Every week, it seems, we read about squeamish school authorities banning yet another activity that was once regarded as ordinary kid behavior.
Enlightened school authorities have made playing tag or dodge ball suspension offenses and heaven forbid that a kid might play with an imaginary gun. But what if such activities, until recently the norm, are actually good for children?
In a terrific piece headlined "Don't Stop Kids from Playing Rough," Virginia Postrel shows how such activities, far from being harmful, aide in the growing-up process:
Roughhousing is more than good exercise. Psychological research shows that it’s essential to childhood development. Rowdy, physical play teaches kids to communicate verbally and nonverbally; to take turns; to negotiate rules; and to understand when they can use their full strength and when they need to hold back. It may sometimes look like fighting but it isn’t. Kids smile and laugh, return voluntarily to the game, take turns in dominant roles, and wear distinctive “play faces.”
In a chasing game like tag, children “learn how their bodies move, how their playmates will respond when a change to the game is made, how to negotiate these changes to games, what to do when one of the children falls, and how to express their thoughts to the others involved in the game,” writes Michelle T. Tannock in the Journal of Early Childhood Education, summarizing the developmental-psychology literature. When she interviewed kids at two child care centers in British Columbia, Tannock found that they all said rough-and-tumble play was prohibited — yet they engaged in it anyway.
“To simply forbid it is like telling children, ‘We’re not going to let you eat today, because the food might be contaminated,’” says Frances Carlson, author of Big Body Play, a guide published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. “Children can’t live without it, so they do it in hiding.” Over the past three decades, as the research into its importance has mounted, the NAEYC has gone from hostile to supportive of full-body play. Unfortunately, laws and schools haven’t kept up, hurting kids’ development.
Contrary to what squeamish authorities seem to think, it’s the kids who don’t engage in rough-and-tumble play who actually tend to be more violent later on in life. So, says Carlson, forbidding playful physical contact “stokes the fire as opposed to diminishing it.”
Read the whole piece.