“I spent years gently reminding children that we don’t play that way inside.”

Guest Post: Embracing Rough-and-Tumble Play By Mike Huber

Click to watch a short video with author Mike Huber to see what rough-and-tumble play looks like, and read more below to learn to use it in your program!

Embracing rough and tumble play? Isn’t that the type of play I try to stop from happening in my classroom?

I spent years gently reminding children that we don’t play that way inside. I often talked about teaching to the whole child, meeting their needs in all learning domains: social-emotional, literacy, cognitive, and physical development. But looking back, I ignored many of the children’s needs for physical development by telling them to wait until we were outside. I was failing to see a vital part of who these children were.

Rough and tumble play, play that involves the whole body, whether it is running, spinning, falling, or roughhousing, is the purest form of what it means to be a child.

Rough and tumble play, play that involves the whole body, whether it is running, spinning, falling, or roughhousing, is the purest form of what it means to be a child. It is the two-year-old jumping up and down, waving their arms up and down yelling, “Mommy! Mommy!” at the end of a day at school. It is the four-year-old spinning and falling, and then getting up and spinning again. It is the time when children are so engrossed in the joys of movement that they lose all track of time. As we grow into adulthood, we see this same total immersion of the mind and body when a dancer executes a phrase with extreme focus and precision, or when a surgeon completes a complex procedure and saves a life. Sometimes this immersion in movement is as simple as tending to a garden or rocking a child to sleep.

I embrace rough and tumble play because it is literally a type of embrace. It is a way for children to show affection for another while also testing the limits of their own physical abilities. Children need tender affection such as cuddling and hugs, but children also need to be physical in a more vigorous way. Both types of contact can strengthen social bonds.

Children may chase each other or roughhouse to show they are friends.  They may stomp their feet and roar to prove they are powerful.  We can choose to celebrate this expression or choose to restrict it, but children will continue moving.

I also embrace children’s boundless energy and their need to move almost constantly. Movement is the basis for all exploration and expression. Children explore who they are by physically challenging themselves.  Maybe they will try climbing a little higher or running a little faster.  They also explore the world around them.  They may roll on the grass, hit a stick against a tree to see if it breaks, or see how close they can get to a bird before it flies away.  Young children express themselves through movement as much as they do with words.  Children may chase each other or roughhouse to show they are friends.  They may stomp their feet and roar to prove they are powerful.  We can choose to celebrate this expression or choose to restrict it, but children will continue moving.

The term rough-and-tumble play can refer to a variety of activities.  All of the activities involve children physically moving their whole body, but not all are necessarily rough.  Here are a few examples:

  • Chase
  • Playing with balls
  • Spinning
  • Rolling
  • Running
  • Roughhousing (wrestling, horseplay)

While there is recognition that children like to run, climb and generally play physically, it is often shrugged off as simply a way for children to “get their wiggles out,” rather than a function of being a child as much as asking questions or even breathing. I think we are turning a blind eye toward the children in our care.  Children let us know when they need to move every time we tell them to sit down or to wait until outside time.  We need to start seeing and hearing what the children are telling us.

Many of us have been teaching with the mistaken notion that children are listening–and thus learning—when they are sitting still and looking at us.  In reality children may be learning more when they are engaged with materials or moving their bodies.  If children are interested in the activity they are doing, it presents an opportunity for rich conversation with teachers or other children.  For many children, pretending involves vigorous movement, perhaps even chasing or running.  Too often I hear teachers say that these boisterous children never settle into play, but rather spread chaos through the room.  If we find a way to stop interrupting and allow for this play (yes, even inside), we may see even the most active children involved in rich, complex pretend play.

There are many ways to incorporate movement into the teacher-led portions of a preschool or kindergarten day.  Children develop literacy skills by acting out a story, as well as by having a book read to them.  They can learn number concepts playing a game throwing or kicking balls into a goal, just as easily as sitting at a table with small counters.  Running provides plenty of opportunities for learning the basics of potential and kinetic energy (think of running uphill vs. downhill) or momentum (what’s the difference between crashing into something light and something heavy?).

 

Rather than viewing rough and tumble play as a disruption to your teaching, try seeing it as a vehicle for you to reach more children in your teaching.

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Mike Huber has dedicated his life to serving children, families, and the field of early childhood. He has been an early childhood teacher since 1992 and currently teaches at Seward Child Care Center in Minneapolis. Mike has also worked as a trainer and consultant for the Minnesota Department of Education, the Child Care Resource and Referral Network, and the Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children (MnAEYC). Mike served on MnAEYC’s board from 2007 to 2011, presents at local and national early childhood conferences, and has written for Teaching Young Children and a number of stories, songs, and puppet shows for children. He is the winner of the 2012 Kate Davidson Tanner Award from MnAEYC, the Scholastic Early Childhood Professional Award Honorable Mention in 2006, and Teacher Leadership from Hamline University’s Master of Arts Education Program in 2006. Mike holds a master’s degree in education from Hamline University. Visit Mike’s blog: mikehuberchildrensbooks.wordpress.com.

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