The Drive for Big Body Play
As I watched a few of the children in our “circuit” (a square-ish path of logs to walk on), I became curious when I realized they were throwing themselves over the logs. Each child landed safely on the other side, though sometimes face first. The wood chips surrounding the low height provided ample cushioning for their exploits.
At first, I considered stopping the game. Might they land on someone else? Would they throw themselves with such force that they injured themselves? Yet, as I quietly observed, I saw them make allowances for space between each other. I noticed that they actually used a lot of self-control when they launched themselves into their Awesome Fall. Each child was working on controlling all of the muscles in their bodies to allow for an “unpainful” landing. Most were noticing where their own arms and legs were in relation to the others. Even when a small “puppy pile” ensued, it was generally gently achieved.
Obviously, these children are in need of big body play. They are not allowed to wrestle at school and they’ve been having a terrible time figuring out how to play tag and football safely. The need to throw their bodies against a force and catch themselves as they fall is very strong in this group.
You might ask, “Why would any child need this kind of game?” They need it for learning, of course. These children are learning to control their muscle movements. They are exploring the force that needs to be applied to effect a desired outcome. Coordination is required to get your whole body over the log. Empathy must be practiced when landing in close proximity of a friend. Just telling children to “be gentle” doesn’t always work. They need experiences where they can practice “gentle” and “rough” so they can comprehend the difference. Finding safe ways for them to practice these skills is exhilarating.
“OK, Marie, I get it. Their muscles are developing memory for the physical actions, their social skills are being flexed, but what about intellectual learning?”
I’m glad you asked.
Even though it appears to be haphazard, Awesome Falls has begun to develop rules and strategies. In the early stages of development, this game included two people. They tried a few different vantage points for their falls. Together, they weighed the hazards of each site. This involved lots and lots of language. It also required problem solving. Ideas had to be compared and contrasted, weighed against outcomes, agreed upon and tested.
After a while, many more children joined the game. The teamwork involved to keep this game safely working was immense. With more bodies, they discovered that directionality and timing were important. The group agreed upon starting cues and worked on what you should do with your body once you are on the ground. They began sharing strategies for the best fall. Special types of falls received names, creating new labels for abstract concepts. In fact, each day we see new developments in Awesome Falls.
I wonder what they will come up with tomorrow?
More on Big Body Play:
What is Big Body Play? – Frances Carlson