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!