Growin’ Together and playin’ rough

Can rough play be good for children? A growing body of evidence says it can. The Growin’ Together Hands-On Afterschool Program makes a point of encouraging it, as staff members Joe Carr and Heather Aguilar explain in today’s guest post.

As any parent knows, kids love to play with their entire bodies. Running, jumping, climbing, and wrestling are the norm on most playgrounds. Many kids even enjoy play fighting, using swords or other pretend weapons. This is scary for educators at a lot of schools and youth programs, as well as for some parents, so they don’t allow this kind of play. They may worry that it is unsafe or that it encourages violence. At Growin’ Together, however, we encourage kids to play this way and to develop agreed-upon boundaries that keep all willing participants safe. We also have conflict resolution structures in place to resolve issues when boundaries are crossed.

This topic recently came up when students expressed a desire for swordplay. They started using sticks and other objects, making some adults (and some kids) worry about safety. So we had a meeting. “How can we engage in this type of play and keep everyone safe?” we asked them. As a group, they talked and listened and agreed by consensus on a specific set of guidelines. In the process, they learned important skills in teamwork, compromise, and boundary setting. Here’s what they came up with:

  • You may play rough only with someone who agrees to play that way.
  • Stop means stop!
  • We only play rough in a certain area of the yard (this includes solo practicing with a weapon).
  • Anything used like a weapon must be foam-covered.
  • Contact should be made between objects, such as foam swords, not people.
  • Objects may touch another person’s body only if each player agrees, and then only with a light touch that is not intended to hurt.

We used our next Carpentry Wednesday to make and decorate foam-covered swords, and it was one of the most engaging activities we’ve done. Some made staffs, one kid made a club, another a sai (a traditional weapon used in Okinawan martial arts), another a magic wand. It brought out their full creativity and ingenious designs and made for endless hours of imaginative play.

Do the kids violate their agreements? Of course! Which is then an opportunity for them to assert boundaries, hear the pain or anger their action caused, and make a different choice.

Is it dangerous? No. There is the risk of some pain, but no risk of injury. At Growin’ Together, we make a strong distinction between danger and risk, and we believe that taking risks is essential to learning what our limits are and how to stay safely within them—or to deliberately move beyond them.

For more insight into children’s need for rough play, why we support it, and how we supervise it, check out this enlightening article by educator and author Frances M. Carlson: “Rough Play: One of the Most Challenging Behaviors.” And for a more in-depth discussion of rough play and its benefits, we recommend The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It, by Anthony T. DeBenedet and Lawrence J. Cohen (2010). In this well-researched and persuasive book, the authors make this “Bold Claim”: “Play—especially active physical play, like roughhousing—makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful.”

We think so, too.

Joe Carr and Heather Aguilar

Open houses and open doors

On the heels of last weekend’s wildly successful Education Transformation School Fair, many participating schools and other alt ed programs are following up with open houses, tours, and special events for this week. In fact, the entire month of March is positively bursting with opportunities to get to know the people and places of Austin’s alt ed community—and find the right fit for your kid. Check our calendar for all the details. Here’s a preview:

On Saturday, March 2, visit The Natural Child Learning Community, a Montessori-inspired, nature-oriented preschool in the heart of Georgetown. The program provides a part-time, holistic learning environment for children between the ages of 2-1/2 and 5.

The next day, Sunday, March 3, head over to the 9th Street Schoolhouse in near East Austin to meet Caitlin and Laura, who place radical faith in children and, following the Free School model, offer guidance and experiences to develop lifelong learners. They have one immediate opening for a girl and are enrolling boys and girls age 5–12 for the fall.

Monday, March 4, is a great day to check out two South Austin alternative schools. The Whole Life Learning Center, part of the Self-Design network, is a two-acre school where kids age 5 and up work with mentors to develop holistic, individualized learning plans, honoring each learner’s physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development. The Austin EcoSchool is offering a family tour of its "Edible Campus," where you’ll see students’ work, meet the staff, and learn about the school’s unique programs, including Game of Village. It is currently enrolling for ages 5–14.

On the evening of Tuesday, March 5, the Clearview Sudbury School will host a free talk and Q&A with scholar and author Peter Gray (who is also speaking in town this week at the SXSWedu conference). Dr. Gray, a research professor at Boston College who blogs regularly at Psychology Today, is a leading authority on the role of free play in children’s development; his new book, Free to Learn, will be officially released the same day. Clearview staff, students, and parents will be on hand to answer questions about this democratic K–12 school in Central Austin.

Friday, March 8, is your next chance to visit the Inside Outside School. Let them know to expect you, and you'll get the full tour of this community-based, intentionally small learning community situated on more than seven wooded acres in Pflugerville. “Teaching for Human Greatness” is their creed, and they’re now enrolling kindergarten through 5th grade.

And now for something completely different: On Wednesday, March 13, the Growin' Together Hands-on Afterschool Program will host a SXSW Youth Showcase, featuring some of the hottest bands in the 18-and-below universe. It’s free for all ages (donations accepted) and will rock the Austin EcoSchool campus.

After spring break, on Wednesday, March 20, join the parent tour of AHB Community School, a creative and collaborative educational alternative that seeks to cultivate authentic, balanced critical thinkers who are prepared for a life of learning and community engagement. AHB serves ages 5–12 in Central Austin. Be sure to give them a heads-up that you’re coming so they can prepare the best tour possible for you. Can’t make it that day? You’ll have another chance on March 27 and on other Wednesdays in April and May.

To stay up-to-date on alt ed events, make a habit of visiting our calendar and clicking on any listing for details. Much more is coming up this spring, with many doors opening to you and your children.