Rough & Tumble Play

Every choice I make in my classroom is a result of my underlying beliefs, whether I am aware of it or not. It is important to me as an educator that I am aware of my beliefs and understandings around what I do and what occurs in my classroom. Why? I suppose that I’m not your average teacher. I do things a little differently. My children don’t sit in desks and rows and listen to me preach, get copious amounts of worksheets, or write on topics I choose for them.  Because my classroom isn’t traditional it is essential for me to be able to back up what I do with strong, valid research to parents and administrators. I have to be able to explain what is going on, the reasoning behind it, and the positive results. Yes, it is exhausting at times… but I believe so strongly in what I do and I see how much farther my students’ progress socially, emotionally, and academically that it’s worth it.

I have been thinking a lot about play-fighting or rough & tumble play recently. If you would like to read up more on rough & tumble play, misconceptions of this form of play, and its benefits, please read Rough and Tumble Play 101.

I’ve started to become very aware of when and how play-fighting or rough & tumble play occurs, how it plays out, how I react to it, and how other adults react to it (parents, day care providers, summer camp leaders, teachers, educational assistants, etc.) I want to become more informed and to develop my beliefs around it.

It seems to me as though quite a few adults respond negatively to rough & tumble play, and I used to be one of them! I suppose that a lot of adults view rough & tumble play as a sign of aggression and violence (something that our society and communities are in valid fear of in the recent decade) and therefore put an immediate stop to it. It is deemed as unacceptable.

Rough & tumble play occurs in my classroom as long as all the children involved are being treated equally within the play and one or more child is not in dominance: asserting their physical power over any other child. As well, it must occur in a safe space (if I am fearful of the students’ safety inside I tell my students, “the play that I am seeing is ‘outside play’ not ‘inside play.’ I am worried that you will hurt yourself with the amount of furniture in this area.”) I see rough & tumble play in my classroom as a way for all children to play out their emotions in a safe, caring environment. The most common form of rough & tumble play that I observe in my classroom occurs between 3-4 children pretending to be animals (usually deers, elk, cougars, or bears). They act out the hunt, the successful evasions or captures, and any resulting injuries. I always observe the play ensuring that all children feel safe, confident, and unafraid. If one child becomes more dominant, I will pull them out quietly to chat about what I am I seeing and why that worries me (this is very rare). I could have been fearful that the children would engage in the final stage of the hunt: dinner-time. But, I have yet to observe this. The children have no desire to take the play to this gruesome place and the “hunt” simply carries on indefinitely. This play occurs both inside on our large carpet for circle time and outside in the forest.

Cougars approaching a grazing deer.

I am a new teacher, so I don’t have much knowledge of the history of early primary education in B.C. I am curious if horse-play or rough & tumble play was more common and not so frowned upon in the recent past…


  • Interesting post. I worked in a daycare where the children would quite often play an animal hunting game. Sometimes other workers would shut it down saying it was too rough but if I was supervising I would let it go on but would keep a close eye on the play. At one point the director decided that the game should be banned. I noticed that the children would still play it but in a sneaky way – whispering, saying they were playing something else. Later I worked as an Education Assistand at a school that some of them attended and they played the hunting game every noon hour.


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