Rough housing without rules


“It is supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” A League of Their Own

Our classroom has always enjoyed rough and tumble. They have wrestled, wrangled, jumped on, pushed, hit, kicked, and threw balls at us and each other from day one. There were a few times we considered introducing a more formal way of rough housing, such as sumo wrestling, in order to give them some structure and maybe limit injuries and hurt feelings. But we never did, and I am glad we didn’t. 


There were tears. There were arguments. And there were plenty of injury reports. Nothing serious, just some bumps or accidental scrapes. But time after time, the children went right back to wrestling.


“Play is the way children discover themselves – starting with their fingers and toes and gradually including their whole body, their emotions, and their minds.” – Joan Almon

Very rarely do I see children doing work that they find easy, for a long period of time. Children, much like adults, like challenge. They thirst to learn, they wonder about the world and all of it’s intricate details, they explore the complexities of our society, cultures, and relationships.

What is rough housing if not the perfect way to explore our bodies, physics, cause and effect, rules,  boundaries, power, control, balance, and how we impact our environment and others around us?


While giving some ground rules may have made rough housing and wrestling less risky, not providing our own adult created rules allowed the children to create their own, in their own time, based on their own experiences. It allowed them to know what they needed to do to be safe and feel safe, and naturally created guidelines in their play in order to do so. 

“Wrestlers compete as individuals yet the sport builds comradery like no other.” – Carl Sanderson


I am the first to admit I have never understood wrestling as a sport. I just never got the value. And while what our children are doing is not the same as what adult wrestlers are doing, I am starting to see the value in wrestling. This class has the most trust for one another than any other class I have ever taught. They know their words matter, that their opinion matters. They have complete body autonomy, aware that no one can tell them what to do with their body nor can they tell others what to do with theirs.

I largely think this is because of the wrestling and rough housing taking place in our classroom from day one.


“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become while achieving your goals.”

We talk so much about process vs. product when it comes to art work, forgetting that the same concept applies to nearly every area of our lives. Yes, I could create a framework for children to safely wrestle but by doing so am I taking away the process for them to do it themselves? What is our actual goal? For them to be safe, or for them to understand how to keep themselves, and others, safe? For them to ask for consent before touching another person, or to understand why consent is imperative?

The process in which our children learned how to safely wrestle and rough house taught them how to communicate their needs and wants, what their bodies could and could not handle and that others bodies limits were different than their own. They learned how to find comfort in others or self-soothe when needed. They found that they could trust one another to listen to them when they said stop or no, and why those words are important. The trial and error involved in maneuvering the complexities of wrestling was what taught them these skills – not an adult enforcing, explaining, or discussing those skills. 

“If you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.” – Jean Piaget


No, this does not mean we as adults leave them alone as they wrestle, sure they will figure it out on their own. Scaffolding is an art form – one I continue to fine tune. Knowing how to sportscast, when to interject, and when to stay nearby but out of the actual situation, is not easy. It takes just as much trial and error from my part as wrestling does for the children.

Maybe that’s why I love my job – I enjoy the challenge just as my children do. 

2 thoughts on “Rough housing without rules

  1. I’d like to know the author’s name of this article so I can give credit to her/him when I quote him/her saying:
    “Very rarely do I see children doing work that they find easy, for a long period of time. Children, much like adults, like challenge. They thirst to learn…”


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