Creating Space for "Big Body" Play


This is a repost from a few years ago - we found it hiding in the depths of our website and decided to bring it back to life! Enjoy :) 


Yesterday Tash and I took a walk down to our TimberNook Newcastle site. Nature Kindy was in full swing, and I delighted in watching the children play (it made for a nice screen break!) 

Two children caught my attention, as they took the off road wagon that we use for transporting resources down to site, and began pushing it up a small hill. When they reached the top, they began rolling it back down the hill. While the use of the wagon was not ideal - given its important job each day - we could see that there was a need for that type of exploration. These children - one in particular - seemed to be seeking either the speed, or the thrill (or both) of rolling down the hill. Tash encouraged the child to see if he could find something else to roll, or roll in, down the hill. He set off in search. 

When we returned with a small wheelbarrow from the mudpit, I wondered at first how he intended to use it. Soon enough, he climbed into the wheelbarrow. 

"It's not moving", he said. 

"Why do you think that is?" I asked. 

He hopped out of the wheelbarrow to inspect it. 

"Because this part doesn't have wheels" he responded, pointing to the solid legs at the back of the wheelbarrow. 

He began looking around the site, perhaps seeking out something else with wheels. He moved over to a different area of the hill, lay down on the grass and rolled his body down the hill. 

Simple. He had found the big body movement - the rolling, the speed, the thrill - after all. 


As educators, we sometimes have a tendency to squash big body play. We worry that someone might get hurt. We worry that the play is not safe. We think that the play is frivolous or not purposeful. 

I have heard some form of the sentiment "stop rolling around and find something to do" so many times. 

Children need to be able to move their bodies. They need to be able to test out how their body works in relation to space, in relation to others, in relation to themselves, and in relation to their environment.


So, how do we provide children with these opportunities? 

  • Provide space. So many outdoor environments are filled in every nook and granny with play spaces and gardens and seats and more. Children do need some open space where possible to really test out their bodies. 
  • Provide time. When children are heavily structured, or shifted through a strict routine throughout the day, they miss out on opportunities for "mucking around". These opportunities are when a lot of the rough and tumble, big body play tend to occur. Lots of time outdoors is essential. 
  • Provide understanding. When educators understand how children need to move their bodies in big ways - like for example, knowing how spinning in circles benefits children (which Angela Hanscom discusses in her amazing book Balanced and Barefoot), children have more opportunity to do so. 


Next time someone wants to roll down the hill - delight in watching them go for it. Yep, they will get grassy. And yep, they might hop up feeling dizzy. But the experience of moving their body in that way is not just something that children want, but also something that they need. 

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