Play time

Vertical villages, the importance of inspiration, the dangers of diabetes and the future of junior health. <em>Time Out</em> gets serious about child's play

Area Guides

Anna Whitehouse speaks to Dr Rajeshree Udani Singhania, pediatrician at Singhania Children’s Clinic about child’s play.

What are ‘vertical villages’?
High-rise buildings are like ‘vertical villages’. In Dubai, because of the heat, the traffic and construction work, children cannot just go out and play on the streets or walk to parks or gardens. All cities have mandatory green areas – that is the number of parks per residents in an area – and Dubai should be no different. I’m talking about a place where teens can hang out and socialise instead of being driven to malls and a place where youngsters can play instead of watching television and playing video games. A place where children can run, climb and expend their energy instead of just looking at television. A place where neighbouring kids get to know each other and form a kind of community.

Why do children need play areas?
It is important that we differentiate play, which is what children actively engage in for enjoyment rather than amusement, which is passive (like watching television). Play is the work of children. They use play to learn about their experiences, to expend their surplus energy, to learn social skills like compromise and negotiation. If you have seen children at play and see their energy, excitement and complete focus you realise how it helps them. Research has shown that when children are allowed to play they are emotionally more secure and stable.

Tell us a story about a child that inspired you in your work
He was an eight-year-old child who was very hyperactive and difficult. He also had dyslexia. He was defiant, destructive and aggressive. His parents, out of desperation, would lock him in a dark room to try to manage him – the fact that he had a biological disorder and could not help his behaviour escaped them. The child was put on medicine but needed play therapy to deal with his feelings. He said that the doll (that apparently represented him) was hateful. He said no one liked him because he was naughty, could not read and was ugly. Through play he was able to resolve his issues and express his feelings of rejection, loneliness and inadequacy.

How does Sameer Al Mahmood fit into your campaign?
When Brij Mahajan, director of operations at Sameer Al Mahmood Real Estate Investment approached me to help them design a dedicated, 5,000sq ft play area for their building (Zenith Tower, City of Arabia) I jumped at the opportunity. This has acted as a springboard from which I have been able to promote my belief that a play area for all age groups should be made mandatory for all high rise buildings. All developers should follow their lead; they are setting a great example.

Why is diabetes rife in the UAE?
Type-II diabetes is a disorder that is a combination of genes and environment. Lack of play, junk food and an inactive lifestyle – all leading to obesity – has made diabetes rife.

In 10 years, how would you like to see Dubai changing for children?
There are three areas that I feel need to be addressed: play, special-needs children and bullying. I want Dubai to be able to have adequate resources and understanding for children with special needs. It is important to remember that they may have normal intelligence. Presently, schools don’t like admitting children if they have even a whiff of learning problems. Young children may not do well on ‘IQ tests’, but that does not mean they have low intelligence. So I would like all schools to have a one per cent space reserved for children with special needs.

Bullying is a disease that damages a child’s psyche. I am not talking only about physical bullying, but racist bullying, rejection and cyber bullying. I would like to see anti-bullying laws in place in all schools and communities. I would like to see pro-active programmes that help children accept each other no matter what their race, colour or intelligence. Finally, play. I would like to see many safe and interesting play areas for children.

Tell us the best toy for kids
There isn’t a best toy for a child as such. Even a twig or stones can be interesting. What is most important is adults’ attitude – parents, teachers, schools and communities – that encourage free instinctive (not adult controlled) play by giving children both a place and adequate time to do it.

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