Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tumbling and Wrestling and Roughhousing, Oh My!

Preschoolers Sally and A.J. are ready to engage in some tumble play, also sometimes known as roughhousing or wrestling. The tumbling mat is out and they are in the starting position, on their hands and knees facing each other. Shoes are off and other items are removed -- glasses, name tags, belts, jewelry or other impinging articles. We have gone over the rules for this kind of contact play:

1. No hitting
2. No kicking
3. No biting
4. No pinching
5. No choking
6. No hair pulling
7. Respect one's face, eyes and other sensitive parts of the body

At the signal, ringing of the triangle or bell, the action begins as Sally and A.J. tumble and wrestle each other. When one of the pair is off the mat, the action ceases. It’s now time for another pair of children to take their places on the mat, facing each other on their hands and knees.

“Roughhousing,” as we called it, was always a positive part of my preschool curriculum. On those days when we were pent up inside due to inclement weather or when there was a buzz of high energy in the room, I would take out the tumbling mat, place it in the middle of the circle time rug or carpet, and announce that it was time for roughhousing.

Children who wanted to participate would sit around the edge of the mat and talk with their friends who had joined them about who was going to wrestle with whom (participation was voluntary and children could pick their own partners). An adult was always present. We would go over the rules and demonstrate the difference between a hit or punch, with a closed fist, and a soft push with an open palm or soft shove with a shoulder. There is a world of difference and it is necessary to illustrate it.

Usually, I would ask one of the children or one of my colleagues to demonstrate with me so that I could visually show the group what is acceptable and what is not appropriate behavior.
The children would pick a partner, usually someone who matched their own weight and height, and those two would take their place on each half of the mat. I always had the children start on the ground at the same level.

If you feel an activity like this might be appropriate for the children in your care or classroom, it's important to note that play that involves tumbling and roughhousing is meant to be active and fun for both participants, not a time to knock each other down or intentionally hurt each other. There are differences between aggression (hostile, injurious or destructive behavior) and roughhousing (rowdy, uproarious play or behavior). When aggressive, children frown and fixate on hurting the other child. In rough and tumble play, children willingly participate while smiling and laughing. At the ring of the bell they begin and at the next ring they end (when one of the children is off the mat). The entire “match” lasts between 30 - 90 seconds. The children return to their places around the edge of the mat, ready to wrestle with another friend. After 15-20 minutes, we would be done and the mat was put away.

Children who learn the difference between play wrestling/tumbling and aggressive fighting also develop important social skills. It can, over time, improve a child’s ability to solve problems that arise in social situations -- the give-and-take mimics successful social conversations and interactions. Physically, children are benefiting from the intense physical exertion of rough and tumble play which supports cardiovascular health. Tumbling and wrestling can also help develop gross motor coordination, spatial orientation, directionality, laterality, body image, visual motor control, body awareness and eye hand coordination. After active play such as wrestling/tumbling, children are much more able to sit still and concentrate because they’ve been able to participate in some physical activity.

Many boys and girls enjoy the experience of the big-body play that tumbling/wrestling offers. The preschool period is a critical period for children to develop both physically and emotionally. Tumbling and wrestling for preschoolers can indeed be developmentally appropriate and if you feel it can be appropriate for your youngsters, I encourage you to give it a try!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Want To Have Fun? STOMP ON IT!

I’ve been using a stomp board (also known as a launch board) for over 25 years! It is a must-have, and one of the kids' all time favorite item for active play! I’ve used it in the classroom as well as at children’s birthday parties and citywide children’s festivals. I use them in obstacle courses inside (on carpet or linoleum) or outside (on cement, grass, etc.) As far as I’m concerned, every classroom could use at least two stomp boards! Discount School Supply carries one called the Joey Jump. In my opinion it really is superior compared to the wood ones I’ve used in the past. The Joey Jump is lightweight, plastic, comes with two bean bags and can be used by both preschoolers and school-age children.

The board is designed for a stomp—forceful step with one foot (not an actual jump)-- on the short end, propelling into the air a soft object (i.e. bean bag) was placed on the other end. The child then tries to catch the object that was launched off the board when they stomped. Because of the design and incline of the board, the object does not go shooting off randomly but propels straight up off the board and the child with outstretched arms can try to catch it in his/her hands.

Children must concentrate on getting their hands ready to catch the beanbag and focus on watching the beanbag as it moves through the air. Children should first focus on attempting to catch the beanbag with both hands at the same time, then try with the right and the left hand alone. As children get better at catching, other challenges can be added such as: stomping more firmly on the board so the beanbag goes higher; attempting to catch two beanbags at the same time; and launching and catching other items such as a foam ball, fleece ball, sensory ball and even a small stuffed animal.

I also like using foam dice with the stomp boards. Kids can put the die on the end, stomp and launch the die. Ask the child what number is facing up when he/she catches it. When using dice, we are not only working on the fundamental motor skill of catching but also addressing the core standard of mathematics--number concepts, counting and geometry (the die is a cube). The stomp board promotes physical development with the use of eye-hand coordination, eye-foot coordination, gross/fine motor skills, and it promotes social/emotional development: self-confidence and independence.

Kids love to do the stomp board over and over again as they try to catch the bean bag or sensory ball. It does take them a couple of times to get the hang of it, but once they do—they are self-motivated to experience THE FUN over and over again!