Children's Need for Active Play

Supper was over, the dishes were mostly done. “Daddy, can we play now” four-year old Kyle asked, pulling on dad’s pants.  Dad whirled around, and in monster like fashion started down the hall in his best stiff legged Frankenstein imitation.  He bellowed loudly “I’m gonna get you, get you, get you” as he lumbered down the hall.  Both Kyle and his three-year old sister, Megan, screamed and fled before the pretend monster, hiding at various places in the house.  When dad would approach, each child would flee again or dad would hold them up in the air and pretend to eat them up with kisses.  Mom would often tolerate this ritual, occasionally telling all that they were too noisy.  Sometimes when mom spoke too often for the participants, the dad monster would lead a charge toward her and all three would descend on mom to tickle and devour her as well.

Other nights Kyle and Megan would playfully push on dad to engage him in wrestling matches, tumbling times, or balancing acts on dad’s feet while he laid on his back on the floor.  Sometimes someone would slip or be slightly wounded but mostly the children got excited laughed, giggled and begged for more, even when mom found all that noise hard to tolerate.

One day when dad was giving Kyle and Megan a bath, the children were pretending a great whale was swooshing water in their tub, getting a lot of water on the floor.  Mom came in saying, “What’s all the mess?”  Dad looked up and said, “Someday we’ll miss all of this”.

While parents may vary in their own personal freedom to engage in physical active play, children need a certain amount of rough-housing, what I would call rough and tumble play.  So much of children’s lives is structured today that little time is devoted to action- oriented free play.  While we rush children from place to place, often within those experiences we expect children to be quiet, calm, cooperative and settled.  Children need a certain amount of active play to learn to relax.  Many parent-child conflicts occur because parents are trying to calm children without the benefit of play that tires a child through active interaction.

Playfulness fosters vulnerability in children, vulnerability fosters innocence, and innocence fosters cooperation in children’s lives.  Enter a child’s world of play and they are more likely to follow you into your expectations of them.

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