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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Building Blocks

It has become a morning ritual. The little boy would run over to the huge toy chest and purposefully attempt to pry it open. Finally achieving his objective, he would excitedly select a piece from the colourful block set, and intentionally place it on the floor next to him. Reaching back into the chest, he would repeat the process with another block, and position it on top of the first piece. Suddenly, in the midst of his activity, he would look frantically around the room. Glancing to and fro, his eyes would fall on an older man, who at this moment, would either be having breakfast or preparing to go to work. In a dramatic display of affection, the boy would run to the man, and drag him to the pile of building blocks on the floor. He wanted his Daddy to join him in this special time of father-son bonding.

We decided to buy the large chest of MEGA Bloks for Z ahead of his second birthday next month. Our son had been enjoying his building blocks while at his grandparents' place for quite some time, and we felt that we also wanted him to enjoy this activity while at home. So we waited for a sale, and brought back the building blocks in eager anticipation of what this might mean for him. And we were not disappointed. Our son gave a squeal of delight the first day he saw the blocks. Then he turned to us, and made the "thank you" sign with his hands. Indeed he took to them like a fish in water, conscienciously building the blocks upwards one by one, creating a Babel-like tower that reached far above his head.

It seemed natural for me to build the blocks with Z from the first day since we got the set. Our ever-enthusiastic son would always want to build as high as he can go. In fact my wife observes that boys and girls approach building blocks differently. She notes that while girls carefully create pretty structures with their blocks, boys would however go for higher yet more unstable structures. Z is no exception. I have therefore elected to help him stabilise his structures, by adding a strong base to them. That could have been the reason I first decided to spend time with him in this manner.

Building blocks with your son is a restful process. You don't have to run around picking up the balls that he throws and misses. You don't have to be continually on your feet as he runs around the house in a wild and uninhibited manner. You don't have to pick up the CDs and DVDs that he systematically and intentionally throws to get your attention. You don't have to pick up the milk bottles which he arranges on the kitchen floor only to knock them down like bowling pins. In contrast, you can just sit peacefully next to him; each of you watching the other fit a new block on the structure, and occasionally exchanging words of encouragement and affirmation. Of course switching on the TV and playing a DVD for him would be a less tiring activity since that would free you to go and play computer games; but such an activity is never a consideration for us given our intentional decision not to let the TV serve as his babysitter.

I have been learning much about creativity and the importance of play since we sent Z to playschool. In a recent seminar that I organised in conjunction with International Day of the Family - "Never Let You Go" - Changing Trends in Love, Marriage & the Family, one of the speakers, Ms Su-Lin Ditcham, stressed that play is an important part of a child's life. Su-Lin, who is the founder of PlayDays PlaySchool, screened a video illustrating the effect of education on the values and behaviour of a child, and how this could have a lasting impact on the individual when he or she grew up. The video contrasted three different teaching styles - laissez-faire, authoritarian and guided democracy - and their long-term impact on children. While the laissez-faire teaching led to a riot in the classroom, the kids under the authoritarian teacher were content to only create products that were exactly like the sample piece. It was, however, the children under the "guided democracy" who thrived; creating different products, all special and unique, and yet adhering to a certain quality standard.

For children to thrive, they need to be given choices in their various interactions and play situations. The presence of choices allows for creativity and jump-starts the learning process. Moreover, when adults respect the choices made by kids, this provides them with the confidence and security that they need. However children need to be guided in their decision-making process, as they still do not have the full knowledge and skill-sets that adults have. It is truly a delicate balance of allowing children the space to develop creatively, but yet equipping them with the guidance that only someone older and wiser can provide.

I have attempted to apply Su-Lin's principles to the act of building blocks with my son. On one hand you need to stabilise the structure so that it does not topple over so often that it frustrates him. On the other hand you also need to be mindful that you do not want to stifle his creativity by always "fixing" the structure such that it conforms to your own standards of aesthetic beauty and architectural stability. You therefore end up helping him create a structure that has some aspects of architectural rigour, but is at the same time allowed to topple when it eventually gets too high and too unstable. You hope that he will one day learn about concepts such as "centre of gravity", but you also know that the time is not now - at least not when he is only 2-years-old. What is more important is that you hope he will learn skills such as creative play and fine motor coordination, and in the process build up his confidence in building and in life.

It's truly been priceless the time I spend with Z building blocks. I had been lamenting previously about my son not seeming to want me as his father. While he still tangibly clings to his mother at most times, there is a moment when he sits with me and gives me his undivided attention - and it's all when we are both on the floor, happily building blocks together. Physiologically I know there will always be a significant difference between the mother-son relationship and the father-son bond, however I know it is sufficient for me just to know that I can connect with him in such a simple manner. I know that ultimately the father-son bond can only be strengthened if I continue to spend time with him moment by moment, metaphorically building the blocks of our relationship in the most day-to-day and ordinary instances. I know it will all be meaningful one day when he turns to his friends and proudly proclaims," This is MY Daddy."

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm.. I think S plays like a boy then, building the blocks as high as she could and excitedly watch them topple or knock down the structure with another block. Haha... which unfortunately upsets my boy no end because he wants a standing structure.

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