I RECENTLY watched a group of school children as they walked home from school; their backs arched forward, weighed down by their satchels full of books.
They were aged about 10 but the brows on their tired faces were furrowed like 50-year-olds.
What perplexed me is that it was school holidays; a time for children to relax, be free to play with their peers and revive their young minds and tired bodies.
It should have been a time for them to re-connect with families, their rural homes and nature as I did as a child, when I learnt respect for my elders, the environment and the conservation of the forests, soils and nature in general.
Things my great-grandfather Chikambi-Zvimba taught me during school holidays included weeding the crops (kusakura munda), the different structures of soils, environmental conservation and the care of animals.
It was a time I enjoyed grandma’s wholesome breakfasts of ‘bota rinedovi’ followed by scrambled free-range (road runner) eggs, pot roasted sweet potatoes and cherry tomatoes.
After the holidays, my mother would always complain that I had gained weight, which necessitated new school uniforms.
As I watched the children trundle laboriously home, I was reminded of “Let the children play…,” the lyrics of Osibisa, the African pop band, which alludes to the traditional cultural games children play that build African character and instil discipline, promotes co-ordination and physical fitness, simultaneously developing both body and mind.
Carlos Santana, in his lyrical samba rock guitar, sang similar lyrics: “Let the children play, let the children have their way….”
Moreover, the lines and design of ‘pada’ taught children geometry, order, concentration, competition, psychomotor skills and balance of the body.
It has been scientifically proven by clinical psychologists for children that keeping kids so busy in school that they lack free time for play or rest leads to stress, anxiety and depression.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges that have disrupted learning, parents feel the pressure to prepare their children for academic success and make them competitive college applicants and see no problems with ‘permanently’ keeping their children in school.
However, that unstructured playtime, experienced during weekends and school holidays, help develop skills that children need to be successful.
The 1980s and 1990s children, who did no experience the phenomena of extra lessons at the levels presently experienced, performed better academically and are successful citizens.
Children who are engaged in more social activities outside the classroom are more or less likely to engage in drug abuse and other anti-social activities.
Extracurricular activities give children a chance to develop their skills, learn more about their interests and connect with others who may share the same passions and interests they do.
Unstructured playtime promotes social skills development and children develop problem-solving skills allowing them to be creative thinkers and develop assertiveness as well as learn how to cope with negative emotions.
When children are conflicted on the playground, they have to manage some of these things without adults present.
With children ‘permanently’ in school, all year round, unstructured playtime has become so deprioritised leading to children being stressed and more prone to anxiety, irritability, tiredness and destructibility.
Rates of anxiety and depression are already somewhat high in the general adolescent population and 100 percent schooling just makes those rates worse.
Could it be the reason alcohol and drug abuse has become so rampant!
While it’s tempting to have one’s child fully dedicated to schooling, we should also pay attention to what the children value and where their interests lie and consider picking just one or two activities that are meaningful to them.
And this we can do during the weekends and school holidays.
During some ‘free’ time, on school holidays, children will find a place that’s noncompetitive, where they can just be themselves, feel good in their own skin, gain confidence and all the other benefits that go along with plain playing.
Not all extracurricular activities are physical in nature, but many are and these include team sports, individual sport and clubs focused on exploring the outdoors.
These help solve problems of depression and obesity presently affecting our children at alarming levels.
Activities engaged in during school holidays improve social development and instill a sense of belonging providing opportunities for leadership, co-operation and peer interaction.
Children must be allowed to rest.
School holidays are not an anomaly but very much needed for our children to breathe and do other things besides school work.
The ‘cancellation’ of school holidays and, now it seems, weekends too is detrimental to our children.
Let the children play.
Dr Tony M. Monda Ph.D, DBA, writes in his capacity as a consultant and cultural critic. E-mail: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com