On our recent family trip to Nepal, I was initially concerned about how my kids would get on. Usually they lead quite separate lives. Our daughter, Lily is 10 and is into dancing, friends, shopping and watching Dance Moms. Our son, Jesse is 15 and likes surfing, spending hours on his Macbook, watching Mature-rated movies and constructing things in our back shed. They don’t fight but they also don’t do a lot together.
For a lot the trip there was no internet available, certainly no television and many hours to fill once we had finished trekking for the day. As the trip progressed though, they started to play cards. They taught and learnt new games from the Nepalese porters and spent countless hours learning card tricks and making card towers. Together.
My daughter also started to notice and ask about the games the Nepalese children were playing. What’s the game where they’re throwing rocks in the air? Jacks! As a child I spent many afternoons playing with plastic knucklebones – perfecting my throws and just whiling away the time until I could get to school and compete. We collected up some suitable rocks and we were off.
Similarly marbles are popular in Nepal. Again, she had never seen kids playing marbles and we watched excited and rowdy groups of boys knocking over their marbles, shouting at each other over and disputes and crowing with delight when they won some marbles from their opponents. Sometimes they didn’t have marbles and they just used small rocks.
Popular with the girls was hopscotch which we had played at home on the footpath. We also saw a game of elastics – using old string, and of course the wheel and the stick game that seems to be played in developing countries all over the world.
In Bandipur, there was a village square which was blocked off from traffic. When school finished we saw children running home to change into play clothes to quickly join the others to play. This went on until after dark. All night we could hear a cacophony of children’s shrieks of laughter – all playing in groups, and as far as I could tell, completely unsupervised.
In another conversation Lily mentioned to me that they aren’t allowed to do cartwheels at school anymore. Too dangerous. What? Watching the Nepalese kids play with such zest and enthusiasm brought me to the realisation of how much children’s play here in Australia has changed over the space of just one generation. Activities are scheduled and there is very little time left for just playing and whiling away the hours. Of course most Nepalese children don’t have the opportunity to participate in these “enriching” activities and that’s also an issue but I do think we need to somehow give our children the opportunity to re-learn the valuable and important art of play.