When I was a kid, the neighborhood kids would play Manhunt out at our old elementary school in the surrounding little forest, chasing, capturing, and keeping each other prisoner. Not a grown-up was in sight.
Our outdoor play space for social groups is full of trees, dirt, sticks, and on rainy days, mud. We run, we climb, we play King of the Hill, and we give piggyback rides. Sticks? Well, those make awesome lightsabers and with a little duct tape, some pretty decent spears for when you have to march an opponent that you captured to the fort. Rough play is not only fun, it is necessary for kids to really understand boundaries, limits, create an inner sense of self and control, and spark the imagination.
Of course, we also get bonked (more than once, I have been bonked myself). Having fun will include bumps and bruises.
There are kids who have been kept from roughhousing because they are big, don’t know their own power, or can’t tell when enough is enough. The thing is, these kids crave and need this kind of play the most. So we stand with them, as they have their lightsabers or swords in hand, Mr. Miyagi-like, and coach them on HOW to do this. We only pretend and do not make actual contact, we never go for the head, and we respond immediately if someone says enough, or stop (or vice versa, learn to say stop when you’ve had enough). We watch for signs that it isn’t fun anymore, irritation, red faces, arguments, and then take a break.
Six boys on top of the dirt pile, are successfully navigating King of the Hill after lots of coaching and practice. The proprioceptive input of crashing, pushing, wrestling, and rolling around together can’t be replicated any other way. They play like puppies, and the laughter is loud and the joy is tangible.
Interested in finding out more about why roughhousing is good for kids? Here’s a great article about it.