Little Abu, the Barber

Here is a story of little Abu, a five year old with Dennis the Menace haircut and mischievous hazel eyes that twinkled every time he was upto something. Abu lives in Bangalore, India with his Mamma and Papa, his Dadi whom he loves dearly and a pet cat – Bijli. Abu loves to ride his scooter, mostly indoors than outdoors and on many days uses them as his only mode of transport within the house. Bijli would follow Abu from room to room and on realising that Abu has no plans of parking his scooter, would grunt and go find a cozy spot near Dadi’s sitting chair.

Little Abu loves his Dadi and enjoys going on walks with her to the weekly vegetable market. Dadi would insist on leaving the scooter behind and after some tears and tantrums, Abu, a thrilled Bijli and Dadi would walk together with a basket to buy vegetables. Meanwhile, Abu’s mamma silently worried that he was naughty and tried to set up more playdates to help him make more friends. Although little Abu was a sweet and friendly boy, his naughtiness often didn’t go well with his peers, sometimes even their parents! While Mamma was working on setting up playdates, Dadi was trying to find alternate ways to engage a constantly moving Abu. Abu would go round and round Dadi in his scooter and Dadi felt soreness in her stiff neck which had to constantly spin around to keep up with Abu. She purchased a craft kit with a pair of scissors, a bottle of glue, several coloured paper strips and even some stickers to engage her beloved grandson differently.

Abu was instantly drawn to the craft kit, especially the scissors. He had seen them before in mamma’s sewing room but those had large blades with huge finger-holes and mamma had not even let Abu near them. These scissors were smaller, more wieldy and Abu took to them right away. Dadi found Abu and Bijli sitting next to her; Bijli purring and Abu practicing cutting the coloured paper strips. It was a proud moment for Dadi, her trick had worked! Abu was finally sitting in one place and her neck was happy. All seemed well with the world.

Very soon, Abu had mastered cutting and was no longer interested in the paper strips. One evening, after dinner, just as Dadi was pulling her pallu to wipe up her mouth and hands, she found them looking like confetti. Bijli, who had silently witnessed this mischievous act, purred and looked away. Abu, on the other hand giggled playfully and ran away. Mamma had to reprimand Abu and tell him not to cut up Dadi’s sari. Abu had righteously asked how mamma spent all day cutting up cloth in her sewing room and nobody had reprimanded her!

A few silent weeks later, Dadi thought that the inappropriate cutting days were behind them and was shocked to find her favourite hibiscus leaves cut up in odd shapes! She chided Abu for cutting up the leaves and had to do the inevitable – take the craft kit away for a few weeks! Abu seemed upset but Dadi believed this would teach him not to cut just about anything and everything in the future.

While Dadi’s worries were put to rest, mamma had been working on setting up playdates for Abu. One Saturday morning, on their way to a haircut, Mamma had told Abu that Dadi’s niece and her son Romy were to visit the family. Mamma had prepared Abu to be a good boy and he was excited to meet Romy. After the haircut, Mamma had sat Abu down and talked him through being kind, sharing and not being a naughty boy. Little Abu had nodded his head rapidly in acknowledgement and Mamma hoped for the best!

Once the guests arrived, there was a lot of noise and joy in the air. Abu and Romy had been shy initially and hid behind their respective mothers. In a short while, Mamma found the boys playing football in the veranda and was overjoyed. After football, Abu rushed indoors and asked Dadi for the craft kit. Dadi, who was having an emotional union with her niece, half listened to Abu, opened her Godrej and took the craft kit and gave it to him. Abu and Romy delightedly took off to Abu’s favourite corner in the house, the secluded spot behind the bookcase. The boys seemed awfully quiet and the adults attributed it to the newly formed friendship.

In a short while, Abu and Romy happily came out; Romy was wearing a hat. Mamma recognised the hat instantly since Abu’s Papa had gifted him the hat with the letters RF on it. Mamma and Dadi were happy to see Abu part with such a special gift. When they asked Abu if he was sure about parting with the hat, Abu nodded and so did Romy.  After the guests left, Abu and Bijli took off again in the scooter on their usual rounds. Mamma was preoccupied with thoughts on how Abu was becoming less naughty, just as her phone began to ring.

On the line was Romy’s mother narrating quite a remarkable story. Little Abu seemed to have given Romy a haircut behind the bookcase! He had then parted with the RF hat to hide the hideous looking fringe. Mamma could not believe her ears and ran to the bookcase and there they were – tiny bits of black hair and a lonely pair of scissors!

 

The Difference between Unstructured Outdoor Play and Outdoor Play Structures

What is Play?

The word play brings to mind exploring something with an open mind, discovering its properties, understanding what it can or cannot do and forming new ideas. For the child under six, play is a bridge that links them to the world. This play is the work of the child and through it, they form many new ideas about the world while also understanding themselves and their endless capabilities.

Outdoor play is an important aspect of play that introduces to the young child the wonders of the natural world. 

“Play is motivated by means more than ends. Play is constantly evolving and developing into new forms of play and play schemes. Play is also not passive but requires constant assessment and engaged minds.”

Angela J. Hanscom, Balanced & BareFoot

Unstructured Outdoor Play

The word unstructured by itself removes limitations on the child’s exploration of the outdoors. The outdoor environment has so much sensory stimuli that unstructured play allows the child to choose which stimulus they would like to be drawn to.

  • Bonding with Nature

In today’s world which is crowded by tall buildings, endless traffic and busy schedules, outdoor play provides a respite to the young child. It slows down time just a little bit, allowing them to freely play in the natural surroundings. This kind of play in the outdoors without all the layers of human touch is vital for the child to form a lasting relationship with nature.

  • Dynamic Challenges

When we leave the child to freely explore the natural world, they can set their own challenges depending on the stage of development they are in. A baby might simply be on a patch of grass, crawling and watching a butterfly or grasping a flower while a toddler might choose run on the grass, feed birds and pick fallen leaves. Older children with more controlled movements are free to set more complex challenges such as climbing trees, hiking up a steep slope or running and playing with the dog.

This kind of structure-free play frees up the mind to set challenges for oneself and devise strategies to overcome them.

Structure-Free Outdoor Play
  • Sharpening Judgement

Imagine the young child in a natural environment and think of the endless possibilities for building judgement. As adults, we sometimes forget that the child is building judgement through play. Every interaction such as crawling to a leaf, trying to catch a dragonfly, getting pricked by a thorn, feeling the prickly grass, falling down while running or jumping high for the branch with the fruit calls for calculation. These are essential for the child to hone and a structure-free natural environment will do a lot to constantly challenge the young child’s judgement.

  • Vivid Imagination

Because of the range of sensory input the child receives by playing outdoors, the abstractions they form are diverse. These lay a strong foundation for the budding imagination. An older child will begin to show signs of this imagination when they use leaves as medicines in their imaginary play, twigs as huts, straw for water boats and so on. This imagination which is more manifest in the older child has its foundation in that small baby who plays with the outdoor environment and understands it.

Outdoor Play Structures

Outdoor play structures on the other hand are specially designed structures to challenge young children’s gross motor skills, their vestibular sense and overall mind-body coordination. Some commonly found structures are swings and slides, merry-go-round, jungle gyms and climbing domes.

  • Fixed Challenges

Each of the play structures are created for a specific challenge. For example, the slide is designed for the child to climb/crawl up the ladder using calculated movements and then slide down at full speed. While sliding down, the child’s vestibular sense is stimulated.  The same goes for most other commonly found play structures. They are designed for fixed challenges and do not hold the same openness as natural environments with dynamic challenges.

  • Not Exactly Outdoor Play

While swings and slides which are large equipments fit better in an outdoor environment, they are not necessarily outdoor play. There is no element of nature involved in this play apart from some fresh air which comes naturally by being outdoors.

  • No Room for Imagination

A swing or a slide or merry-go-round does not challenge the child’s inner need for exploration. Play is something that must show different dimensions with each exploration. Imagine adults calling a treadmill or an elliptical ‘play’. These are specific gym equipments designed for specific purposes. Likewise, the outdoor park structures are specific equipments designed to serve specific purposes and they do not do anything else to feed the child’s imagination.

Why is it Important to Understand the Difference?

These days, when we use the word outdoor play, it somehow immediately translates to play in park structures. As we have seen, outdoor play is so much more than playing on a swing or climbing a jungle gym. Although play structures help challenge the child’s gross motor skills, they do not necessarily feed other areas of development which a natural, unstructured play environment fosters. While it is necessary for us to take our children to the neighbourhood park to challenge their gross motor skills, it is also equally important to plan and take our children to natural settings with raw nature unfolding. The structured outdoor parks with plastic grass, wood chips and foam mats are not the same as the uneven outdoor trails,the hilly slopes with wild flowers and shrubs, the stones and gravel which make the play a lot more challenging.  

“Playing in nature adds an element of adventure. Nature is unpredictable and exploring nature is always an exciting experience. Since playground equipment only serves a few functions, it often leaves little to the imagination. Having access to movable natural items, such as branches, rocks, sticks, leaves and pinecones adds a new element to play. Natural playgrounds tend to inspire creative play in children because there are endless play opportunities.”

Angela J. Hanscom, Balanced & BareFoot

When we expand our understanding of outdoor play, we will begin to look beyond the park fences and understand that outdoor play is the beginning of a lifetime of friendship, love and oneness with the natural world.