she slowly lose interest in imagination? Will her make believe worlds cease to exist sooner than they should? I hope not!
There is a lot of talk today on how pretend-play helps the child in increasing her attention span, strengthening her verbal skills and releasing her pent-up emotions, and enhancing learning in school (if allowed ample time for it, but not in excess, to keep a balance, so the child doesn’t find it difficult to socialize because she wants to keep fantasizing). You’ll find experts and counselors in the field supporting it citing numerous other advantages. And when I did surf the Net to see what is going on in the world of small kids across the world, I was inundated with what I saw – materials on pretend-play and make believe play one could spend hours on! In my home, I can see how a little imagination is urging my kindergarten-going daughter to gradually open up more and more so that now I’m sure I won’t want to trade her “make believe play minutes” with “education minutes” too often.
Also Read : Learning at Home Through Everyday Activities