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Tony blog post #10- 14.04.13

For those of you familiar with Crossfit training, Crossfit teaches us to be ready for anything. The training is “constantly varied, high intensity and functional movements”. This sounds like my preschool room!

I am a firm believer that children are born ready to move. Movement promotes learning and physical development. Children love to move. They run, jump, squat, climb, press and throw (like all good crossfitters do). Children don’t need to be taught to do these things regularly like adults do.

Research indicates that children (particularly boys) learn through movement. Moving helps us develop physical strength and skills along with perception based and location-awareness skills. In a social setting children can also develop social, emotional and language skills.

I love being outside with children. There are many reasons for this, from
philosophical to practical.

Firstly, it is good to be out in nature as much as we can. The modern world has changed the way we live, work and play. We spend more time inside for many different reasons including safety, weather and screen time (aka computer, video games and television). Being outside with children has numerous benefits that I am not going to go into this time. There is a whole field of research on this topic alone and I’m a huge advocate.

Secondly, there is not a lot of room for me inside. I know this sounds selfish but the average 4 year old preschooler (male or female) is 15kg and 100cm tall.

I am 95kg and 194cm tall.

It is good to have room to move.

The NSW regulations for children’s indoor space is 3.25m2 of unencumbered floor space per child. This means you can fit 30 children into a room that is about 100 square metres (think 10m by 10m). Ceiling height is usually 2.4m (I can reach this with my hands, the children ask me to do it most days). The typical childcare room has room for table activities, mat space and a couple of ‘corners’ (bookcorner and homecorner).

No gym mats, Olympic bars or pull up rigs. No plants or bugs or dirt.

We do crossfit workouts at my work. Children don’t train for strength or fitness. They move because it is fun!


There is more room to move outside. Unfortunately for me I don’t make the rules.

Most childcare services have a summer and winter routine. This indicates when they will allocate indoor and outdoor time and is based around children’s meal and rest times. In summer children are allowed outside in the morning before 11am and they can go outside again after 3 to avoid the most dangerous ultraviolet light (because trees, clothes and sunscreen don’t provide enough protection I guess). In winter children stay inside until it is ‘warm enough’. If it rains or is cold children can stay inside. Unfortunately I don’t live in Sweden, Norway or Denmark. In Scandinavia they have a saying, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!”

In Australian childcare centres outdoor play is not usually part of the documented preschool program. (Note: my current workplace has recently begun using the local school oval for large scale outdoor play and we have mini-Olympics and nature walks! It is AWESOME!). For some reason, in my experience, other educators see children’s learning as noteworthy when a child cuts with scissors, writes their name and counts to 20. Social learning occurs in the home corner, early literacy occurs in the book corner and building occurs on the block mat.

But why???

I did a story time for over 90 minutes with the rowdiest boys in the class. How?

I did it outside… in the sandpit… without a book.

This provided opportunities for movement, discussion, language, exploration, role play and ‘outdoor play’. There was room to move and space for all the children. This story time led to further story times and extensions on our stories (Note: the stories included “Hansel and Gretel” and “Wombat stew”)

I have noticed that most men like to move and be outside, especially when they are with children. Men in childcare such as fathers, uncles, brothers and educators seem to enjoy the movement during play as much as children do. This might involve running races, kicking the football, swimming or playing cricket.

Something else mostly unique to male play is “rough and tumble” play. When I first started in early childhood this sort of play grew naturally from children jumping and throwing themselves at me. There is something primal about wrestling. Wrestling is the world’s oldest sport. But I am not talking about Spartan wrestling school at daycare although I can see why it was valued by children and men in ancient cultures! I mean the playful rough and tumble that seems to be so natural to men in childcare.
I was often criticized for roughing up the kids and getting them all wound up and excited. This play was condemned for being dangerous and aggressive. This led me to write my own theory on rough and tumble play… as an overly motivated trainee.

This is my thesis (never published) that was written in 2004…

“Why play fighting is important at preschool”

Play fighting or rough and tumble play is an important part of a preschool education. It is also fun. It should not be banned. There is a time and place for play fighting at preschool.

Beyond learning physical skills such as balance, strength, coordination and how to fall children also learn problem-solving, self belief, teamwork, self control and limits.

Play fighting is not ‘out of control’ playing. There is (and should be) a high level of control and balance. Children are taught the rules and boundaries and parameters of the game and know that they are important. There are limits and guidelines to protect children’s safety and children know their needs will be met if they are hurt or injured.

Play fighting is a humbling experience. You are not the best or above everybody else. You are a physical being with arms and legs like everyone else. There is always someone bigger or stronger or faster. Educators can help teach children self control and that you should not abuse your role of power over younger children, people not as strong or as fortunate as yourself.

Children learn to overcome challenges by working as a team. They may not be able to tackle or bring down an adult by themselves but by working together they can achieve a common goal during play.

Children use educators during play fighting in different role playing scenarios. Sometimes as a ‘bad guy’ or villain; sometimes as someone on their team; as a character in their role play or as a ‘horse’, ‘camel’, ‘pet tiger’, etc.

Some children want to pit their strengths against educators. I encourage children to take on things that are bigger than themselves but also to develop judgment to assess risks. If they decide to take on the biggest child out there (aka me!) they are accountable for their actions and consequences. For me, this is how you judge yourself; by competing against the best and seeing how you come off. You may not win but you will learn. You can weigh your performance, grow and learn. I praise children for ‘having a go’. I look down upon bigger, older children hurting or using their strength or size to exert power over them. During play educators become a third party to help children realize that they have a responsibility to help younger and smaller children.

Play fighting is a way to manage ‘difficult’ and energetic behavior. Like role play and day dreaming it is a way for children to release physical and emotional tension and resolve problems, subconsciously putting their minds at ease. Play fighting is a type of therapy.

Play fighting teaches resilience.

“Wipe it off”; “Suck it in”; “Up you get”; “You’ll be ‘right”; “Go and get a drink and cool down”; “Alright we had better get an icepack!”

Phrases like this teach children that there are different ways of getting what you want. They don’t have to stop and have a cuddle before they play again. They can pick themselves up and roll on. I certainly don’t ignore children’s reactions but I challenge them to find out ‘if it really hurts’ or whether it is just a trained reaction to falling over.

To put things in perspective:
child falls

So what children get involved in play fighting?

I have observed several different approaches. Some children jump right in. Some children are unsure at first but after watching for a certain amount of time they realize it is safe and join in. Some children use it as role play (“good guys, bad guys, superheroes, etc”). Some children are afraid to join in. Some children join in by telling other children to do what they want to do themselves. Some children stay away from the activity entirely.

It is my experience that children who play fight are happy and confident in themselves. The most confident children can be involved but they are also just as happy to join in other activities. For some children who are obsessed or “intensely focused” on their current favourite superhero or action figure it helps to act out their role plays and gain valuable insight to their self esteem and social and emotional skills and values.

Playfighting is not just ‘spontaneous, attention-seeking, rough-housing, self-gratifying activity to wind up the kids”. It is a learning experience where children learn about themselves, the consequences of their behaviours and how to fit into a group. As long as play fighting is responsibly managed by educators I feel it offers opportunities to learn how to play responsibly (“no hitting, pushing, kicking”); learn compassion and fairness (“stop if someone is hurt, make sure they are ok”); observe children’s confidence levels and physical skills and develop trusting caring relationships between educators and children.



Steve Biddulph. Raising Boys

Images my own except for one from this great site.