Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A.R.C.H. - True Play

Yesterday we established that team sports, movement and body management are not play. With limited time in a day after school, what should we prioritize with our children?  What type of play is most age appropriate and where should it be done?  Today we will look at 2 types of active play (next week we will talk more imaginative play): 

Rough and Tumble Play 
Outside Free Play

Rough and Tumble Play  

As a mom I am often frustrated by the amount of wrestling around our house. I had one brother and my husband was an only - so there wasn't much rough and tumble play growing up. But with 3 boys it can border on ridiculous! Kids need roughhousing.  The Art of Roughhousing is dedicated to bringing back this old way of play (here are some of the key points). It is through roughhousing that boys learn limits, their own strength and bond. Stuart also has more to say about the role of rough and tumble play.  

Roughhousing at school will get you in BIG trouble these days - so where can they do it? HOME! Who can they do it with? Dad, uncles, brothers (some sisters), cousins and hopefully good friends. Sometimes we enroll children in karate, tae kwon do, etc. to help fill this need. But is that play or an adult led activity? See, it doesn't quite scratch the actual itch. This kind of play is about bonding - not just about learning to defend and attack.
I have one cousin who intentionally wrestles with his boys every morning. If he doesn’t, it is harder for them to calm down and focus that day.  My 4 yo needs touch as well - so he asks to cuddle every morning. The days when I meet this need he has a better day.  Realize that some kids need this kind of play so badly that they will try to provoke it in others.  They aren't pushing and touching to be mean - they have a need and are trying to get it met.  Often we end the day with the rough and tumble (we all know dads who play tickle games right before bed), kids might benefit from starting the day this way.

Outside Free Play 

P.E., team sports and similar adult led activity are okay for part of our child's outdoor time but what else is there?   Angela Hanscom is a pediatric occupational therapist who was stunned by the trouble students were having with basic tasks and decided to investigate. Her book Balanced and Barefoot is the result of that research. Honestly, I want to quote the whole book, but I will limit myself to some highlights. 

How much time outdoors? 

When we read older educational theorists (like Charlotte Mason) she recommends about 6 hours outdoors a day.  I scoffed at that - how is that possible? - maybe that's just old fashioned.  Well, research in 2016 recommends 

Excuse me!  Come again.  Shockingly, she recommends MORE time (5 to 8 hours) for preschoolers. Obviously, you have to account for weather and such, but that is a LOT of time in active play and in the great outdoors.  In prior generations kids normally had outdoor chores, places to walk to, basically reasons to be outside.  Hanscom recommends "two to three hours of uninterrupted play outside everyday." It makes the 60 minutes a day that the government promotes look dreadfully small.  You see, kids needs haven't changed, but our ability to meet those needs has.

Now, think about how much time your child spends outdoors?  How much of that is free play?  Now do you see why kids struggle inside a classroom all day?  It is crucial to realize that being in a classroom all day is truly difficult for many children (this story just makes we want to scream).  We know what kids need and as parents we need to do our best to help them navigate a workable solution for our lives and their energy, physical growth and emotional well being. 

Why outdoors? 

Hanscom asserts
The outdoors, however, has fewer rules and guidelines.  And objects in nature, because they don't seem to have any inherent function or usefulness, actually inspire kids to use their imaginations, challenge their thinking and test their physical limits - far more so than almost anything made in a factory.  True joy, a sense of play and confidence overcome children who play outdoors. 
Isn't that what we hope for our children - joy, creativity, confidence?  Much of the book provides research and support for this claim.   Indoors they may be getting activity but often it is very directed (you can only crawl through the tunnel, jump on the bouncy house) and doesn't encourage true creative play.

A note, Hanscom cautions that kids who aren't used to this type of play take about 45 minutes to really settle into playing (who to play with, what to play, how to play).  So, if you are only allotting an hour to play kids will just be starting to get into "deep play" and you'll have to go.  With "just an hour" they might not get to creative play.  Kids who are more familiar with free play or with each other will get to "deep play" much more quickly. Hanscom's organization, Timbernook, has crazy stories about kids trying to figure out what to do on their own in nature. 


This list (from Hanscom) is a quick overview of some of the benefits of playing outside. 
Playing outdoors improves the immune system, develops the senses, strengthens motor skills, inspires creativity and imagination, fosters social emotional skills, and cultivates the foundational skills needed for later academic work. 
However, lets focus on one aspect of the benefit of outdoor play - Risk. Both Brown (of the Foundation for Play) and Hanscom discuss this as a major benefit of play.   Risky play for Hanscom includes:
1. handling dangerous tools
2. being near dangerous elements (fire)
3. exploring heights by climbing
4. speed
5. rough and tumble play
6. playing on one's own 
Most of these things just don't happen indoors (without being told to stop).  However, children need to experiment and learn their limits.

In order for kids to learn their limits, build confidence and grow, they must take risks. Teachers can't allow kids to take too many risks and most of the school day is spent indoors. This is something that parents must create a space for in children's lives.  Germany has taken this concept to a whole new level with the Forest School.  In these schools, children play freely outside (regardless of weather conditions) with minimum adult intervention.  A fascinating idea. 

Right now, the 102 heat index is discouraging our outdoor play - but really we just need to run around in the water more.  Tomorrow we will talk about the different things you can do outdoors to help encourage play and just get outside!  

Food for Thought  

Do your kids do rough and tumble play?  Do you value it or try to stop it? 

Think about risk in your child's day.  Are your children given opportunities to take risks that they choose regularly?  Where and how do you accomplish this?  

Honestly assess how much outside free play your child has.   If this became a priority how much time could you spend outdoors?  When?  

What are the primary barriers to outside play (supervision, time, lack of space, no playmates, the mess)?  Can these be overcome?   

I am also linking this up with Wednesday with Words over at Ladydusk.


  1. There used to be a lot of rough & tumble at our place with 4 boys. They've gotten too big & strong now for too much of that now. I remember the time when one of the girls swan dived and landed on her dad & winded him. Total ban after that, for my husband, anyhow. The boys still wrestle & if they have friends over it usually goes in that direction.

  2. So glad to hear that. I really am trying to let it be - we just have quite a size difference and the oldest doesn't always know his own strength - but that is part of learning.