The Importance of Rough & Tumble Play in Early Childhood

March 15, 2021

One of the most difficult things for me to learn and come to terms with as an Early Childhood Educator was the concept of rough play, but one group of children that I worked with really enjoyed wrestling with each other, so, after attending a workshop about Embracing Risky Play in Childhood, instead of punishing the children for the behaviour, we decided to get on board with their rough and tumble play.

The first thing we did was sit the children down and talk about how we were going to allow them to wrestle outside: 

- We discussed where would be an appropriate place to wrestle, and they decided on the grass area

- We discussed how many people should wrestle together, and they decided that two was enough

- We also discussed what was not considered wrestling, and they thought choking and hitting the face was inappropriate

- We also talked about paying attention to each other's faces so we could know when we were not having fun anymore, and how if our bodies felt hot and angry then it was time to stop, or if our partner's face was no longer smiling then it was also an indication to stop. 

The children should be leaving their wrestling still as friends.

With these rules, that the children helped decide on, in place, we began letting them wrestle outside in our grassy area. We would remind them of the rules every time we went outside, and an educator was always nearby when the wrestling began, noting when there were too many wrestling together, or if the wrestling was getting too aggressive, or mean spirited, and their bodies were saying it was time to be done. As always, they caught on quickly, and, by the end of that summer, they were getting really good at remembering the rules and recognizing when it was time to be done.

It wasn't easy. While my partner and I were fully giving ourselves to the idea, we had to let other educators in the centre know what was going on so that they would understand that the wrestling and rough and tumble play was allowed, and being watched closely. It takes a lot to push yourself through the discomfort of leaving a specific way of teaching behind, but it really changed how we approached the situation, and made it less of a source of frustration for us educators, and the children.

Why is rough and tumble play an important part of early childhood development? Based on some of the rules that we devised with the children, you can see that it helps them understand their emotions and how to regulate their bodies, as well as understand when they are getting angry and need a break. It also helps them to recognise and understand emotions in other people: I can see my friend is no longer having fun so it is time to stop. It also helps them develop resilience, and gives them the opportunity to use their larger muscles and get more energy out of their bodies.

*It is important to note that rough and tumble play is not just for boy, there are plenty of little girls that enjoy wrestling and playing other rough and tumble games!

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