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Fatima is Fatima

by : Dr. Ali Shari'ati

Back You are here: Home Books Family Principles of Upbringing Children

Principles of Upbringing Children - Play and Recreation

Article Index

As breathing is necessary for the child, so is some exercise and play. At the preliminary and middle levels at the school the predominant activities of the children are sports, games and recreation. As they progress in their curricula, these activities are reduced. Despite increasing load of scholastic work, the children have to take out some time for sports. Participating in outdoor games is an important physical activity that is essential for the good health of a child. Those children who don’t take part in some outdoor games are generally not healthy. Islam is conscious of this natural prerequisite and therefore advises to keep the children physically free.

Imam Jafer al Sadiq says:

“Leave the child free to play till it is seven years old." (Wasail al-shiah, v 15, p. 193)

The Prophet of Islam says:

“Let them play; the earth is the pasture of the children !" (Majma az zawaid, v 8, p. 159)

Playing is a natural exercise for the child. This will make its limbs strong. The mental capabilities will sharpen and it will grow in strength. At the ground of play the child will be exposed to community living and sharing responsibilities with others.

The psychologists differ in their assessment of the importance of sports. We need not go into the details of their findings. For us it is sufficient that play and physical exercise is an important aspect of the upbringing of a child. The mentor therefore should not consider this only as an extra-curricular-activity. to be treated lightly. The child gets acquainted with the outside world while at play. He learns about performing tasks. He practices avoiding risks and also co-operating and co-ordinating with the members of his team. In team games he learns to respect the rights of others and learns about the rules of the games.

William Astern writes:

“Games are a source of developing the natural capabilities in the child. They are like an exercise for the future discipline and activities of the person."(Ruwan shinashi kudak, p. 331)

Alexi Maxim writes:

“Games provide to the child comprehension of life and a means of exercise to the body. Games help the child acquaint himself with the social norms. Play strengthens the child’s feelings. The child in his play makes a house, builds a factory, takes an expedition to the North Pole, flies in the space and guards the borders of his country."

Anton Semonowich Makarno, a famous Russian expert on the subject of child-upbringing, says:

“If a person is smart in games and play in his childhood, he will reflect the same quality in his life as he grows up. Good play is like doing good work. Every game requires the use of mental and physical capabilities. Observe a child at play and find how he has formulated his strategy to succeed in that event. At play the feelings and sentiments of the child will be authentic. The elders should. Be observant of these." (Ruwan shinashi kudak, p. 130)

William Mc Dougal writes:

“Before nature manifests in the field of activity, play reflects the bent of the persons mind." (Ruwan shinashi kudak, p. 332)

Although, at play, the child is not performing any specific work, it is not less than performing a physical and mental work. During play the inclinations of the natural and personal capabilities will manifest themselves. While playing the character of the child takes shape for the bright future.

The guardians of children can be categorised in several ways:

There are those who consider playing with toys and games an unnecessary pastime and try their best to dissuade their children from taking part in any such activity.

There are others who are not against the children playing games and give them total freedom to select the toys and games of their choice to play.

The third category of guardians is those who don’t attach any importance to game other than keeping the children occupied. They purchase toys and games without any other objective in view than providing some tools to the child to be fully occupied. The child plays with the toys, breaks them and throws them away when it is tired of them. The child also shows off his pretty toys and games to other children.

The fourth type of guardians are those who not only provide the means of play to the children but they keep a watch on the use of the material given to them. If the children come across any difficulty in using the newly acquired toys, they volunteer their assistance to solve the problem. Such guardians curb the problem solving instinct of the children and they get used to depending on the assistance of the elders in all matters.

Of the four categories of guardians, none completely measures up to the requirement of providing good learning experience to the child through play.

The best attitude that a guardian could adopt is that first of all he should leave the child free that it plays in tune with its own nature and choice. Secondly he should provide a range of educational toys to the child. He should take care to select such toys and games that sharpen the thinking and creative capabilities of the child.

Another technical aspect the guardian has to keep in mind while selecting the toys and games is that the child should find interest in constructive activities for self, the family and the society. It is a pity that most of the toys in the market have little educational value. For example, if one buys an electrically operated train or a car, the child will be busy looking at it all the day. But he will not learn anything that could be useful for him in the future.

The most useful toys are those which come in knocked-down condition and the child has to assemble them through trial and error method. For example, a collection of blocks which can be assembled into a building, incomplete paintings, jig-saw puzzles, stitching and embroidery material, carpentry tools etc

The mentor has to keep a watchful eye on the child at play that he can provide guidance to him at the right time. Watching children at play in itself is a very important aspect of training and upbringing.

A good teacher will provide the toys and games to the child and leave him alone to independently use them but will keep a subtle eye on the activity that the child is guided when he makes any mistake in the right use of the material.

For instance, when a toy car or toy train is given to the child, he is asked about the function of these machines. If the child replies that they are for moving men and materials from one place to another, then he is left alone to play with the toy. If the toy develops any defect during the use, leave it to the child to fix it as far as possible. The child may be guided in this regard that he develops self-confidence in accomplishing the task.

If you buy a doll for your daughter, it should not be in complete form. But you must guide her to prepare dresses for the doll. She will dress the doll, keep it clean, and play-act as if she is giving it a bath, changing the dress and giving it food. The child will sing a lullaby to make the doll sleep and wake it up to take it along. Emulating her elders, the child will teach good manners to the doll.

You will notice that the child puts into practice with the doll what she has heard from the elders. The child does most of the things in emulation of the acts of the parents and the elder siblings. The toys are useful when the child learns useful things of day-to-day life playing with them. The child must be encouraged to play with the toys rather that preserving them in a showcase and showing off to their playmates. There must be a proper place where the child should keep the toys after playing with them. The child must be encouraged to keep the place orderly and clean.

There should not be too many toys with the child at a time. This can tend to confuse the child and make it difficult to make a choice. The toys need not be expensive and very attractive.

The games for children can be categorised as:

- Games which a child can play individually.
- Games which two or more children can play together.
- Educational games which give a fillip to mental capability of the children.
- Outdoor games which provide growth to the physique of the children.
- Games which promote in the children the capability of defence and attack.
- Games that promote the spirit of co-operation amongst the children.

In the beginning a child plays alone. It must be left alone to play, but an eye has to be kept on the child. The parents must make the right choice of the toys for the child. Sometimes the child wants to break the toy and assemble it again. The child must be allowed to do these experiments. Only when the child faces a difficulty in these tasks, the elders should intervene.

After sometime the child starts liking the company of other children. Now he must be introduced to games where more than one child will play. The parents must encourage the child to play with other children. At this stage too the parent should take care that the child is exposed to useful team games.

The team games generally in vogue are football, volley-ball, basket-ball etc. Generally children play these games during their spare time at school and in their neighbourhood. These games help development of the physique of the children, but they are highly competitive and make them temperamentally aggressive. Children playing such games always have the thought of defeating their opponents. More aggressive than these games are boxing and wrestling. These games are a reminder of the primitive days of the human race. It is a pity that such games continue to be played.

Russel writes

“Today’s humanity, when compared with earlier epochs, has its biggest adversary in materialism, and therefore begs for more thoughtfulness and mutual co-operation in its ranks. Man doesn’t need antagonism, resistance and hatred because these are things that sometimes overwhelm him and at other times he subdues them.”. (Dar Tarbiat, p. 121)

It is of some concern that no thought is given to the matter and such games that promote aggressive tendencies in the children are getting continuous patronage and encouragement. It would be better if the management of schools and colleges give a serious thought to this matter and consult experts to introduce useful games for children.

The concluding point in this discussion is that although play is essential for the growth of the children, the timing of the games must be restricted. A capable mentor schedules for play in such a manner that the child automatically reverts to constructive activities immediately thereafter. Such mentors don’t allow the child to excessively involve in play.

Ali, The Commander of the Faithful, says:

“One addicted to play will not be successful.”. (Gharar al hukm, p. 854)

Russel writes about this :

“It is a sign of the decline of social values when we judge a person on his proficiency at games. We have not understood that to live in the modern and complicated world there is need for thoughtfulness and knowledge.” (Dar Tarbiat, p. 142)

One drawback of team games is that they might create in the children the feelings of jealousy and conflict. In such situations the mentor must intervene and sort out the dispute to the satisfaction of all concerned.

Sometimes parents get involved in the conflicts between children. Without going into the causes of the conflict they take sides with their own child and the matter goes out of hands. Such thoughtless attitude gives the child the feeling that he can get away with any misdemeanour on his part.

Conceit or Pride

Conceit and boastfulness is present in every individual to a lesser or greater extent. Every person will have a desire to project himself by performing some feat or other. He intends to attract the attention of others around him through these actions. In a child these tendencies start manifesting themselves when it is about a year old. The child wants to move around and attract the attention of others through its antics. It will repeat acts that make the parents and others happy. It will be pleased at the reaction of the parents and feels a subtle pride at its success in making them happy. The child sometimes indicates its satisfaction through gestures as if to assert its importance.

Pride in itself is not a negative trait. In fact, this feeling spurs an individual to strive for greater achievement with a competitive spirit. The child works hard to get a higher grade in his class. He tries to develop skills at elocution or become a skilled painter. It is this desire in the child to compete that proves the harbinger of the great poets, artists, authors and scientists of the future.

The presence of this trait of pride in children need not be a cause for worry. But the important thing is that it must be gainfully exploited to the advantage of the child. If it is guided in the right direction there can be salutary results. In the initial stages the child cannot distinguish between good and bad. It observes the reactions of the parents to decide at its actions and to arrive at a conclusion. A careful mentor will encourage the child’s desirable actions by expressing happiness at them. The mentor can encourage good manners in a child by indicating his displeasure at its undesirable actions.

Some thoughtless parents, out of their love for the child, shower excessive adulation and praise without giving a thought as to whether the actions of the child are desirable or not. They thus lay the foundations of bad manners in the child inadvertently. In their adulation for the child they exaggerate its good qualities and keep praising the child at the drop of a hat. There is every probability of such a child becoming conceited and progressively he becomes egotistic and arrogant. He will start expecting others’ adulation as he does from his parents. When the child fails in getting the desired response, he becomes distraught. He develops rancour towards people and might even go to the extent of thinking of causing harm to them at a later stage.

The parents should bear in mind that they have to groom the thinking of the child to guide him on the path of righteousness. Then will come the stage that the parents divert the child’s mind towards God. Now on, if any of the child’s action is found incorrect, instead of saying that dad doesn’t approve of it, they should tell him that God will not approve of it.

Taqlid or Emulation

The instinct to emulate is the strongest characteristic of human nature. This too is a very useful and valuable trait. This helps the child to progress with its learning process like eating, dressing, speaking and other societal happenings in the environment. The human being is a natural mimic and keeps doing it throughout his life but children till the age of around five years do this more. For a long time the faculties of the child are not so developed that it is not able to decide the course of action by itself. In this period it emulates what the parents and others do in front of him.

The child hears the word "water”from its parents and tries to repeat it himself. Then it gives attention to the meaning of the word and uses the word at appropriate time. A girl observes her mother cleaning the room and washing the clothes. She too tries to do the same chores. She sees that the mother exercises care while handling fire, she sees that the mother washes the fruits prior to peeling and eating them. The child too emulates these habits.

She observes that the parents and her elder siblings are arranging things properly in the house. She too tries to copy them in these activities. She notices that her parents are polite in their talk with others, she too cultivates good manners. She finds that the parents and her siblings are aiding each other in doing household work.

She too tries to give a helping hand. When she sees that the parents cross the roads carefully at pedestrian-zebra-crossing, she too learns to do this. When the son sees his father gardening in the backyard or does some repair work at the house, he too tries to learn the tasks. In the beginning he tries to do these things in play but with the passage of time he becomes proficient. Some of them become so adept that they take the activity as a profession.

The upbringing and training of the child is better achieved by setting an example for him rather than through precept. Emulation of the actions of the elders is an automatic phenomenon in the children and they needn’t necessarily be told to perform these actions. If a parent is boorish, impolite and impertinent the child will follow in his footsteps. When a mother is nagging, shrewish and insensible then there is every likelihood of the child going after her.

A mentor who is a liar, cowardly and dishonest person cannot expect to make his subject a truthful, bold and honest individual. The children don’t pay much heed to the lecturing of the elders. They rather prefer to emulate their actions. It is therefore imperative to promote the habit of emulation in the children. Care has to be exercised to see that the elders perform such actions in the company of children that they grow into ideal individuals. For the love of their children the parents must reform their own habits to provide an ideal image for them. The parents should always bear in their mind that it is very difficult to stop the children from emulating their own habits, good or bad.

The Commander of the Faithful, Ali, says:

“If you wish to reform others then reform yourself first. It is a major failing that you stand up to correct others while you yourselves are having aberrations which need reform." (Ghara al-hukm, p. 278)

The Holy Prophet told to abu Dhar:

“Allah will give noble and virtuous children and grand children to pious parents." (Makarim al akhlaq, p. 546)

A responsible mentor will not remain indifferent to the type of friends the child has. The children have very impressionable minds and they tend to readily emulate the habits of their friends. It is therefore very important to take care of the type of company the children keep.

Sometimes when the children witness acts of violence on the cinema or television screen they may develop a tendency for perpetrating such acts. You must be reading about such acts of delinquency by children in the newspapers and the motivation for these acts mostly is the scenes of murder and mayhem presented on cinema and television. In such circumstances is it proper to expose the children to these media without any control?

Search for Truth

When a new-born arrives it is not aware of the world around him. He cannot distinguish one thing from another. He will not be able to identify faces, colours and persons. It will be able to take impression from the faces and the sounds around him, but he will not be able to comprehend and identify one from another. But, from this point only he will start developing the faculty of identifying persons and things. He will searchingly look from side to side and will give the expression of pleasant surprise seeing faces around him. Through the use of his senses and the instinct to learn, the child will continuously acquire knowledge about the surroundings.

Allah says in the Holy Quran:

"Allah has delivered you from the wombs of your mothers in a condition that you knew nothing. He has given to you ears, eyes and the heart that you identify Allah’s bounties and become grateful." (Quran, 16:78)

After some time of birth the child starts to give attention to the world around him. He holds things with his hands, moves them and throws them down. Sometimes he tries to put things in his mouth. He gets attracted in the direction of sounds in his environment. He observes the action of the persons around him with his eyes. In this manner the child satiates his instinct to search for the truth. Allah has provided the faculty of search and adventure to human beings that they try to unravel the mysteries of the universe. The child has this instinct in him and it starts getting manifested from his very early days. The parents can guide and encourage this instinct in children and they can also curb it with their negative actions.

If the parents provide to the child aids that promote the desire to search and give him freedom to find out about them, he can make steady progress in his knowledge. This can be the vanguard for the scientific research and inventions in the future. But if the parents are oblivious to the inner feelings of the child and curb his desire to find out about things, prevent him from making experiments, then the spirit to search in him will be suppressed.

The more critical stage in the life of the child is when he starts asking questions about things. The age of two years and above is the age when the child will have lots of questions to ask. The child asks the parents whether he will become a mother or a father? Why dad goes away for a time from the house every day? Why a stone is hard and the water is soft? I don’t like Granny, Why should I go to her house ? Why shouldn’t I play in the rain? Why fish don’t die in water? Why do you pray five times a day? What is Namaz/salah (prayer)?

Where does the Sun go in the nights? From where does the rain and snow come? What are the stars, who made them? What is the use of the fish and the flies? When the grandpa died, why was he buried in the ground? Where has he gone? Whenwill he return? What is death? More or less all the children ask such questions. As they grow they will have different types of questions to ask. Intelligent children will ask more questions and diverse questions. As their knowledge increases, they start asking more intricate questions. The child tries to learn about the things around him by asking questions . It wishes to benefit from the knowledge and experience of others.

The urge to search and explore is the most vital instinct of the human being that enables him to scale heights in all fields of activity. Man has been able to unravel the mysteries of the universe with dauntless effort at research and exploration. The parents who are aware that the instinct in the child to find out about things needs to be promoted to help him make progress in his knowledge for future progress will extend their full support and attention to him during the early years.

Some parents consider the childish question as unnecessary and a waste of time. They even go to the extent of snubbing the child to stop him from asking such questions. They tell them, “Sonny Don’t ask too many questions. When you grow up you will yourself learn about what you are asking now!” Such parents silence the most valuable instinct in the child by their unwillingness to entertain the questions. They unwittingly become the cause of slowing down the urge for knowledge in the child. At a later stage they complain that their child is not able to cope with the study of science and other disciplines.

Some parents, to please the children, do reply to their questions but they never bother to ensure the veracity of the answers. Their only momentary purpose is to quieten the child with some answer. When the child learns later on that the parent had given to him a wrong information, he would feel bad about it. It may also make the child suspicious about others.

Thoughtful and responsible parents appreciate their duty to provide the right answers to the childrens’ questions and encourage their instinct to find out about nature of things around them. They prepare themselves about this task by visualising the questions the child might ask and explore the possible replies to the queries. They never tell anything to the child that is contrary to the truth. If at times they don’t have the right answer to the child’s question, they own their inability and try to find the right answer to be given later on. This way they train the child to be frank when he himself is faced with a similar situation.

Some parents go into unnecessary detail while answering a child’s question. This too is not desirable Experience tells that a child doesn’t want to listen to long-winded answers. Although it wants a reply to the question, long talks will make it tired. The parents must encourage the habit of debate and discussion in the children as they grow up. Where necessary they must be assisted to experiment. A child is a thinking human being, provide impetus to its thinking process that the latent capabilities are put into use and prepare itself for the future.

Ali, The Commander of the Faithful, says:

“One who asks questions in his childhood, will be capable of replying to questions when he is grown up.” (Gharar al hukm, p. 645) .

“The child’s heart is like the soft soil. Whatever you put into it will be accepted." (Gharar al hukm, p. 302)

A lady writes in her letter thus:

“One evening Dad came home and narrated a riddle to me. He also said that his friends were unable to solve that riddle. Everyone at home slept but I was determined to unravel the riddle. I thought over it for a long while and ultimately I got the solution. I was so excited that I woke up Dad from his sleep. He expressed his happiness over my effort to solve the riddle. He always encouraged me to sharpen my intellect. He has prepared me well to face the problems of life wisely.”.