I often wonder what people think as they drive by our outdoor classroom and see preschool children gathered around watching two children wrestle each other to the ground. Do they think that we have a preschool fight club? Do they throw around that 'bully' word that is so often misused in preschool age programs. I sometimes want to step in and shield their wrestling from "people who don't get it" so that we aren't talked about in a negative way in our community. And if you are reading this and are appalled that we let (and encourage) children to wrestle, well you should keep on reading so you can gain the confidence to let children engage in rough and tumble play in your program or home.
I hear many of you thinking, "Oh my gosh. We could never let that happen. They would take it too far and someone would get hurt." Let me calm you down.
There is this thing called 'play face' that some early childhood educators use to describe what they see when children are in the play flow. It looks different for children in different ways. For my son (5 years old) it is a crumpled upper lip and crinkled forehead when he is playing a mean guy. It is a puppy dog eye and plump lip when he is pretending to be that cute little fire breathing monster from Frozen 2. The cute little monster is named Bruni if you didn't know. We had to look it up.
Play face during wrestling or tough and tumble play is smiling. It is laughing and smiling. And you know it is play and they are having fun and experiencing what their body can do when there are smiles. Smiles = good.
Over the last 6 years of wrestling in preschool, we have only ever had ONE child that had a hard time with the wrestling limits set and went from play face to a really grumpy face and really wanted to win. You have to watch the players and settle in to the fact that preschool rough and tumble play - is - PLAY! They LOVE it!
What are those limits we set?
1) Only wrestle on the mats (indoor) or grass or soft snow (outdoors).
2) Both wrestlers have to agree that they are wrestling.
3) Wrestling only involves giving big bear hugs and pulling the other child to the mat or ground.
4) They can say STOP if they are not having fun anymore.
And that is it folks. But, now you want to know WHAT ARE THEY LEARNING IF THEY ARE WRESTLING IN PRESCHOOL?
Body awareness, coordination, gross motor muscle development, problem solving (adjusting to the reaction of others), compassion, they learn to balance competition with cooperation, risk assessment, listening to others, turn taking and a whole bunch more. To name a few.
If you want to learn more, the book, Embracing Rough-and-Tumble Play, by Mike Huber is a fantastic resource!