The Importance of Play

by Seneca Moraleda-Puguan

“I would like to speak to the adults who are raising children. Children have to play right now. Later is too late. It’s too late after getting into the university, after getting a job, and after getting married. Playing with marbles, tag, Red Rover, double dutch, later is too late. In a life full of anxiety, it’ll be late to find the only way to happiness. First, children must play now. Second, children must be healthy now. Third, children must be happy now.”

These were the words of Bang Gu-Ppong from episode 9 of the Korean Drama Series, ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo’ which has gained popularity among Kdrama fans.

He was a self-confessed Commander-in-Chief of the Children’s Liberation Club whose goal is to free children from the evils of society’s schools, academies and parents.

He brought twelve elementary school children from the academy owned by his mother to the mountain and played fun games with them. He was charged with kidnapping and Attorney Woo’s team was tasked to defend him. The drama may have been fictional, but it acknowledges and confronts the kind of education the Korean society has.

Children as young as second or third graders take extra classes until late at night and go to study cafes so they can catch up with their peers. They go to English academies and take different musical and sports classes even during weekends.

Children in Korea are subject to extreme pressure even at a very young age to keep up with a strongly competitive and performance-oriented society. No wonder, South Korea holds the record for the highest suicide rates among the youth compared to other OECD countries.

Watching this episode broke and touched our hearts at the same time. Living in South Korea, we witness the pressures parents and children face when it comes to education.

According to Wikipedia, “an average South Korean child’s life revolves around education as pressure to succeed academically is deeply ingrained in South Koreans from an early age. Students are faced with immense pressure to succeed academically from their parents, teachers, peers and society. This is largely a result of a society that has entrenched a great amount of importance on higher education, with those lacking formal university education often facing social prejudice as well as significant life-long consequences such as a stagnant and lower socioeconomic status, diminishing marriage prospects, and low possibilities of securing a respectable white collar and professional career path.”

It also added, “many South Korean parents hold high educational expectations for their children, emphasize academic achievement and actively monitor in their children’s academic progress by ensuring that their children receive top grades in school to have the potential to go on to enroll in the nation’s most prestigious universities.”

This is the very reason why we have chosen to homeschool our children: to allow them to play and make the most of their childhood. We curated our homeschooling schedule in a way that they have a lot of free, unstructured play and a lot of book reading and nature walks.

When I look at them, I am amazed at how creative and imaginative they are. I notice that they learn a lot while playing.

Experts say that play improves the physical, social, cognitive and emotional well-being of children and young people. Through play, they learn about themselves and the world. They also develop skills they need for study, work and relationships such as confidence and independence, curiosity and self-esteem.

We value academic excellence, but it is not what we deem the most important. We want children who love learning, and who have godly character and conviction more than high grades.

My husband and I believe that they are not defined by how much they know but by who they are in their Maker. They are loved and accepted, not because they are smart or are excelling in school, but because simply they are our children.

And as a parent, I agree with Bang Gu-Ppong saying children must play now, children must be healthy now and children must be happy now. Later is too late!

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