The following is an excerpt from an NAEYC online author Q&A event with Frances Carlson on the book Big Body Play: Why Boisterous, Vigorous, and Very Physical Play Is Essential to Children's Development and Learning. The Q&A took place June 20-24, 2011. To view more highlights from 2011 online Q&As, click here.
What is the most essential component to "rough play" that parents and caregivers should know? At what age is it best to begin big body play? Lastly, is there a fear that a child will become too rough and tough with other children and/or adults?
The most essential component of big body play, in my opinion, is the active supervision that the play requires. If all supervising adults can embrace this type of play and observe it closely—only intervening to coach, offer verbal support, or reiterate the rules—children can play this way for extended amounts of time. Teachers who supervise rough play closely can also gain a tremendous amount of information about children's social, emotional, and language development.
In response to the second question, body play begins at birth—just not in as vigorous or boisterous a fashion. It begins as simple exploration, and then gains momentum as toddlers gain strength and motor control. During preschool, children begin to play roughly in a more collaborative, organized way, and by school-age, their games usually have rules and parameters they create.
Lastly, children's rough play actually becomes too rough about 1 percent of the time—a lot less than most adults would think! Children are very adept at recognizing the limits of their rough play, meaning that while it looks "too rough" to adults, for the children it is just rough enough. While closely supervising, what we have to look for are: facial expressions (are the children smiling?); willingness (are the children there as willing participants, or is one child coercing another?); and time in engagement (do they keep coming back for more, or do they try to run away from the play?).