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Who remembers how fun it was when you were entwined in rough and tumble play with your parents or siblings? I remember giggling, tickling and rolling around the lounge room floor, or in the backyard.

Last week I visited an early childhood setting and observed two 3 year old girls engaged in rough and tumble play and they were absolutely loving it! They giggled with delight as they hugged, tickled and rolled during indoor play time. They were not creating a whole lot of noise and were in a cosy corner of the room away from the main area, although they kept glancing towards the educators as if on alert. I wondered why they were doing this. Did they intend to stop if they realised an adult saw them?

After about seven minutes an educator spotted them and called out across the room in a disapproving tone “Ah girls, go and find something to do please”.

Is this how you would have responded? I asked myself some questions. Do I view rough and tumble play as negative? Inappropriate? Only for outdoors? Not beneficial? I wondered how the girls felt when they heard the educator’s response. Did the tone of her voice give the message that it wasn’t ok to play in this way?  As educators we have so much responsibility to keep children safe that this is often our primary consideration when we respond to them.

But do we take the time to think about why children are playing in certain ways, and how their play is a way of communicating how their needs can be met? While we have to redirect children’s play sometimes, we must also tune into what their play is telling us and create opportunities to have their needs met in other ways. Instead of making children feel that rough and tumble play is wrong we should support them to use their senses and their motor skills in other ways. It could be as simple as getting out the crash mat (facilitating taking turns jumping onto this) or playing some action songs, practicing stretching, wrapping each other in blankets, or simply supervise the children as they tickle each other just as you would any other activity …..the options are endless.

Does rough and tumble play push your buttons because it is easier to support a child to do a table activity?

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This week has seen me return to teaching after 7 years as a Director of a Long Day Care Centre. I have been bubbling with excitement about it for weeks and the first few days haven’t disappointed! I have been looking forward to having the opportunity to once again be with the children and to perhaps do a little research at the same time.

In recent months Tash, Niki and I have been talking about it being unreasonable to expect toddlers to share. This comes as a result of our delightful toddlers playing together one day a week while we work and watching them “negotiate” who gets to play with the ride on car or swing on the rope swing! Each week it seems that they are getting better and better at this negotiation but sometimes typical toddler moments erupt (thankfully both Tash and I believe in letting them sort it out – so it doesn’t stress us out too much… and we know what good mates they are!)

Anyway, back to teaching! On Wednesday I watched some children making walls with blocks and “cement” (wet sand) in the sand pit – they were very engaged and playing with a real purpose. The only problem was that the blocks were located about 5 metres away from the sand pit. Each time a child stepped away to get another block they had that concerned look on their face (you know the one – “please don’t let anyone touch my stuff!”) and when they returned and someone was near their blocks or their wall, there were angry words and sometimes tears. Now the other children didn’t appear to be touching the blocks to upset their peers – it seemed that they simply wanted to play too. I felt myself starting to say “let Johnny have some of your blocks – you have lots” then stopped. Why should Thomas have to share what he had been working so hard on with someone who had just arrived on the scene?

Fast forward to Friday and I am watching a 4 year old build a train track on the table in the room. He worked carefully for about 15minutes – planning where each piece of the track went, carefully winding in and out of the baskets of trains. He finally had it all set up and stood back (appearing quite chuffed with himself) for a moment before beginning to drive the trains around. Suddenly another child arrived at the table and began pulling the carriages apart and taking them in a different direction. Again – there were plenty of carriages that could have been shared between the two children – but should the first child really have to share?

I found myself talking to a colleague about this very issue and raised my beliefs with her. I asked if perhaps I was being unreasonable? And then she raised a valid point – we find it acceptable that toddlers aren’t yet capable of sharing, yet seem to expect that once they become preschoolers they should suddenly be able to willingly share their space, their toys, their time. I put myself in the child’s position and wondered – if I had worked really hard on something and someone else came in and started to redo it or change it in some way, how would I feel? The answer – I would freak out! Although my reaction would probably (hopefully) be more controlled than crying, yelling and stomping my feet, I would not be a happy camper!
My colleague pointed out that she will often say to the first child “he just wants to have some too. You have the right to say no, but how would you feel if you wanted to play and your friend said no”  I quite like this approach – it gives children rights, but also makes them aware of the feelings of others, encouraging them to be a respectful and considerate friend.

I would love to hear from others – is it reasonable to expect children to share? Is there an age where it should become a reasonab


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