If you were to play this popular game of quick-guessing an associative word with another word- what is the word you are most likely to associate with the word “child”? I hope it was ‘play’- because that is what every child most wants. Now science also says that ‘s what they need as well.

Here’s Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada,”The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain – and without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed.” Whether it’s just tumble-fall or figuring out which who goes in whose group, plenty of free play is absolutely essential for brain development, especially social and emotional development.

Yet, the time children get to play has been steadily decreasing, with children getting only half the playtime as their parents did. And parents and teachers aren’t even doing it to be mean. Play is not an activity that has clear, tangible immediate benefits. If a child finishes a math worksheet, it’s clear the child learnt something- it’s not so easy to see the returns on playtime.  Yet, ample studies have shown that the best way to predict academic success in high-school is how socially adept the child is at third grade- social adeptness being a direct benefit of unstructured play.

Preethi Vickram
Preethi Vickram, founder of LIFE and advocate of the Power of Play

Thankfully, some smart educators have taken the onus on themselves to bring back the culture of play – and one such inspiring and visionary leader is Preethi Vickram- the founder of  LIFE- Leadership Initiative For Educators.

Preethi has extensive experience with pre-schoolers having run the Master franchise of Podar Jumbo Kids for Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh for 15 years and has now made it her mission to empower educators in India in child-directed learning. One of her unique initiatives is Play Ambassadors League(PAL) which empowers education through the play. She is also planning the Power of Play-POP conference in Bangalore in September, which brings together many experienced minds in the field of child development and learning. Her extensive work has earned her the esteemed partnership of LEGO Foundation. 

We had a wonderful opportunity to chat up with Preethi. Read on to know about her interesting journey and the one-of-a-kind Power of Play conference coming up in Bengaluru.

Hi Preethi.  It’s a pleasure that you are here with us. You are the founder of LIFE- Leadership Initiative For Educators- with a vision to empower educators in India. How did this come about?

I have been an educator for 16 years, working with pre-schools and entrepreneurs in the field of education. My work involves interacting with other schools for continuity into mainstream schools. Since I am also a parenting coach, I get to meet with a lot of parents. In all my years of work, I have seen that educators and parents work in silos. Competition creates silos between the educators as well. Parents have a better chance of being part of the decision-making process if the threat of competition is removed. 

My venture LIFE-Leadership Initiative For Educators’, works towards removing those silos based on the principle of a very simple motto- ‘Inspire, Nurture and Transform.’ 

Inspire – Schools undoubtedly want to do better, however they have a deficit of knowledge on what is available and what they need to function better. We want to fill that gap by providing access to international ideas- through conferences and researched content. 

Nurture: Our mission is also to provide professional development courses and opportunities for growth. We want to provide people with a space to practise these eduction principles in a non-judgemental zone. 

Also Read: A School Tests Every Child For Admission. Do Parents Evaluate The School Climate Enough?

Transform:  “Leadership matters”, our membership-based journal provides a platform for people to share and write more often. 

You also have mini-learning modules focusing on specific streams of learning. What is the best way to make the most of it?

We put great care to whet trainers for professional development as educators from the Academy. LIFE school members will also have access to a lot of vendors since we plan to maintain a complete roster inventory of the typical requirements of a school for growth, and people can be assured of the right fit since trainers are rated on the site. 

On the Power of Play

Your special focus is on incorporating play into learning for young kids and your Play Ambassadors League initiative is one of a kind intense initiative for early educators to up their game with play. Would you tell us more about it?

What are some of the ways you have seen play incorporated in classrooms throughout your career?

I had the opportunity to observe classrooms around the world – the classroom that stood out for me was the in a preschool of the University of California, Los Angeles. The Early childhood care centre is STEAM-theme based. As I watched, the entire curriculum was taught through hands-on learning. The teacher had this huge mural “Under Sea life”- the month was “Water theme” – she had made the mural and it was great to see the children come and look for something new. The conversations just sparked off and the teacher made a note of all the questions the children asked – and the next 2 days of teaching and learning was all about the questions by the children. Everything was child-directed. 

Also Read: Single-Purpose Wooden Toys Are Crucial For Sensory Development: Mridula Shridhar of Skola Toys

I had a similar experience at the LEGO Idea Conference( LIC) where the adults set up the theme, but the learning was all child-directed.

As an educator, my pre-schools have the problem that parents often ask that children are not learning enough or not enough homework, etc. We always try to push back. Our philosophy is deep-rooted in brain development, which is a by-product of playing. That is the reason and philosophy behind the Play Ambassadors League Initiative. 

I also want to congratulate you on your partnership with the Lego Foundation for hosting PAL. How did that come about?

One of the earlier attendees of my talk on humour and cognitive development in early childhood at NAEYC(National Association for the Education of Young Children) invited me to the LEGO Idea Conference. One thing led to the other and ultimately LEGO foundation offered to partner on the PAL initiative. 

Your Power of Play conference is coming out soon, which I anticipate is going to be a mega-event. Tell us how we can be a part of it and what we can expect out of the conference.

The Power Of Play conference can be attended by anyone who is a practitioner of play- which means basically- everybody, including parents. We have tracks applicable for everyone. The POP conference explores several themes intertwining psychology and play. The conference will bring together the world’s leading experts on the global play trends and bringing play into education. 

The Power Of Play conference will offer several surprise tracks and exploratory zones that intertwine fun and psychology for everyone( yes, adults need to play too) and we promise nobody will be disappointed.

To check out the POP conference details, head HERE.

Power of Play
The Power Of Play Conference

To check out the POP conference details, head HERE.

On Work-Life Balance

As a busy mom, how do you split your day between so many things?

Honestly, I wish I had 24 more hours. However, the fantastic support system that has never made me feel guilty. I make sure I spend quality time with my son, even if it is only for 15 minutes. 

What is your message for today’s parents?

Just have the intention and the rest will take care of itself. Own up to your mistakes. Model honesty. I see several instances in my classrooms when the parent leaves the child at the centre and says, “Mumma is right here” but of course, they aren’t there. This is the basis for a trust deficit.  Small things can make a huge difference. 

A word on what you like about Kidskintha?

I love the fact that its a community and not just a blog. Parents can come here to find resources that will truly help them.

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Devishobha Chandramouli

Devishobha is the founder of Kidskintha- a global parenting and education collective, and the host of the global virtual conferences hosted on the platform. You can also find her voice on the Huffington Post, Mother.ly, Entrepreneur, Lifehack, TinyBuddha, Thought Catalog and many other publications.

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