Children should be heard

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

When I was a little girl, “Children should be seen, not heard” was a proverb that was put into practice. In fact, in many homes, an amended version of the directive was enforced — in the presence of a visitor, children were not to be seen either!

So, when an ‘auntie or uncle’ came calling, us children received direct orders from our mother to go and do our homework — a thinly veiled euphemism for ‘out!’. I remember grudgingly dragging my feet towards the school bag. But I had my revenge. With a textbook open, I focussed on picking up bits of conversations that floated into my room. The habit of eavesdropping has stayed with me. As an adult, the difference is that now, I listen in on what kids say to each other.

Over the years, I have watched little girls play pretend family and school. Decades ago, the ‘mother’ in the game would say, “Come, eat breakfast.” These days, she says, “don’t disturb me. I am on a call!”

Interestingly, what has remained unchanged is that the role of the ‘mother’ (and ‘the teacher’) has always been reprised by the most dominant kid who runs the house or school, like an autocrat.

In contrast, in the game of robber and police, the least athletic kid in the group is made the policeman. So, while the robbers flee and hide, giggling, having all the fun, the hapless policeman tries to find them, left with just a stick to establish authority.

Recently, I was part of a team that volunteered at a government school with middle school children. Here, we played the ‘build a story’ game, the aim of which was to promote creativity. The start was provided by the first student; “Once there was a king,” he began. The story was then taken forward, with each child adding a line — “The King had a secret which only his minister knew,” said the second. “His secret was that he had a second wife,” said the next. After that, creativity went for a toss and the story followed a TV serial storyline.

In another instance, eight-year-olds at a birthday party were playing the game of dumb charades. Little Priya gestured that the title assigned to her had two words. For the first word, Priya showed an action that is universally recognised to symbolise sleeping. For the second, her action showed someone applying lipstick.

Though I was not a participant in the game, I tried without success to guess the title. The kids in the room had no such difficulty. “Sleeping Beauty!” they yelled in chorus. Use cosmetics and turn into a beauty! I am now convinced that children should be heard, so adults know what interpretations of the world they are coming up with!

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