The Highs and Lows of Body Awareness


I was having a conversation with Nancy Boler, a yoga instructor. I came into the conversation wanting to talk about ways to help kids relax or calm down, especially as they settle in for nap. I was telling Nancy about my desire to have a balance yoga 1to the roughhousing and other Big Body Play I am encouraging in my classroom. I made reference to wanting kids to be able to move from their excited state to a calm state.

rough awareness 1Nancy challenged me on the use of the word “excited” to describe roughhousing. She said, “It’s high activity, but not excited. It’s very focused. The kids are very aware of their body when they roughhouse.” She contrasted this type of play with playing video games where there is also a spike in adrenaline and an increase in the heart rate. However, the body itself is at rest. In this case there is a disconnection between the body’s actions and the body’s reaction.


In my head, I had been thinking of roughhousing and yoga as opposite sides of a balance with the body as the fulcrum. Butyoga 2 this conversation made me want to focus on the similarities. I thought of my limited understanding of the yin-yang. Roughhousing is high activity and (some) yoga positions are low activity, but both revolve around an awareness of the body.

rough awareness 2





This brings up another point that Nancy made. “I don’t think adults give children enough credit for self-regulation.”  If children exert themselves physically, they will eventually find a time to rest. Some kids will go from one extreme to the other. I have a niece who when she was three, would ride her tricycle up and down the sidewalk until she literally fell asleep. She had to be carried up to bed. Most kids, of course, have a transition between the two extremes.

I think we get into difficulty when children watch a movie or play a video game that gets them excited. I think most of these children will need to engage in some high activity get their mind focused on their body again. They could also do it by being very intentional with breathing exercises. Either way, I think it helps to think of it as balancing excitement with body awareness rather than excited and calm.


Thinking about it this way helps me figure out how to interact with children who are playing actively soon before nap time in my classroom. A child who is playing pillow fight with others and laughing is already showing body awareness so it will be a matter of gradually lessening the activity. However, a child that is throwing pillows randomly and shouting seems to be in an excited state and in need of focus. If I throw a pillow at this child, I am offering myself as a target and focus for the play. I may need more physical contact (hugs, sitting on lap) as we move into quieting down for nap.


This idea of roughhousing as body awareness also gives me deeper appreciation for what the children are doing when they are playing rough. There have been studies showing that “play fighting” and “rough-and-tumble” play leads to social competence and group cohesion. I think this self-awareness that kids develop (in conjunction with impulse control that happens concurrently) is a big part of this social



All Feelings Are OK

I wrote this post last week while I was at the High Scope International Conference. I did a workshop on gunplay (and warplay and super hero play). I also was able to be a part of several great workshops. One workshop that really touched me was called Make Room for Boys by Gerin Martin and Sandy Slack based on their book of the same name. The book and workshop has tips for teachers on how to work with boys based on what we know about the development of boys.




One of the things they addressed was the need for boys to express their feelings and for teachers to help them do so.   They talked about the need for boys to learn a variety of feelings not just “happy,” “sad” and “mad.”



picking apart a rotted log


During my workshop on gunplay, a participant talked about how boys express some scary things. I asked the question, “Is itOK for them to express anger?” I could have asked, “Is it OK for them to express fear?” Many participants at my workshop seemed uncomfortable with boys pretending to use guns or weapons. The person mentioned above, and I am sure others, worried about boys expressing violent fantasies.



What I find interesting is this reluctance of teachers to allow boys (and some girls) to express their fantasies because it is too “scary.” The fear isn’t about children engaging in actual violence, but pretending to engage in violence. Children often engage in this type of play to gain a sense of power, especially over fears that they have. In other words, this type of play is a way to express a sense of fear and power (and at times anger) without actually being physically aggressive.


In fact when children engage in gunplay or superhero play, they show a great deal of impulse control by staying in the role they take on. The child in their role may shoot or otherwise attack “a bad guy,” but they stay in character and follow the rules of that character. For example Superman flies, but doesn’t use a gun. A police officer uses a gun, but doesn’t fly. We should be encouraging children to express their fears (and other emotions) in such a controlled and measured way, not trying to stop it.

hillside-93-600x267If we want boys to learn that it is okay to feel scared, frustrated, giddy, embarrassed, worried, overwhelmed and understand that everyone feels that way at times, we need to encourage them to express themselves through play (and in conversation). If they are not hurting anyone, they should be able to choose what they pretend even if an adult finds it scary.



As Fred Rogers said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

Who needs Playgrounds?

I am a little behind on posting because I was at the High Scope International Conference last week. I had a great time and met many wonderful educators there. One of the workshops I took was about playgrounds presented by Betsy Evans. I am a big fan of her work on conflict resolution and children and she is one of the biggest influences on my own teaching practices. I was pleased to find that she started with a quote about the need for children to take risks. I have written about it in the post Real Confidence, and I am sure I will write about it more. Betsy talked about how playgrounds have eliminated risk and along with it, physical challenges for children. In other words, they are boring.


This made me think about the park I grew up near, Basset Park in Williamsville, NY. It was a public park with trees, rollingJudy's party 3 hills, a pond and dirt. It also had no playground, which meant you could have hours of fun. I can still picture the long sloping grass that led to the pond; the gully with exposed tree roots, bushes, and year-round mud; and the dirt path that led through the middle to allow emergency vehicles through. This dirt path had an area in the middle of the park with a few trees and several boulders.





August 12 114This area with the boulders was a favorite place to hang out. When I was younger, we usually pretended each boulder was an X-Wing fighter as we entered the world of Star Wars. The trees were escape routes as we tried to evade the Storm Troopers with our stick light sabers in hand, just in case.






illustration by Marc Simont from A Tree Is Nice

illustration by Marc Simont from A Tree Is Nice

illustration by Marc Simont from A Tree Is Nice


As I got older, we still hung out in the same area, but we mostly sat and talked. I remember we would each find a seat at adifferent level, some on the ground, others on the boulders and others in the trees. I know that boys tend to talk without looking at the eyes of others so it may have been different for my sisters. This setting of trees and rocks was able to meet the needs of quite a few ages.




I recently saw this same effect when I was walking by a small playground. There were two teenage girls sitting in swings, a J Club October 5boy leaning against one of the poles of the swing set and another boy perched up on the top bar of the swing set.

I also noticed that they didn’t sit on the climbing structure which was full of what looked like cages, fences to prevent children from going off the edge. The structure had very distinct functions, you could slide over here, you could go up the steps there, or you could climb the ladder over there. Of course, children will try to find a challenge even when the apparatus fails to give them one. The structure was inhospitable to quite a bit of play and even relaxed conversation. The teenagers were doing fine although I couldn’t help think that some well-meaning adult would tell the boy to get down.

illustration by Marc Simont from A Tree Is Nice


This playground had no good climbing trees, no rocks, no dirt. Surrounding the rubberized surface was a flat expanse of grass. There were soccer goals and in the evening coaches work with kids to teach them various soccer skills. I have nothing against organized sports, but I think people of all ages need time to just hang out without an agenda. Not only have organized sports cut into our unstructured time (kids and parents alike), but they have also cut into the availability of natural areas where people can sit at many levels, in sun or shade.



I don’t want to get all nostalgic about “the good old days” when kids could climb in trees and play in the mud. There were plenty of kids who didn’t have the luxury because they worked as domestic workers or in factories, or just taking care of the younger kids while their parents worked. I also know there were too many people that were physically or sexually abused (by adults and/or children). I am not longing for some far-off time, but I do hope we can learn from the past, the good and the bad.

August 12 047

And trees have not gone away, of course. But I think many of us have forgotten the simple pleasures of trees, grass, dirt and rocks. We spend tens of thousands of dollars on commercial playground equipment when maybe we should be spending the money on landscaping. If we had more trees who needs playgrounds?