In a new approach to developing everyday skills into children with special needs, for instance, children with dyslexia, the Madras Dyslexia Association (MDA) has experimented with supplementing usual occupational therapy with native Indian games, to help with their development.
On August 30, in the radio program 'Mann Ki Baat', Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought to focus an important pedagogical tool, that is playing with toys. This successful and continued practice of this pedagogy by MDA opens a unique line of thought and practice to practitioners working in the child development field.
MDA has adopted traditional games in their remedial techniques for teaching special children. The MDA special educators have witnessed significant improvements with the use of traditional games, which are so vital in developing the pre-skills for all children. The improvements include areas such as the children's overall focus, fine motor skills from playing some of these games.
According to MDA, significant improvements were recorded in key areas such as children's overall focus and concentration besides in motor skills as a result of playing some of these traditional games, such as playing with a top and thread ('lattu') and hopscotch.
"Most of the approaches used with children with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) are western. In Chennai, one session of occupational therapy used with children with special needs can cost between Rs 800-1000. Parents often find it difficult to afford all the recommended number of sessions.
"Children with SLDs also get tired and lose focus while working with an occupational therapist for a while. Instead of pushing them, we found it useful to introduce native traditional games to supplement occupational therapy. The results have been promising," Chennai-based Swetha Chandrasekhar, who developed this concept for MDA, told IANSlife over phone.
According to D. Chandrasekhar, President, MDA and a distinguished alumnus awardee of IIT Madras, "After a long day of school, children with dyslexia come for remedial classes, and then they attend therapy classes, after which they're tutored at home and they finish their homework and whatever little time left, they'd like to spend it in front of the screen or playing against it."
"Therefore, at Ananya (their fulltime remedial centre) when we make our individualised education plan, we try and add in a pinch of a traditional games in order to tweak their pre-skills, which are vital for the academic development. When working with these traditional games, we realised that they were naturally multi-modal and multi-sensory and usually cater to more than one skill. These games can be easily adapted to suit the strengths and the needs of each child."
In order to make a real-time difference in the development of children, traditional games have a way of seamlessly teaching physical growth and development, social-emotional development, sensory motor development, communication skills, problem solving, concept building skills, understanding and processing skills, executive functions, perceptual readiness for learning, listening, reading and writing besides several life skills, including social skills.
Some of the practices and games and their benefits include hopscotch, which helps develop balance, gravity control and focus, among other skills; kite flying, which helps develop large motor movement, muscle tone, spatial orientation; and mancala which helps develop numeracy skills, fine motor and grapho-motor skills, midline crossing, attention and focus.
Traditional practices adopted include the ritual bath, which helps develop gravity control, body awareness and midline crossing.
India is a country really rich in culture and the cultural aspects of India are not confined to art, music and architecture but also extends to play. These games do not require any expensive props and everybody could play them regardless of age or gender. They cater to specific developmental aspects needed for children, keeping in mind the geographical and cultural backdrop, Chandrasekhar concluded.