The Knock-Down Mat

activities“This is the knock-down mat!” I cry. “Come over here if you want to get knocked down!”

You wouldn’t believe how many kids come running.

This is a good one for the gross-motor rough-housing category. You get the gist already, but I’ll elaborate.

A large-ish gymnastics mat is best, but in a pinch you can use a rug or a blanket, if there’s not concrete or anything underneath. You want it to be plenty big; there are a lot of mats these days that are 4’x6′, and that’s really only big enough for two kids at a time, unless they’re very small or you’re very good at this game.

You sit on the mat, and if a kid comes on the mat, you knock them down. It’s important that kids have an easy, clear exit strategy. If they don’t want to get knocked down, they just get off the mat. Some kids like to stand right at the edge and watch; that’s great! The activity is a learning experience about risk and boundaries; here they get to experience what’s safe and what’s not safe, in a way that the “not safe” option is still actually safe. So make sure the on-off rule is clear to the kids, and don’t break or even bend it.

Okay, so knocking them down. You probably don’t want to just give them a shove, because then you can’t control their fall, and often they’ll take a few steps backwards when shoved, and then they’ll fall off the mat and it’s no longer safe. I have a couple knock-down methods I use, depending on the size of the child and how rough they like their play. For all of these, I’m pretty much on my knees, to match the kids’ height. The roughest method is to put one forearm behind their knees and push their chest, so they fall on their butt right where they’re standing. Only do that one with kids who you’re sure can fall without hurting themselves. A more controlled way is to push their chest with one hand, but your other hand is on their back, so you can lightly hold them as they fall. Alternately, “push” them with both hands at the sides of their ribcage, but hold on as you push, so you can slow their fall. The gentlest way, for kids who want to play but don’t want to get rough, is to sweep one arm behind their knees and the other arm behind their shoulders, lifting their feet off the ground—you end up holding them for a moment almost like you’re rocking a baby. This one’s good, because you can make a big motion (fun drama!) but deposit them gently on the ground (feelings of safety!).

So how do you do this with a group of kids? It’s awesome when you’ve got about four kids at a time, and they keep getting up while the others are falling, so you’re just knocking down one after the other, and everyone’s laughing and in the rhythm. If anyone starts getting too wild, though—rolling around, or trying to knock down me or other kids—you’ve got to slow things down. Some kids need to be told, “That’s not safe; I’m the only one knocking people down.” But most respond naturally if you just lower your voice and knock kids down more slowly. If it starts getting too crowded you can impose a limit to the number of kids at a time, but that’s tough, and in my experience usually unnecessary. I find that most kids want to get knocked down just a few times, and then move on to other things. If you take care of those kids first, then you can focus on the die-hards for longer, and you’ll have more space to do it.

Of course, always make sure you let kids know when the end is coming. “Last knock-down for everyone, and then I’m going to be done.”

Most common injuries in this game are two kids bonking heads, which is preventable by the adult watching to make sure there’s a fall-zone before knocking someone down, and leg getting bent funny when falling, which is preventable by the adult paying attention to legs when you’re knocking someone down. When someone gets hurt, of course stop to comfort them. But usually after a momentary pause I ask, “Do you want to stop, or keep playing,” and usually they say, “Keep playing!”

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One thought on “The Knock-Down Mat

  1. Tom Bedard August 27, 2013 at 11:26 pm Reply

    This is so good. The physical, rough-and-tumble play for children is so important, both for boys and girls. I do a version of this game where the children try to knock me down. In this version I can tell them if they are being too rough so they can begin to regulate their actions. It never fails, they have more stamina than me.

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