25 April 2013, by Mandy Loh

Slow down and play!

Just the other day, I came across an interesting article about ‘Slow Parenting’. Intrigued, I decided to read up a bit more about this concept, which is also known as idle parenting or free-range parenting. And I must say, I really love the idea!

The Slow Parenting movement arose as a reaction to the prevalent culture of Hyper-Parenting, something very familiar to Singaporeans. I’m sure you’ve heard of expectant moms listening to Mozart, hoping to fire up their baby’s synapses in utero. Or parents rushing to give their toddlers a head-start in life by signing them up for tons of enrichment classes, some even starting from as young as 6 months! While I believe most parents do this with the best of intentions, hoping to provide ample opportunities for their children to develop their talents and abilities to the fullest; yet, there can be too much of a good thing. And very often in our over-scheduled, busy lives, what is sacrificed is our children’s time for free play.

What I like about the idea of slow parenting is that it gives kids the freedom to be kids, to muck around and have fun. To allow them to explore the world at their own pace, and – dare I say it – to be bored. In fact, a researcher in the UK has found that boredom increases creativity in kids, as reported by the BBC here. To quote Dr Belton: “children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.”

In particular, Dr Belton talked about the impact of having ‘entertainment-on-demand’, with children today constantly absorbed by television programmes and the internet, made even more accessible with the availability of mobile devices such as iPads and smartphones. She fears that too much screen-time will “short circuit…the development of creative capacity”.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has also published a report on the importance of free play. As its introduction, it states that “play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.” Click here to read the full report, but I’d like to just highlight a few points that resonated with me:

  • “When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.”
  • “Quite simply, play offers parents a wonderful opportunity to engage fully with their children.”
  • “Parents are receiving carefully marketed messages that good parents expose their children to every opportunity to excel, buy a plethora of enrichment tools, and ensure their children participate in a wide variety of activities. Children are exposed to enrichment videos and computer programs from early infancy as well as specialized books and toys designed to ensure that they are well-rounded and adequately stimulated for excelled development…Enrichment programs and activities…are heavily marketed, and many parents have grown to believe that they are a requirement of good parenting and a necessity for appropriate development.”

However, even the AAP report acknowledges that a certain level of organised/ enrichment activities have a developmental benefit for children. And therein lies the nub – how do we as parents find the right balance between scheduled activities and free play? I believe the key is to quell the inner “kiasu demon” within us as parents. We should consider carefully whether our motivation for sending our children to a particular class is to feed our own parent ego (“My child is so gifted, he can do this-and-that!”) or fears (“What if Junior loses out/ falls behind?”). We should try our best to discern if our children are enjoying the activities, or getting tired and stressed out by their schedule. And as with all things in parenting, I’m sure this will always be a learning journey!

Perhaps I’m being idealistic right now, since Cristan is still young and I have yet to feel the pressures of the notorious Singapore education system. However, I really hope to be able to let Cristan enjoy his childhood to the fullest, by letting him play freely, explore and have fun, and yes, even be bored!

Besides, it sure will make my role as a mom easier! Haha!

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