Play - A Serious Learning Tool

Shyam S Gudimella, Head ­ Academics, Zee LearnHolding a PGDBM - Marketing & Finance from XLRI Jamshedpur, Shyam is an experienced academician with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. He specializes in Customer Service, Instructional Design, Team Building, Training, and Educational Leadership areas.

We live in a very dynamic world. Re-wind 15 years, and we would see a very different world and very different workplaces. Today, we talk of jobs such as a blogger, an app developer, an ethical hacker, a social media manager, a big data analyst, and a drone operator. Fast forward 15 years, and we will probably look at job types which we cannot even imagine today. In fact the change is going to be so rapid that more than three-fifths of the children in school today may end-up doing jobs which do not exist today? How do we equip our students for jobs that don't even exist today?

While it is difficult to predict the jobs of the future, it is not so difficult to identify the skills that are needed to succeed in a 21st century workplace. A study (Life in the 21st Century Workforce: A National Perspective) jointly carried-out by the University of Phoenix and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, identified the following as the top-4 soft skills which are important to succeed in the 21st century workplace:
• The ability and willingness to learn new skills
• Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
• Collaboration/teamwork skills
• Interpersonal communication

So how exactly do we equip our students, the future workforce, with such skills? While we can carry-out a lot of research to identify methods to inculcate these skills in children,
probably the simplest way is to just let them play. Yes, you read it right! When children play, they develop abilities which will ultimately help them with skills that succeed in future workplaces. According to Jordan Shapiro, a world-renowned thought-leader on global education, playtime is like an innovation lab where tomorrow's civilization is being actively designed.

It is a well-known fact that play helps develop physical and motor skills. However, the benefits of play go much beyond that. Play can enhance a child's intellectual, cognitive and emotional development. It also provides endless opportunities for exploration and discovery. When children play in groups, they learn to collaborate, share, negotiate, express them-selves, empathize, and to resolve conflicts. Most often than not, children create an imaginary world of their own by devising their own games and rules of the games. In the process, they develop the much needed creative and imaginative skills.

Play also presents children with a lot of opportunities to problem solve and develop critical thinking skills. During this process, children learn to identify the problem, brainstorm ideas and devise strategies to solve the problem with the limited resources they have. Failures during such tasks help children to reflect upon their plans and incorporate improvements. More importantly, they learn to cope with failures and start seeing failures as opportunities to improve. Play also promotes independence, self-awareness, and self-respect among children. These traits are key to develop emotional intelligence ­ a key leadership skill.

While there is no doubt that play helps children learn, more importantly, it is through play that children learn how to learn. Play provides an innumerable number of opportunities to groom children into future thought leaders. Unfortunately, children nowadays are so busy with academics and other activities in and after school that they rarely venture-out to play. Over-emphasis on academic achievement and other structured activities have meant that today's children spend much lesser time on play than ever before. According to a recent report, most children spend less than an hour in a day on play. The advent of smartphones has only made matters worse. Children end-up spending an extraordinarily high amount of team watching the screens.

According to Fred Rogers, "Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood". It is important that we as parents, educators, and as a society create enough time, space and opportunities for our children to play. The ability to adapt is the key to success. There is enough evidence which points-out to the importance of play to our success as highly adaptable species. The greater the time children spend on playing today, the more they are prepared to conquer the world in the future. So let's sit back and let the games begin!