What Do Your Children Play?

Rosa Martinez

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, April 27 — For a while I’ve been trying to write a short article about play and the importance of this for children’s development.  Though I did a lot of investigation into the issue and I talked with two psychologist friends for their opinions, I couldn’t get it to gel – at least not the way I wanted.

“Inspiration comes in unsuspected ways and from where we least imagine it,” is a saying I’ve heard on several occasions and I have to recognize that it’s true.

It came to me when I was visited by Carlitos, a little boy who’s only seven but who’s my favorite neighbor.

The little trouble-maker child came running into my house.  He had escaped from his mother who was completely “teed off” with him and was ready to do God knows what with him.

“What happened this time Carlitos?  You shouldn’t be running around like that.  You look like a little lunatic,” I said to him.

“My mom doesn’t let me leave for even a minute,” he replied.

“You must have done something to make her like that Carlitos, but I can’t interfere.  If you minded her she would treat you better.  You’re always getting into trouble and I can’t always save you.  She’s your mom and she knows what she’s doing.”

He responded saying, “She wants me to spend the whole day sitting in front of the television with the DVD on.  I get tired of being closed in.  Come on, talk with her.  You always say that playing is important for children, right?

Photo: Caridad

On the one hand Carlitos was right, and on the other hand his mother did need to consider her reasons.  The little boy is la candela (a handful), as we say in good Cuban.  I won’t talk about his impoliteness, that’s “flour from another sack,” but I did agree to talk with his mom about his request to be allowed to play.

Play is vital for the development of children. Through this they learn how to share, to win, to lose, to socialize, tolerate and respect.  They also discover reality and they dream.

Generation “i”

In a certain way Carlitos made me recall an article that I had read on the Internet a few months earlier related children’s play in today’s world.

The author of the article “Generation i” (as the entry was titled) talked about how his daughter, who was only 13 months old, already knew how to look up photos on his iPhone and even changed the configuration of his computer, accidently of course.

According to this article, 25 percent of the children in the United States and Europe between the ages of three and five know how to use an “App” (an application for a smartphone), play on computers and can even open a browser.  Nonetheless, they don’t know how to tie their shoes or ride a bicycle.

At first I laughed a little at the author’s situation, though aware that it’s an important issue.  The information age is the principal reason that many children are obese from leading passive and sedentary lifestyles.  They are also developing bad backs from remaining in poor sitting positions for long hours in front of TVs and computers.

Photo: Caridad

Computers and televisions are instruments that when used correctly can be quite instructive, but in no way should they substitute for other healthier activities such as manual games; for example playing with play-doh, puzzles, or riding bicycles, running, going to the park, coloring, or sharing with other children and especially with their parents.

Fortunately there are not many the Cuban children with access to the new technologies, which is one less problem for us Cuban parents.

At least my girls have never used an iPhone; well, actually I haven’t either, much less an iPad.  They have used computers, but at school or over at some friends’ houses.

I am amazed that teachers in First World countries have to ask their pupils to put away their ipods or not use the Internet to do their homework.  Most Cuban professionals here don’t even have access to the Web.

In any event, the concern of Cuban parents is that children not spend so many hours in front of the television, and this is where — though the programming doesn’t have a whole lot of variety — at least we can say that TV here is educational.

It seems that it’s not so bad that my children belong to the generation of children who spend time with plastic bottles due to a lack of toys or have to craft together their own games.  These are children who play with cloth or paper soccer balls, children who still play hide-and-seek, run, ride bikes, shoot arrows and throw sticks.  In short, they are Cuban children.