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

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