boisterous play child development

When kids are rough housing, we as parents often stop it incase someone gets hurt or it looks too violent, but this play can actually be considered important for our child’s development. Frances Carlson author of Big Body Play: Why Boisterous, Vigorous, and Very Physical Play Is Essential to Children’s Development and Learning, was the guest speaker last year at the National Association for the Education of Young Children Conference here on Maui.

Carlson gave a revelational lecture in front of Maui preschool teachers and day care providers explaining why boisterous play is important for our children’s physical, emotional and social development especially the development of children’s social awareness, emotional thinking, and language skills.

What is considered to be Big Body Play?

Carlson explained that this kind of play can come in many forms. Her examples included when a child throws herself onto a sofa, children wrestling, when friends jump off climbing equipment or chase each other as they laugh, or race to a finish line. This kind of behavior can admittedly make a lot of parents nervous, but rather than banning this kind of Big Body Play, labeling it violent or dangerous for our children, Carlson explained that with adult supervision, Big Body Play, plays a vital role in our keiki’s development and supports their learning.

In her lecture she put great emphasis on how this play helps children develop their verbal and nonverbal communication skills. “Through big body play, they learn to correctly interpret nonverbal gestures, and facial expressions developing the ability to ‘perceive, infer and decode’. For example when a friend puts her hand up it means I should stop but if she smiles it means I can keep going. When children know how to correctly “read” and understand what others are communicating through their eyes or gestures or facial expressions, each child is better able to form strong relationships.”

She explained how it helps children control and regulate their body movements, learn how to compromise and take turns and also learn different appropriate types of touch. She sited research in her book that supports the connection between very physical rowdy play and critical periods of brain development.

Now what can worry a lot of us is that boisterous play can look like fighting, but it isn’t fighting. “Although chasing, wrestling and pushing may look like acts of aggression, especially to an untutored eye, 30 years of research have shown us that rough and tumble play is distinctly different from real fighting. The difference is intent. To help distinguish between the two is the children’s facial expressions, which should be relaxed and happy when playing, and the willingness to participate.”

If we can set up some safe, supervised areas for rough and tumble play – that has clear guide lines, we can encourage our children to get active and support them in their social, physical, and emotional development rather than stunting it.



Image Credit: Kimberly DeCambra

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