Rough & Tumble Play

Posted On: April 28, 2015

Today’s post is a bit different from the last, today is our first GUEST blog submission from the staff at Cariboo Child Care Society on the Thompson Rivers University Campus.

Today’s post is on rough and tumble play and is a story about a boy named Sawyer…in the words of his caregiver Mary.

What would it feel like to be nagged throughout the day? To feel, possibly, like you don’t belong? I can’t say for sure how Sawyer felt, but I can tell you how I felt for him. I felt sad. I felt like what we were offering him in our program wasn’t meeting his needs. He was the oldest child and he seemed bored. Like most boys, Sawyer did well outside. He loved to be outside in all the seasons and that was his time to just be himself.

My team of educators and I began researching Rough and Tumble Play, which is “often identified as wrestling or play fighting but also includes behaviours such as running, chasing, use of open-handed slaps, pushing or pulling another player, using a loud or roaring voice, making hitting motions, and jumping on, throwing or kicking an object (Tannock, 2005).” 

We imagined that this would be something he would ENJOY: what we didn’t realize until we allowed it to happen was this was something he NEEDED. 

We purchased 2 gym mats and put them on our patio with the intention of allowing Rough and Tumble Play throughout the day but especially in the mornings before outside time. Every morning we opened the doors to the patio to allow the children to exert their energy in a place where it belonged.  

At first it was difficult to remain silent and let the children do what they saw fit. They climbed on each other, jumped on each other, pushed, hit (opened handed), wrestled and set their own limits as to what was acceptable and what wasn’t. I watched their faces and their bodies. I especially watched Sawyer…and he was smiling, laughing, making jokes and showing empathy for others.

He was taking charge of what was acceptable and what wasn’t and the children were listening. Sawyer had found his place!

Since the addition of the mats and Rough and Tumble Play, I have watched Sawyer become even more of a leader. I have watched him make new friends and be respected by the younger children. In reflection, I wonder what would have happened if Sawyer’s needs had never been met at his child care centre. How it would have affected his confidence, his friendships and his relationships with the adults?

I will forever be grateful for the learning I have acquired through Sawyer these past 2 years. Sawyer is a sweet boy who loves books, music and playing family. He loves field trips, walks and lunch time. He’s knowledgeable in all things nature and loves to teach and be taught. Sawyer’s needs were met and with that, happiness was possible.  

Sawyer’s Mom, had this to add…

“From my perspective, Sawyer definitely has demonstrated more confidence and pride in himself. His former reluctance to go to daycare has been replaced with more cooperation in the mornings and excitement about seeing his friends. Words cannot express how grateful I am that you have invested your time and energy in learning more about the importance of rough and tumble play, and then taking it a step further by actually incorporating it into the day-to day activities at CCS! It has made a world of difference to Sawyer as well as our morning routine at home!”

We live in a world that has become so concerned with personal safety and avoiding risk that in some cases, children are missing out on opportunities to practice being physical and take appropriate risks with their bodies. These skills are required to thrive in childhood and later in life! To read a bit more about rough and tumble play, click this link to a 2008 article from Michelle Tannock.

I hope you find this story useful, please share it if you do!
In Kindness,


Mother of 2
Manager – Make Children First