Big Body Play

Think back to your childhood play experiences. You probably played games with siblings or children from your neighborhood. You most likely experienced some level of freedom to explore the environment and navigate social relationships through your play. Things are a bit different for some children these days. Opportunities to roam and explore have decreased while organized activities have become predominant.

One element of play that has also become increasingly rare is the opportunity to engage in big body play. Big body play includes rolling, spinning, pulling, pushing, tumbling, wrestling, tagging, climbing, and risk-taking.

Big body play activities are often discouraged in early learning environments because they sometimes appear aggressive or dangerous. Yes, children engage in fighting and aggression and these instances should be addressed. However, big body play proponents advocate for children to have the chance to use their bodies in ways that can actually decrease the amount of aggression in the learning environment.

Frances Carlson M.A.Ed., the author of the book Big Body Play, cites the following benefits of big body play:

  • Opportunity for intense physical exertion
  • Chance to release stress or “blow off steam”
  • Release of brain chemicals that benefit development
  • Increases communication with peers
  • Recognition of nonverbal cues
  • Practice turn-taking and following rules
  • Builds empathy and respect for peers

Carlson says that one way to distinguish between big body play and aggression is to look for signs from the children.  She states that, generally, children want big body play to continue for as long as possible, meaning they will negotiate and adapt activities so that everyone remains engaged.  Children engaged in big body play will maintain laughter and a willingness to engage with their play partner. With aggressive acts, one or more children will want the interaction to end and will communicate that fact.

If you are interested in learning more about big body play and how to introduce elements of this type of play into your environment, consider visiting Carlson’s website.