Play and leisure time is a vital aspect of every child’s wellbeing. In addition to being the most enjoyable element of their growing years, play is a vital avenue for children to develop motor skills, cognitive abilities and interpersonal relationships. Playtime is even recognized as a fundamental right by the United Nations Declaration of The Rights of the Child. However, the UN does specify that there are several impediments to children enjoying safe, inclusive and age-appropriate recreational time.
Many constraints prevent the girls at our school from having adequate playtime. The first is, of course, economic. Many families in the village simply cannot afford to purchase toys and books that stimulate their daughter’s imagination and aid her development. However, it is still possible for children to spend time in unstructured play, running around the area and amusing themselves with sticks, stones and other available implements. Yet, there are gender-specific constraints that prevent many of our students from doing so.
The primary constraint is the expectation that girls will perform extensive household labour. The domestic burden on women in rural India is very high, since they walk long distances to fetch firewood for fuel and pots of water for home use, in addition to cooking, cleaning and caring for children singlehandedly without the help of any modern domestic appliances. Often, young girls are roped into these chores in order to ease the mother’s burden, especially because many mothers in our locality also work long hours as construction workers and farm labourers. Additionally, worries for the safety of daughters and cultural norms that govern female propriety make it difficult for girls to play freely outside, especially after attaining puberty.
The video above is filmed by a local reporter from a village in North India and demonstrates the extremely unfair skew between leisure and labour for boys and girls in rural India. The girl rises at 5 am every morning to help cook, clean and care for her brothers before going to school and continues to do housework once she gets back home. The boy, on the other hand, says that his chores are simply “brushing my teeth in the morning and studying in the evening”.
In order to remedy this lack of playtime, we have established a crèche facility on campus with a reading room, art room and games rooms. There is also an outdoor space behind the crèche where children can play under the shade provided by trees. The crèche is open to all the girls in primary school, so that they may experience the innocent joys of childhood even if they don’t have a conducive home environment to play in. After school, we run a playgroup program at the crèche for one hour everyday, during which time the girls have access to all our storybooks, games, toys and art supplies. In the next blog posts, I will share the toys and games that we have found are best for aiding purposeful, educational play. All of them are easily available in India and are highly affordable.