Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Art of Roughhousing

Have you ever seen a Seal?


What about a Cat Leap?

’ course you have.

Have you ever seen Alaric the Barbarian? Eh? A Greek Catapult? A Full Squadron Water-Balloon Fight?

Have you ever been a Ninja Warrior?

What are you talking about man, I hear you shout!

Well, I know I usually review the books that I read on a day to day basis for your perusal, and that seeing one such review here would come as no particular surprise to you. But a short while ago I was very kindly asked, by a publisher, to review a book that would be sent to me, if I was interested. How exciting, I thought, a publisher contacting little ol’ me.

Absolutely, I said, send it on through ‘eye-mediately!’ This he duly did, and my very well packaged book arrived very swiftly indeed. In fact, I was so impressed, that I promised myself I would get a hurry on, read the book as quickly as I could and get my review online for Mr Publisher to see, proving to him how incredibly reliable an individual I am, thus possibly being entrusted with future books requiring a review.

On the other hand, I could keep promising myself to read it, that I could always come back to the book I was reading at the time, that it would be far politer to do what I had said I would do, rather than keep putting it off, looking like a slacker, possibly risking not having new books sent to me as I took too long to do a simple review.

Would you like a minute or two to guess at which avenue I took? No? You think you’ve nailed it already, do you?

Well for those of you who thought I took the second option, that I merely procrastinated pathetically, well done to you, spot on. I don’t know why I do it!! I don’t mean to not do something, but in my world, in here, inside my head where it’s all warm and cosy – sometimes bright yellow, other times a rather mucky grey – I think time goes by much slower than in real life. In my head I think, “ooh, that book needs reviewing, I’ve had it a week”, when in fact it’s been closer to a month (or two).

I’m glancing over at the book cover as I type, trying to think up a valid reason why it’s taken me so long. And I think I have one. I think the reason it took so long was this; it’s a book that you don’t need to read from start to finish. It’s a ‘dip-in, dip-out of’ type of book. You can read a couple of pages and then put it down while you put into practice what you’ve read so far. If it were a novel, well, I tend to read those from beginning to end, here we go, there it was, job done. Thank you very much.

This book wasn’t like that.

The title of the book is the title of this post – The Art of Roughhousing.

Now if, like me, you have absolutely no idea what roughhousing is, the rest of the text on the front cover expands. Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It.

Horseplay, ahhhh, I get it now. Yes, of course - I happen to be a bit of a dab hand at horseplay, sometimes a little too good at it. It has been known for me to indulge in horseplay at ‘not-necessarily-the-most-appropriate-moments’.

Still, I digress.

Let me tell you about the book, the good bits first.

It’s a great looking book, nice and chunky, but importantly (for me), not too large – it’s slightly smaller than A5, so wouldn’t take up too much room in your bag, it might even fit in a large jacket pocket – and the basic premise of the book is this; As parents, we all know that the health and safety of our children is of utmost importance – just don’t let health and safety influence your playtime together to the point of sterility.

It’s boring!! Let yourselves go a bit!

For anyone who has ever had a pillow fight with their son or daughter, that’s roughhousing. For anyone who has ever laid on their back, put their legs in the air and balanced their child on the bottom of their feet, that’s roughhousing. Although there are some very familiar looking ‘things to do’ in the book, there are lots of new ideas – when you see some of them, you might think that they’re rather obvious but the ones that aren’t familiar look exciting. I think the most fun way to approach this book is to try some of them without your child knowing you have the book. Then, leave the book lying around for them to “find”. They’ll enjoy choosing what they deem to be the most fun looking ‘games’ and challenges.

Each challenge is arranged according to age and a difficulty level is assigned. Obviously a certain degree of personal interpretation is required – only YOU know what your own child will or won’t enjoy. The book opens with the ‘philosophy’ behind roughhousing and this, for me, is both a positive and a negative aspect of the book. The thing is, I’m not sure how many readers will feel the need for this philosophy spelt out to them.

The first chapter (admittedly titled “Our Bold Claim for Roughhousing”), makes some … erm … bold claims about … ummm …. roughhousing. For example, ‘Roughhousing makes kids smart’. I quote - “animal behaviourists have observed that the smarter the species, the more it’s youngsters engage in physical play …… roughhousing releases a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)”.

'Roughhousing makes Children Ethical and Moral'. ”Animals with the highest level of moral development also engage in the most play”. Hmmm, not entirely sure about that one either, to be honest. There are, however, more realistic claims. ‘Roughhousing Brings Joy’ or ‘Roughhousing Makes Kids Physically fit’, although you could argue that these should be filed under ‘Bleeding Obvious’.

But this is part of the book’s problem. Sure, there are lots of clever quotes from important sounding people from their important sounding books but it’s too sociological, too psychological. I started reading word for word, but admit I ended up skipping rather a lot of pages to get to the nitty-gritty. Like I said, you would flick past some of the ‘Things to do’ in this book, just because they are so obvious – Raucous Pillow Fight let’s face it, is just a pillow fight with the word ‘raucous’ at the start. Others are less than realistic – the ‘Full Squadron Water Balloon Fight ‘recommends’ you start with 300 water balloons (three hundred???) for an hours worth of ammunition.

For me, the book gave some great little ideas, or sometimes a new slant on an idea I already put into practice. However, it tried to organise and compartmentalise something that is supposed to be spontaneous, sometimes lasting only minutes, at other times, even less.

Hey, here’s a thought. Maybe I’m just such a terrific Dad, I’ve already put into practice what other Dads struggle to do, or find difficult to approach with their children. Maybe they don’t have time to do any of this stuff with their children, maybe I’m just luckier than they are in that respect?

Either way, to sum up this book, I’ll say this.

This smart looking, cleverly sized book is just the sort of read that I would’ve picked up and flicked through at the bookshop, smiling at some of the things to do, before buying it and bringing it home. Then, like I said, I would’ve read some of it, flicked past more of it, before putting some of the games into action. I would probably pat myself on the back for having already done much of what is discussed in the book, before bemoaning the fact that my dodgy back won’t allow me to do much of it for too much longer, especially as my children grow ever taller and heavier.

Honest opinion?

If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve put this on my “books to buy online” list and waited for it to be available at less than the $15 (or roughly £9) printed on the back cover. A great looking book which is half full of stuff you don’t know and half full of stuff you already know.

Now go get those pillows!!

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