rough and tumble play

Rough play is inherent among all young animals – including children. This type of play comes by many names – rough-housing, big body play, horseplay, play fighting. Children start this play early in infancy by waving their arms and legs, crawling over things, and increase the intensity of this type of play as they age, pushing each other down, chasing, fleeing, and wrestling are a few examples.

Educators and parents often mistake this play style for real fighting or inappropriate behaviour. In appropriate rough play, children’s faces are relaxed, their muscle tone is not tense, and they are usually smiling and laughing. Positive rough play is considered a universal children’s activity, is adaptive, evolutionarily useful, and linked to normal brain development. There is a known connection between the development of movement and the development of cognition.

Learning that occurs during rough play:

  • Language, both verbal and nonverbal
  • Social development such as learning to negotiate, take turns, wait, compromise
  • Make and follow rules
  • Cause and effect
  • Empathy
  • Optimum physical development

Educators can do three specific things to provide for and support rough play with minimizing the potential for injury:

  • Prepare both the indoor and outdoor environment (e.g.. A designated area)
  • Develop and implement policies and rules for rough play (e.g. No hitting, pinching, stop when you are told)
  • Supervise rough play so intervention can occur when appropriate

 In Practice:

Big body play does not need to be limited to just outside or gym time. We can encourage children to engage in big body play even within a traditionally immobile setting such as circle time as seen in the example below:

Turning Finger Plays into Big Body Play – Five Little Pumpkins

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate

(Children squat bouncing up and down)

The first one said, “oh, my! It’s getting late

(Children jump up from squat and jump up and down)

The second one said, “There is a chill in the air”

(Children shiver and shake vigorously)

The third one said, “But I don’t care”

(Children throw arms out to the side and sway back and forth)

The fourth one said, “I’m ready for some fun!”

(Children dance around in circles)

The fifth one said, “Let’s run and run and run!”

(Children run around)

“Woooo” went the wind and out went the lights

(Children drop to the ground)

And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight

(Children roll around on the floor)


Big Body Play – Why boisterous, Vigorous, and Very Physical Play Is Essential to Children’s Development and Learning, Frances M. Carlson

Engaging primary learners through play

We came across an excellent resource developed by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario called “Primarily Play: Engaging Primary Learners through Play.”  The resource includes varied and practical information for teachers about the important role play has in the primary classroom. We know of a number of districts in BC where primary teachers are using the document to engage with and stimulate discussion about learning based play. 

 Chapters include:

  • Why children need to play in school
  • Connections between play and curriculum
  • Planning and decision-making related to play, and
  • Bringing play from practice into policy.

The resource includes:

  • Research from the field about the benefits of play-based learning
  • Scenarios to illustrate important ideas
  • Questions to think about practice, and
  • Personal reflection about the children you teach each day.

Whether you’re a new or an experienced teacher, Primarily Play: Engaging Primary Learners through Play  will stimulate discussions to support play-based learning in the 21st century.

Cost: $20.00 plus tax and shipping.

To order the Primarily Play document visit:  or call toll free at 1-888-838-3836.

Top Toys

A common challenge that comes to those working with children often surrounds equipment. Concerns around types of equipment, accessibility, appropriateness, cost and use of the “stuff” in classrooms is shared across the sector. We came across this article in the high-tech Wired Magazine on the Top Five Toys. The article is a tad tongue-in-cheek, yet has an air of truth which we found refreshing. You may find this provides a fun way to start a conversation on children’s play.

What are your top toys?