Passing the Torch

The pair proceeded to wrestle, but interestingly, the gentle partner did not know the point of the demonstration and did not go down. He was doing what he always does during their matches, providing a kind of shifting wall of gentle resistance. Our torch-bearer remained unperturbed and kept up the demonstration.


It is like they say, sometimes the magic happens outside your comfort zone. I must admit that I am not personally a fan of roughhousing. I did not roughhouse when I was younger and I am more comfortable with heavy work that involves rolling stumps or rearranging furniture and blocks. Roughhousing is vital for some children though! Please see New York Times and an earlier blog post from Emory Luce Baldwin talks about how roughhousing should be included in "easy fun for families".

We create a time and space for small play and we also have to create a time and space for rough play although it usually occurs in the 4/5s class. This year, the class is approaching roughhousing in a very funny way. Whenever they start, I can't help but think/hear phrases like, "Clash of the Titans," shouted in a big voice of a wrestling ring announcer, but see, that would be my adult lens distorting what was actually going on which is not fighting at all.

For some children turning 3 and just-4 years old, roughhousing is not so much a want as a need. The children are compelled to connect with others, but they often cannot apply any shape or rules to it in a group setting. It works better at home and in a one-on-one setting. During parent trainings for the 3/4s class, I call this "puppy play" because that is what it resembles. Since the children are just only then developing the structure of rule-governed play, it is our job to redirect the play or save it for home (see "Easy Fun For Families"). As children are 4 and turn 5, it is our job to create that time and space in the school day for those who need to roughhouse can and they are ready to shape it with their own rules.

This is how we approach it: the first thing the children establish is the "who wants to play", "who is playing", "safety rules", and then the "signal to stop". First rule of roughhousing club...only OUTSIDE in an open-space. Second rule of roughhousing club, "Know when to stop."

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During our brainstorming session, I told the roughhousing players that for the last couple of years the children voted to use the word, "strawberry" to signal when to stop. They felt this is still the right word. "Strawberry" calls an all-stop.

This year, I could see from the play language that two of the children were signaling that a more formal structure was required for their roughhousing. They needed a wrestling ring. The wrestling ring brings its own gifts. You have children keen on drawing and redrawing the circle, so that is good because children interested in the idea of roughhousing, but not the actual thing, can still be involved.

The ring created its own rule...once you are pushed out of the ring, the round is over. That is also good because it is better than pulling/pinning down as the signal for wrestling. It is hard to hear say the word, "Strawberry" with your face pushed into the mulch. The downside of the ring visual is that children were keen on cheering for one or the other roughhouser. This is in direct violation of our City of Takoma Park zip code's ordinances which clearly state that everyone is a winner (big smile!). More importantly, it breaks the second rule of roughhousing, "Know when to stop." With all the hollerin' and a noise, the roughhousers couldn't hear the safe word. We talked about it and voted out the cheering option.

So, if the magic happens outside your comfort zone, find a way to make your circle bigger. Roughhousing has its time and place.

Easy Fun for Families

Easy fun—with no preparation, no planning, no special equipment needed, no classes to schedule, etc., etc. (exclamation point.) I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of fun in family life, and wondering why it seems in such short supply.  Sometimes I guess it is because parents are doing so many things for their children, it seems as if there is no time left to do things with them.  Maybe it’s because many parents grew up in homes where parents and children didn’t play together, and so they can’t imagine how to do it.  Or maybe it’s because a parent is afraid of hurting a child or being hurt—especially if angry feelings have recently been piling up.

Then I was inspired by this wonderful example from Larry Cohen’s (the author Playful Parenting).  In his latest newsletter, he wrote:

Another Mom used some play to help her oldest child, age 6, who had been a bit of a "monster" lately:  "So, I recently pulled out one of our favorite games that has always helped my middle child. This time, I was hoping to turn around my 6 year old, and it worked like a charm. I just lay down on the floor and say, 'I'm the bread. Who wants to be the cheese?' and one child will run over to lay on top of me. I give that kid a great big squeeze, which really seems to help him feel loved and snap him out of a bad mood. Then the other one will run over and be the mustard (or whatever) and lay on top. Now I'm squeezing two kids and the one in the middle is getting a good squeeze. I have to help them take turns being the one closest to me. But the baby doesn't care! She will just pile on top of her brothers and seems to feel like she's 'winning' just because she's playing too and gets to body slam her brothers."

I love this example because it describes so well that play isn’t something to save just for times when we all feel good, it can actually be an activity that helps everyone feel better.  This is a lesson we can learn directly from watching children play—they play when they are excited and happy and they play when they are frustrated and upset.  All their emotions go into their play, which can almost magically transform what is heavy and serious and difficult into something more light-hearted and funny and easy.

If you don’t believe me, try this idea.  Pull out some balloons—my favorite are the round, 10-12” size balloons that you can buy in bulk in party supply stores.  Blow up a few and knot them.  Then turn on some crazy, funky music.  What happens?  Well first people come wandering in to find out what’s going on.  Then they notice the balloons and start bopping them about.  Before long they are volleying them over to you and you are volleying them right back.  And along the way, everyone is smiling because it is virtually impossible to play with balloons and not smile.  Popping balloons on purpose is even better—it always provokes big laughs!

Play is seriously good fun and seriously good for everyone—but it doesn’t have to be a serious matter to do more of it.  Balloons are cheap, clean, unlikely to break anything, and no effort to clean up.  Hugging sandwiches, pillow fights, and goofy dance contests are good too.

As the nights get dark earlier and we all retreat into our cozy warm homes—bring more play inside, too, to lighten everyone’s spirits!

Larry’s latest book, The Art of Roughhousing, Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It is now available for preorder.  I can’t wait to read it!