I’m writing this post after a brilliant play date with friends. My three children, plus another three thrown into the mix, all ranging in age from five to nine.
That in itself isn’t extraordinary. But what is, was watching the play that developed. You see, our friends don’t live in Australia. They live in Holland.
While play is universal, meaning that children find mutual ground beyond the barriers of language and culture, differing beliefs surrounding play clearly influences what transpires.
And what I saw today filled my heart with joy-children endlessly, unapologetically wrestling.
In my home, it’s not uncommon to see rough and tumble play. Sometimes it’s with me and the children, but more often than not, it’s my husband, following the gleeful announcement of “a Daddy wrestle”.
I watched my eight year old son today, my most eager wrestler, squashing, rolling, maneuvering, and laughing. And it dawned on me that I’d never before seen him play like this with his peers.
While wrestling with the seven year old girl and five year old boy, he was reading body language, taking turns, modulating his strength, physically exerting himself, navigating spoken and unspoken boundaries. And his eyes twinkled with fire.
Food was shared, other games were played but his favourite part of the day, as shared with me at bedtime, was this: “I loved the wrestling”.
So what was different about today compared to all other play dates that came before it? Unlike the ban on rough and tumble play in Australian schools, this is an accepted (and respected) component of children’s play in Holland. Tackling your friend to the ground is a play cue to wrestle. And one that my son joyfully accepted.
I’m now left pondering, will he ever again receive an invitation to play in this way? Will he feel brave enough to be the initiator of physical play with a friend? I really hope so.
Rough and tumble play may not be supported at school. But we must value its physical and social benefits in children’s development.
Watching the afternoon unfold as it did was delightful. But there was also a sprinkle of sadness. I came to the realisation that school rules do not stay in school. The message of what’s OK and what’s not filters through to children’s play wherever that may be.
Does this scare you as much as it scares me?