This week I had the pleasure of working with a group of 20 year seven boys, young men in their first year at big school, a tough all boys school; making the step from the age of 11 and 12 into their teens and everything that comes with that; a difficult time of transition but an exciting one.
I was in the school all day, to teach the children physical theatre, a massive area of investigation and an alienating one for the young people with negative views on drama as effeminate. I had always intended that the session would play to the boy’s strengths, to engage them in using their bodies first and then easing the session into creative work.
Although some may accuse me of pandering to gender stereotypes the best way to engage lads like these is rough, tough, competitive play with overarching principles of honour, fairness and maximum effort at all times, even in a losing cause. As I expected the boys responded to it very well, mainly because such concepts are rarely practised in schools now, rough play is shied away from, as is directly competitive behaviour; crucially without these how can you teach children concepts of honour and fairness if the bar is never set for them to reach it?
It was an invigorating experience for me; to see these young men engage in tough, physically demanding activities and then take the lessons learnt into creative, solo, physical improvisations in front of their classmates.
Rough play has so many benefits, especially for boys, in that it establishes physical contact between males as a positive, necessary and natural thing. It also enables children to explore their own bodies, its limits, its strengths and weaknesses; rough play is an outlet for frustrations and tensions channelled in a constructive way.
It is a great shame that we exist now in such a controlled and safety-first environment that rough play is limited to special sessions, rather than being encouraged as natural behaviour as a tool to self-awareness, self-development and the understanding of essential values.