At dozens of daycares in Quebec's Eastern Townships, staff will soon be encouraged to take a new approach to roughhousing: allowing it instead of breaking it up.

They will allow "war games and battle games, but in a structured environment. It's done within the rules ... so it is not at all violent," says Caroline Payer, director general of La Maison des familles FamillAction d'Asbestos, a social services organization in Asbestos, Que.

This approach is part of a new reference guide to be unveiled Wednesday by community groups and daycare workers in the region.

The guide was developed as an educational tool to better support managers and daycare workers — especially when it comes to boys' development.

The organization says boys often have a harder time adapting to daycare and school than girls.

Joanne Gardner

Joanne Gardner, who contributed to a new reference guide for daycares, says that for many boys, rough play helps them develop and learn social skills. (Radio-Canada)

"The numbers are quite telling when it comes to school success rates. Boys have a higher dropout rate and fail more in school," Payer says.

"We always say intervention needs to start early, so we think we are the foundation and it's important to start worrying about this problem which could come up in the future." 

Entitled "Better supporting our boys," the 28-page report includes six "winning practices":

  • Welcome all children with kindness.
  • Give a place to each child in the group.
  • Create an environment that is conducive to building a masculine identity.
  • Positively welcome war games and battle games.
  • Create opportunities for challenges and competitions.
  • Enrich reading activities.

A contributor to the guide, Joanne Gardner, works with several community groups in the Eastern Townships under the organization Les Partenaires pour la petite enfance de la MRC des Sources.

She says that for many boys — and some girls — rough play helps them develop and learn social skills.

Boys report

The guide, entitled 'Better supporting our boys,' includes six 'winning practices,' including positively welcoming war games and battle games. (Radio-Canada)

"It helps with the development of the child, the development of their social skills because they have to learn how to deal with their little friends."

She says most daycare staff members have the tendency to forbid sword fights or rough play, which often leads to mounted tension.

"What do we do when children go outside and squabble? Some daycare workers forbid it, others are more open to it."

Gardner says a reference guide will offer clarity.

More role models for boys

The guide also recommends that daycares have more diverse male role models.

"If male role models are missing, it's up to us to contact them: chefs, mechanics, grandfathers in nursing homes, office workers, police officers.... We can invite them to speak to the group," the report says.

It goes on to say that toys in the daycare should appeal to boys, such as "trucks, cars, construction games … without falling into stereotypes."

The report also says that girls tend to play more calmly, while boys are more physical.

Neisha May, the mother of a boy and a girl, says each child plays differently, and although rough play may help some children, they still need to learn about limits.

"I don't know how I would feel about roughhousing in a daycare setting because the ratio is like 10 to 1, where at home, where they do wrestle with my husband and they love it, we can keep an eye on what's going on."

Sandra Chang-Kredle, an assistant professor in the department of Education at Concordia University, says although rough play may be a tough sell to parents, it can be a good thing.

"What you need, as an educator, is to have a really good eye and be able to distinguish between healthy, physical rough-and-tumble play versus the aggressive type that's going to devolve into injuries."

Payer says that even rough play, such as a sword fight, is structured.

"We salute each other," she says. "We make the foam swords accessible and let unfold whatever the child wants to do with it. If it devolves, we intervene."

With files from Alison Northcott and Mathieu Dion