How do we allow for the joy of ‘dizzy play’ in our programs and why should we?

Those of us who spend our days in the company of young children need not search far for understanding of this term. Whether you laugh along with it or whether it makes you leave the room for a break, we all know it. There is nothing quite as joyful as the silly, laughing, tumbling energy of young children and, as with anywhere else, in a classroom, it spreads. One child begins and before long the entire group is rolling around, tumbling or even doing cartwheels, all in full laughter and trying to get them back attentive and calm is a task only befitting the bravest of souls.

The early learning frameworks of two provinces in Canada that I was reading recently qualify this type of play with a name: Dizzy Play.

“Children’s play sometimes erupts suddenly in loud, boisterous, physical bursts. This kind of play is exhilarating and infectious, creating communities through shared laughter. Children love to twirl until they are too dizzy to stand up, laugh with others over nothing in particular, babble nonsense words in a riotous conversation, put their pants on their head or their jacket on their legs and perform for their friends. They revel in their power to turn the world upside down, playfully confident that they can restore it.”

Early Learning and Child Care: English Curriculum Framework for New Brunswick, 2007, p.29 .

It is explained also in Play, Participation and Possibilities, the early learning framework for Alberta:

“Dizzy play offers children an experience that can be described as losing and regaining control. It can be to express a burst of energy, to test their own boundaries, and to experience joy with others.” p. 187

“Children take pleasure in being on the edge through engaging in rough and tumble play experiencing exhilarating physical release playing at games of disruption and restoring order. Children take pleasure in sharing the joy of laughter through clowning and physical humour making nonsense .”p189

Makovichuk, L., Hewes, J., Lirette, P., & Thomas, N. (2014). Play, participation, and possibilities: An early learning and child care curriculum framework for Alberta. Retrieved from http://www.childcareframework.com

And so dizzy play is, “a release of physical energy, a sense of power and often an expression of pure joy.”  (p.29 Early Learning and Child Care: English Curriculum Framework for New Brunswick 2007). It is about exploring chaos and the ability to restore order. It creates community.

I always enjoy reading things that make me reframe something and consider it in a different light.

A number of years ago, I considered my classroom in light of opportunities for physical movement. To me, allowance for dizzy play comes not only in the physical environment but also in how we frame and consider the behaviours that happen. Do we need to stop the behaviour? Are the children safe? Is anyone being unkind? Can the children benefit and learn from what they are doing?

I can think of many instances where I would step in to stop things due to safety but others that, if I stepped back and thought about it, would be okay. I can think of two instances during this school year where exactly that happened – we made beginning attempts to support rather than deter the children in their dizzy play.

One was outside. It had rained the night before and their was a large puddle at the end of the playground. Puddles being like magnets to young children, soon many of them hovered at the edge. They wanted to splash and play. I was hesitant to let them, visions of soaking wet children and questioning parents in my head. While I was about to stop them, my teaching partner creatively lead them in a game of wading through the puddle, wanting to honour their desire to wade into it in a manner that didn’t end up with them drenched. The children had great fun.  What fun it would have been to have just let them splash and play! Perhaps splash pants should be a requirement as I see many schools have done that spend significant time outside. Splashing joyfully in puddles is a great dizzy play activity.

Over another couple of weeks, many of the children were very interested in creating a ballet class. They moved furniture, placed a play mirror nearby, took off shoes and leapt and twirled and safely tumbled to their hearts’ delight, at times teaching each other, at times following. At one point, about fourteen of them had organized themselves as joyful dancers on the open carpet area. We stood back and let them. Free dance organized by the children was a great dizzy activity. Organized chaos designed and controlled by the children themselves.

In Ontario’s document, How Does Learning Happen, it is noted that, “early years programs can have a positive influence on child health and well-being, such as by respecting and finding ways to support each child’s varied physiological and biological rhythms and needs for active play, rest, and quiet time.” I think that perhaps dizzy play is one of those rhythms and needs.

It would speculate though that while it seems well to be about the expression of joy, order and chaos, it is also about corporeal learning. Marc Richards, in his work on documenting learning through dance, quotes Sheets-Johnstone on this learning with the movement of our bodies: “‘Movement is first of all the mode by which we come to understand our own bodies and by which we first come to understand the world.’ (Sheets-Johnstone, 2011, xxv)…Rather than viewing bodily language as preverbal, Sheets-Johnstone views verbal language as ‘post-kinetic'” (Richards, 2017)

I wonder if perhaps dizzy play is part of this kinetic language that the children are using to explore and think about their world.

I also can’t help but wonder at the role of dizzy play in the development of self regulation. Does the release of dizzy play perhaps balances stressors? (The restorative power of laughter is well documented.) Does it allow for the development of impulse control? Does it facilitate learning to engage with others?

The idea of dizzy play fascinates me and I will continue to think about it and allow it to help me reframe my thinking and response when I witness it in my classroom. And I will also continue to consider, if there is such important value to dizzy play, is there then ways of allowing for and honouring space for more of this type of play in our classrooms?

References

Ontario Ministry for Education. (2014) How Does Learning Happen: Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years.

Richards, Marc. (2017) Making Learning Visible in Dance and other Creative Arts in Pedagogical Documentation in Early Years Practice: Seeing through Multiple Perspectives,  Alma Fleet, Catherine Patterson, Janet Robertson (eds).

Sheets-Johnstone, M. (2011) The Primacy of Movement (2nd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins North America.

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