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Daddy, Let’s Play!

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Homegrown Education

By: Rachel Rubinstein  |  June 6, 2024

There is a certain type of play my children are craving when I hear, “Daddy, let’s play!” Without negotiating the game, they all know, dad is crawling on the floor growling like a bear while my boys shriek with joy and run throughout the house. They tackle and roll around on the bed, crawling under the covers in their bear’s den. While this type of play is not exclusive to fathers, in our house this is how my boys connect with their dad every night.


For them it’s just time with dad after he’s been gone all day at work. Little do they know that this rough-and-tumble play is developing their body awareness and coordination. While the play itself can be loud and a bit hectic, left in its wake are more regulated boys who feel connected to their dad.


Countless articles show that this type of full body play supports healthy development, from:

  • physical development and coordination, through gross motor movements
  • social development, through understanding consent and navigating the rules of a game
  • understanding risk, through challenging oneself physically
  • spatial and body awareness, through feeling one’s edges come into contact with others and the environment
  • to better sleep
As an educator, when I had a young student who was struggling with body control, body awareness, or aggression towards other children, I would often recommend that parents incorporate rough-and-tumble play with their child. This can feel counter-intuitive, but physical play in a controlled and safe environment can be extremely regulating. 

I have also seen the positive effects of this type of play on a child’s academics. I once had a second-grade student who was struggling with his math and could not hold the concept of place value. What I noticed was that he also did not understand his right from his left. I encouraged his parents to incorporate more physical play at home, while at school we focused on marching, crawling through tunnels, and jumping rope. We did not give him any additional math practice, yet within a few weeks the concepts began to solidify and his math skills progressed. 

In our home, my boys have a pretty clear routine: they hear the chime of the ring camera as dad pulls into the driveway and they run to the door to wait for him. As he walks through the door they turn and run, anticipating the chase. They quickly escape into a world of their own, while I dish-up dinner. When I call them to the table they emerge out of breath, grinning from ear to ear. Most nights this is only ten minutes, but that’s all it takes to connect with your child when you set aside the space to truly connect. 

Some of the play my kids love includes:
  • Chase games – it’s as if there’s a racetrack that loops around the living room and they will run forever. They love taking turns being the one who’s chased. 
  • Wrestling – our boys have floor beds that make for the perfect wrestling mats. They love being slammed down into the bed or jumping from bed to bed in their shared room. 
  • Animals – pretending to be animals not only allows them to dive into their imagination but also creates a framework for other types of physical play to be incorporated. If they are bears, they can crawl on hands and knees, build a bear den out of couch cushions, and wrestle with the papa bear.
  • Piggy-back rides – or in our house, horse rides! My nearly two-year-old is obsessed with horses and begs to ride on his dad’s back, then pretends to brush and halter him. 

While I’ve read research on the importance and seen the benefits repeatedly of all this rough-and-tumble play, I don’t particularly enjoy it myself. In our house, this is daddy play and all my boys love him for it. 

Learn More:

Rachel Rubinstein is an educator and child-development expert. With experience teaching toddlers to teens, training teachers and developing curriculum, her priority now is her own two boys, Mason (4) and Walker (2). Learn more about Rachel and her Parent-Child Classes at

More from this issue:

Daddy, Let’s Play! HERE >> 

Fun Father’s Day Ideas HERE >> 

Memory Battles and Father’s Love HERE >> 

Osher Marin JCC Preschools and Early Childhood Education Center - San Rafael & Mill Valley HERE >> 

The Modern Renovation - Harnessing Technology in the Home for Tech-Savvy Dads HERE >>