Monday, 17 October 2016

Loose Parts Playground

As the Associate Leader of Learning (DP) for a new school in Auckland I was quite amazed to find out that the MOE does not provide funds for a playground. With a rapidly expanding roll and a school devoid of any ‘play structures’ we as a staff needed to do something to pique the interest of our learners at break times.

Schools from my past often had a large play structure for climbing and sliding and once when we had a handy caretaker at the school (loved Mr Pita) we had a cubby/playhouse for the children. In many schools I taught in there were two playgrounds one for the juniors and one for the seniors - we can’t allow children of different ages to play together…!  

The play opportunities of these playgrounds are often limited by “non-connected pieces of equipment” (Maxwell, Mitchell, and Evans 2008) on springy OSH compliant surfaces. I do recall my own school playground of the 1970s being set over concrete so we wouldn’t get muddy if we fell off…

As my own children began their school journey I was involved in actively fundraising for a new school playground - one with bright colours and lots of that springy matting… Funds were raised and the playground was duly installed, it didn’t really enter my mind that fixed equipment affords less novelty. I’m sure all the kids enjoyed the new playground with its $20,000 worth of springy matting - yup,  you read that right and I’m talking 15 years ago. I’m sure the playground was a success and I spent many an afternoon waiting for my two to have ‘just one more slide’ but I don’t recall any rich and deep learning occurring from using the playground.

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Fast forward to 2014 when we were first imagining and designing what teaching and learning would look like in our new context of Ormiston Primary.  I was introduced to the idea of PlayPods by Tania Coutts. This was a real aha moment for me - I feel instantly in love with the idea  of open ended resources or loose parts as I was to come to know them. The term ‘Loose Parts’ dates back to the 1970's by architect Simon Nicholson, who believed that it is the loose parts in our environment that ‘empower our creativity.’ Nicholson also believed that the ability to create, discover, and imagine are enhanced when multiple kinds of loose parts are available for children to use (1971).

So what are Loose Parts? Loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. Not only are loose parts cheap and easy to find, but they’re endlessly interesting to children. Unlike fixed equipment, loose parts allow children to recreate their playground every day from the materials provided.

Loose parts add creativity into the playground while developing resilience, initiative and meaningful and positive relationships.” Interesting to note that Professor Jo Frost back in the late 1980s was talking about the idea thatloose parts are necessary for high-quality play experiences’ (Frost, 1989).

Complexity and the opportunity to creatively solve real-life problems holds the children’s interest and adds to their development as well as their enjoyment. The outdoor play experience is enriched if loose parts are part of the playscape. By adding quality to the outdoor environment loose parts are necessary for high-quality play experiences. (Kable, 2010).  Ask most children and they’ll tell you they prefer open-ended, action-oriented, moveable materials that can be used in different ways for different purposes. Maybe not in those exact words, probably more in the words of one of our learners ‘I like using the different stuff for different games’

It is my observation over my time in education, spontaneous outdoor play of all kinds has declined, both in energy and in quality. Several studies, real ones,  led by actual scientists, concluded that physical education and playtime at school and outdoor play at home are essential to healthy child development. If inactivity among children isn’t addressed, the current generation may be the first in history to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. It is my belief that limiting children’s outdoor play harms their cognitive, social, and language development.
Which brings me back to loose parts. Why use loose parts?
■ Children can use the parts in any way they choose.
■ Children can use and change the parts in many ways.
■ Loose parts encourage creativity and a child’s imagination.
■ Loose parts help a child develop more skill and competency than most modern toys.
■ Loose parts can be used in combination with other

Loose parts can be handled, manipulated, moved, and combined to enhance the value of play (White 2011).

Because we had no playground and weren’t likely to get any money to build one anytime soon, we had to use our creativity to some up with some ideas. It was a discussion during one of our team meetings that a learning coach happened to mention he had access to some tyres and pallets. We had also just finished some learning around farms and had some left over hay bales... low and behold the loose parts playground was born. The pallets, tyres, hay bales and reels formed what started of as ‘the obstacle course’ then became known as the ‘Trim Trail’ by our  lovely young teacher from England - google trim trail, it’s an actual thing over there. It wasn’t until recently that the name ‘loose parts playground’ started and has stuck.

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As you can see from the picture and the movie clip, the first iteration of the playground was linear and very teacher directed. The learners were unsure of what to do and how to fully engage with the playground. The learners waited for the teachers to change up the order of the “trim trail”  it was like they were waiting for permission to mix it up.

After some discussion/questions with the learners, particularly with the Year 1 and 2 learners around ‘does the trim trail have to be in a straight line’ and ‘what would happen if we put the tyres in a pile?’

Slowly things started to change, the playground began to take on different configurations, admittedly the changes weren't immediately huge - it went from a line to a rectangular shape, but the exciting thing was the learners starting to take ownership.

The linear and rectangular configurations lasted until about ½ way through term 2, then the real magic began to happen.

A learner (Jack) discovered that if he tipped the reel on it’s side he could walk on it as it moved. I can honestly say it’s not for the faint-hearted, overly OSH concerned teacher to watch, particularly as the reel was missing a board and said learner would leap over the reel as it was rolling to avoid the missing board.

I was doing lots of professional reading as part of my eFellows16 research around play based learning and came across a few gems. One that really struck a chord with me was the idea of risky play, more specifically the emotion regulation theory of play—the theory that one of play’s major functions is to teach young mammals how to regulate fear and anger.  

In risky play, children engage with manageable quantities of fear and practice keeping calm and behaving adaptively while experiencing that fear.  They learn that they can manage their fear, overcome it, and come out alive.  In rough and tumble play they may also experience anger, one player may accidentally hurt another.  But to continue playing, to continue the fun, they must overcome that anger.  If they lash out, the play is over no-one will play with some one that keeps getting angry and spoiling the game.

According to the emotion regulation theory, play is, among other things, the way that young mammals learn to control their fear and anger so they can encounter real-life dangers, and interact in close quarters with others, without succumbing to negative emotions. The idea that the learners engage ‘in just enough’ risk to make it exciting, and not usually enough to cause serious harm or death, made me less likely to panic the next time Jack came zooming past me on the wooden reel.

Now we were cooking - Jack’s prowess on the reel led to other learners wanting to do the same, I was fascinated to watch the learners who attempted this and I noted that only the learners who had some skill at balancing attempted it ie they only attempted what was reasonably within their capabilities to achieve.

As you can see from the movie the two girls are at different levels of capability when it comes to balance and risk taking, it was so great to watch them learn from and help each other. It really affirmed for me the idea that learning and teaching doesn’t just happen in class time.

The other thing I was beginning to regularly observe was that the learners were working out conflicts and learning to negotiate independently of the learning coaches.

The following video is one I took whilst on duty - I stood and recorded while the learners resolved the situation for themselves. The game they were playing at the time involved ‘four factions and a zombie apocalypse’ ) their words not mine - the deep level of engagement at the thinking, negotiating and collaborating that went into the game really made me reflect on my own children and their experiences of a playground being ‘just one more slide’

At first glance the loose parts playground can look like a chaotic mess - learning coaches have been known to make comments along the lines of 'I had to step in they were "attacking each other" ' however look closely at about 12 seconds in - it looks like a learner charging around whacking everything in sight but when you look closely you can see he's actually being very controlled - the tears which start around the 18 second mark had nothing to do with the 'zombie killer' but were around ownership of certain loose parts - I love the way that one of the older learners takes charge of the situation and is able to negotiate a solution.

The learning they get from authentic negotiation, problem solving and collaboration is huge, not to mention the learning they get from the actual building of the structures, just think of all the applied maths and science they are automatically doing as they create the amazing structures that were until last week 'faction headquarters' I've no idea what they are called now - I must go and investigate.

Yes it can get messy, yes there are tears and we've even had a few splinters. The learners bring us the pieces they deem to be unsafe and one of our learning coaches checks the loose parts for nails which are sticking out. I'd have to say though it's the best run playground I've ever seen in action over decades of teaching and I truly think that's because the adults have stepped back and have stopped being so 'teachery'

As an aside our ELL Team Leader went with some of our senior learners to visit MOTAT. She observed that while all the learners were really excited about the ‘real playground’ and couldn’t wait to try it out,  once they got on it they only lasted a few minutes and struggled to find something about it to engage them.

  • If you’re looking for more about PBL I’d highly recommend reading Peter Gray PhD His book ‘Free to Learn’ is one of my go to books.
  • I also love the work of Celia and Jason Hilkey they run some really good webinars around play based learning and developing happy, confident kids.
  • Below are more links to some more articles and informations you may find helpful

Monday, 5 September 2016

The ThinkFarm Leadership Seminar

Nathan Mikare-Wallis

In the July holidays I was fortunate to be able to attend a one day workshop with Nathan Mikare-Wallis. I was doubly fortunate in that I was able to take 8 other members of staff to hear Nathan speak. I find PD that is shared among a staff much more valuable than PD you attend on your own.

1990-1999 was designated The Decade of the Brain by U.S. president George H. W. Bush as part of a larger effort involving the Library of Congress and the National Institute of Mental Health "to enhance public awareness of the benefits to be derived from brain research".
However up to the 1990s research was mainly focused around the anatomy of the brain, this was until the advent of MRI and CT scans - whereby it was possible to see the brain in action.

The brain is genetically and biologically designed to gather data in the first 1000 days, with conception being the starting point. This is to work out what type of brain you will need for the rest of your life, the outcomes are determined by the time you are 2 1/2 -  3 years old. The data gathering you are doing in your first 1000 days is predominantly about your primary caregiver, which is usually your mother.

One of the points Nathan made which I found most interesting was around the assumption that there is an intelligence gene, when in fact there are 35,000 genes in a human and 23,000 genes in a fruit fly. This lends to the suggestion that there is no gene for intelligence - just enough genes for the human to exist. The latest theory is around the brain being designed to be moulded by the environment with 70% of our genes set by the environment.

Oliver James - Not in your genes

Nathan spent some time covering the anatomy of the brain which was interesting - particularly in light of the fact I am parenting teenagers. Very simplistically, in the human neuro-sequential brain model we have 4 brains
  • Brain 1 - Brain stem - this is for survival; flight, fright, freeze - fear and anger are the only emotions needed for survival.
  • Brain 2 - Cerebellum - movement and coordination
  • Brain 3 - Limbic system - emotion
  • Brain 4 - Cortex - thinking and learning (it is worth noting that the frontal cortex doesn’t finish being developed until the late 20s,  for males it is between 22-32 and for females it occurs between the ages of 18-24)

There is no competition between learning and survival (survival trumps learning)

Nathan went on to talk about the different parts in the brain with Brain 1 and 2 being the reptilian brain,  meaning that a reptile can survive and move but because it has no limbic system it won’t be pleased to see you when you get home. Combining brains 1,2 and 3 gives you the mammalian brain, thinking here about a dog, if your dog can do it then it comes from one of the first 3 brains. Brain 4 is the cortex, which is  thinking and learning - if you can do it and your dog can’t, ie speak then it comes from the fourth brain. The fact that the human brain hasn’t evolved for reading and writing was a point that Nathan made early on in this part of the workshop,  written literacy is a relatively new human skill developed over the last 300 years, the brain has evolved for the purpose of human interaction. Face to face contact engages more of the brain than anything else, this has been proven by the use of MRI scans. One of the implications for teachers is that telling a learner to be quiet is the equivalent of telling most of the brain to shut down.

The two parts from this session that I found most interesting were that brains work in order from 1-4, which for educators and parents it is worth knowing that if the child doesn’t have the first three brains in optimum condition then learning will not occur. We need to meet the needs of the brain from the bottom to the top. The second finding from this session which I found interesting was the fact that brains 1,2,3 are compulsory but brain number 4 is optional. It is also worthwhile noting that the human brain is designed to survive - therefore brain gives more attention to negative feedback, which is why you can hear a plethora of positive praise about something but one negative comment will receive all your attention. Also worthy of note was that empathy, controlling emotions and consequences are in the frontal cortex.

Nathan spent some time covering what the risk and resilience factors are for brain development. Gender and birth order determine outcomes and whether or not you are a first born or not are neuroscience factors in your outcomes.
Boys who are not the first born have the biggest risk factors, this is a statistical reality, they form the biggest group in prison and have the largest suicide rate. First born females have the biggest win when it comes to resilience factors, and at home parent in the first year is the biggest indicator of future success.

Nathan went on to discuss the importance of the dyadic relationship, as humans we are born to have attachment relationship with one person, this forms the blueprint for the rest of your relationships.
Some interesting points were made in this part of the session. In your first 1000 days the number of words spoken to you directly co-relates to your earning power at age 32. Interesting to note that the language you hear in the first 1000 days has to be from a  person who is emotionally invested ie the primary caregiver,  it can’t be language heard via a third party such as from the TV or radio.

Ross Greene the importance of the primary care giver and the building of relationships

There was discussion around the ability to self-soothe which Nathan said came from the dyadic relationship and from having the primary caregiver provide the soothing in the first 1000 days before the child learns to self-soothe.  "you learn to do it partnership before you learn to do it by yourself" When questioned about the phenomenon of abandoned babies in large orphanages not crying out for attention Nathan made the point that they hadn’t learned to self-soothe - they’d learned that crying wasn’t worth the effort.

One of our team members is a new mum to a gorgeous baby girl, when she heard Nathan talk about the importance of providing a pro-social environment, this is where we are shielding children from an aggressive response from the environment. One of the main contributors to what Nathan terms an aggressive response was that the earlier your child starts in Child-Care the more quickly they get an aggressive response, or the slower their social skills will develop. You could see on her face this information was a game changer in terms of when she will potentially be coming back to full time work.

Scandinavian countries spend most taxpayers in the early years and their education systems are the world’s most highly regarded. Nathan pointed out some interesting observations which are as more money is spent in quality early child education the lower the incarceration rates are. Finland is quite often the media about the quality of their education system but their open door prison system is also worth taking a look at.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to listen to Nathan as I have often quoted his Radio New Zealand interview on what 3-7 year olds need to know
My biggest takeaways were firstly my learning around the four different parts of the brain and the fact that learning will only occur when the first three brains have had their needs met. Secondly the importance of the dyadic relationship and the brain development of the first 1000 days.

If you ever get a chance to listen to Nathan I highly recommend him as both an informative and gifted speaker.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

EducampAkl 2016

I love Educamps I love the ideas, the people and the sharing. Though I must confess that I have been a little slack in my attendance of late. There was a time I'd travel the length and breadth of the country to attend, over the past few years I've attended Educamps from Whangarei to Dunedin and everywhere in between. I've had great learning, sharing and best of all, great face to face connections where ever I've been. Now that I've, in the words of @Mrs_Hyde "found my tribe" I've lost some of my Educamp impetus - I nearly didn't go to EducampAKL but when I was tagged in a tweet by @Mrs_Hyde I knew I'd have to make the effort and it was well worth it. It's one thing to find your tribe, but like everything worthwhile you have to maintain it. 

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Crime and Punishment

Crime and punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky is not a book I’ve read but rather a title that caught my attention. I’m not a fan of punishment, to be fair I’m not a fan of crime either. I worry about why our prisons are full to bursting and why our youth are indulging in so many risky behaviours that may affect them for the rest of their lives. What can we as educators do to stem the flow? Punish the bad behaviour out of them? I think we can do better ...

It’s frightening to me as an educator and as a parent that there was a need for Peter Gluckman (Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister) to write a report titled; Reducing Social and Psychological Morbidity During Adolescence, written from concerns that New Zealand youth have a high suicide rate, how scary.

I think that two of the reports summary findings are worthy of a closer look;
Firstly, the finding that set warning bells ringing for me was that NZ is too punitive to our learners and secondly the finding that gave me hope “the growing evidence that prevention and intervention strategies applied early in life are more effective in altering outcomes and reap more economic returns over the life course than do strategies applied later.” The report also states that “It is now clear that early childhood is the critical period in which executive functions such as the fundamentals of self-control are established.”

As an educator for the past 25 years and now as a leader in a school, I have often been faced with educators bringing learners to me, with what appears to be a need from the educator for me to ‘discipline’, however the body language says ‘punish’. While I understand that there is a need for the educators to feel that the people in positions of authority are supportive of them and that they can approach us for help when issues arise. I myself have many occasions over my years as a classroom educator and parent felt the frustration building, it takes a bucket load of self-control and repeating of mantra like “Who’s the adult? What’s the learning” to not resort to ‘punishing’ the learner - to be honest I wasn’t always successful, in fact I probably punished more than I disciplined, there was that one time when I left a learner sitting in the hallway for a good few hours without lunch, Christopher, I am truly sorry and I probably put you off education and/or teachers for life.

There is a huge difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment is not discipline. Discipline is used to teach and guide. Punishment is used for the purposes of controlling and retribution. What educators often call discipline could actually be revenge packaged as punishment: “You’ve made me look/feel bad, so I’m going to do the same to you” Real discipline looks less at whatever a learner did wrong and more at how they are going to make a better decision next time.

The aim is for the educator not to be a prosecutor focused on the crime but more of a coach who has picked up on something that needs working on. Young children do not commit crimes, they make mistakes or bad choices and I believe that their mistakes and bad choices call for a corrective coaching style.

Punishment is adult oriented, imposes power, arouses anger and resentment, and invites more conflict. Punishment can include isolation, embarrassment, humiliation, shaming and brute force. It makes the wounds worse rather than healing them because it is focusing on blame and pain. Punishment discourages students from acknowledging their actions because they might deny doing the behavior or place blame on anything or anybody other than themselves. When educators use punishment, good behavior is bought at a terrible price. Punishment leaves control in the educator’s hands and gives students the message that the educator is all powerful, accepts responsibility for student’s behavior and negates the need for students to develop inner discipline.

Faced with threats, domination, manipulation and control by someone bigger than themselves, learners will experience one of the following three things. One, they will experience fright and will do as they are told out of dependency and fear. In this case, the learners will obey the educator only until they are able to get what they need or want. Second is fight and attack or take their anger out on other people or things. Such a response can produce an equal or more severe response from the adult. The third, choice is flight, meaning they run away mentally or physically. Learners whose needs and feelings are dismissed, ignored, punished, or negated begin to believe they are of little or no worth.

Discipline on the other hand can be used as a coaching tool, the process of discipline does four things that the act of punishment cannot do:
  1. It shows learners what they should have done.
  2. It gives them as much ownership of the problem as they are able to handle.
  3. It gives them options for solving the problem.
  4. It leaves their dignity intact.

So if we don’t punish how can we discipline? I think you need to start with a belief that “Kids are worth it” a catch phrase and a book title by American author Barbara Coloroso. Educators must believe that learners and young adults are worth their time, energy and resources. Coloroso also believes that adults should follow the Golden Rule and ‘treat others as they want to be treated’. If educators feel uncertain about what they are doing to learners, they should place themselves in their shoes to see how they would feel. The educator should ask themselves questions such as: “Would I want that done to me?”, “How would I feel if someone did that to me?” or if you are a parent “how would I feel if that was being done to my child?”
Only discipline if it leaves a learner’s and your own dignity intact. Honoring the dignity of the learner should not be sacrificed in the name of behavior management.
If we don’t ‘punish’ then shouldn’t we reward…?
Please wait one moment while I pull out my soapbox...
I don’t believe that manipulative tactics such as rewards, bribes, and threats should be used. Which is why for years I’ve handed out stickers, had treat boxes and used any number of other ‘systems’ both in my classroom and with my own children. But stepping up to my soapbox or more likely onto my high horse I have come to the conclusion that learners should be empowered to trust in themselves and to learn self-discipline. The educator’s duty is to give critical life messages such as “I believe in you”, “I trust you”, “I know you can do this”, “You are listened to”, “You are cared for”, “You are important". Think about the this from the movie The Help

Rewards also send the message that kindness and positive behavior can be bought and bartered. Learners who are bribed and rewarded constantly will often start to ask questions such as “What’s in it for me?”, “What’s the payoff?” etc. Reward and punishment only teaches the learner to be “good” … as long as someone is looking

Alfie Kohn in his book Beyond Discipline states that rewards, like punishments, are extremely effective at getting us one thing and one thing only: temporary obedience. Where they fall short is teaching children how to become decent human beings. He refers back to studies showing that “rewards are strikingly ineffective at producing lasting change in attitudes or behaviours”. Like training animals, rewards and punishments teach your children that if they do as they’re told, they’ll get a treat. The danger being, they might only conform if there’s a treat in sight. They have done the research they know what they have to do to get a treat, conversely  there are those learners that don’t actually care about the treats, no matter what the reward they don’t buy into it.

What about when the crime involves hurt to people or property?

Consequences and Restorative Justice are are powerful tools.

Firstly let’s think about consequences:
The purpose of using consequences is to help the learner learn to make decisions and to be responsible for their own behavior. Consequences are learning experiences, not punishment. Consequences such as if you tipped out all the blocks you’ll have to spend time picking them up. It’s about helping a learner to solve their own problems, think things through, and learn responsibility. Change from saying  “when you”  to “as soon as you”
You also need to step back and get a bigger picture of the behaviour, to see not just the ‘offence’ but the reasons behind it and the learning that can come from it. What lies behind this behaviour? Do they understand social norms? Do they feel they aren’t getting enough attention? What about the Maslow stuff...Are they tired? Are they sick? Are they hungry?

Restorative justice focuses on accountability and meeting the needs of those involved rather than on blame and punishment. By working with learners and being respectful of diversity, will help them take responsibility for their own behaviour. The following tables may help...

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In closing and in short it’s about honoring the dignity of the learner, and it’s all about the learning

Saturday, 30 April 2016

To shoot or not to shoot...?

An interesting question was posed by some educators on our recent call-back days. "Many of our learners (predominantly boys in years 1 and 2) are engaging in gun play - should we let them?
Hmmm good question team - so the following is my thoughts based on years of watching children play and of researching about the value of play in a school setting.

One educator replied that gun play is not 'natural play'.  I disagree, I have found that play themes involve big and serious issues which can and do include loss, death, loneliness, abandonment and being cared for (or not). In fact anything that children are anxious, concerned, worried or have viewed can form the basis of their play. Gun and weapon play is as natural as pretending that a play kitchen produces delectable goods or that by putting on a cape you are a super hero.

Weapon/gun play certainly provides opportunities for many themes to be explored and also involves the common dominant theme in children’s play – namely power, and either being in control or being controlled by others. Children are regularly seen to mimic adult roles in their play as they try out for themselves what it is like to be in control as they mimic parents, teacher, nurses, doctors vets, retailers etc. 

But it promotes violence....
There is no evidence to support this belief, and believe me I have looked. Play with weapons and superhero play is pretend play. Imaginative play does not produce violence. Engaging in such play is an antidote to violence and not a cause of it. It is my experience that if you 'ban' gun/weapon play they will do it anyway - they just do it when you're not watching, then the moral issue of condoning violence or killing is replaced with the moral issue of accepting, and perhaps promoting, creative lying.

Personally, I’d rather children didn’t play with toy guns, mainly because they look too realisticLetting children use their fingers, stick or some other creation they have made as weapons could actually help them gain enough understanding, empowerment and emotional stability to have fulfilled their need to use guns.

Play is the way in which children make sense of the world. Where such play ie weapon/gun play is not permitted children may get a  sense that what they have experienced, what they know about, what they are anxious about, what they want to know more about, what they are interested in and how they feel is not valued. 

When children receive this message, their self-esteem will drop. When their play is not permitted, they lose out on developing play skills – and when this happens, they lose a whole range of routes to learning, to exploring their world through play and developing all the skills that play enables. Their cognitive capacity is reduced, and so is their commitment to learning as these negative messages are likely to affect their engagement in the world of education where their interests have been marginalised right from the start. Children who have their starting points for play stopped at an early age may not achieve their potential because they do not feel positive about themselves as learners.

Weapon/gun play has many benefits because it is about:
  • Exercising their imagination.
  • Problem-solving, “how can I hide”, “how can I get from 'a to b' without being hit?”
  • Empowerment - taking initiative and making decisions 
  • Empathy - learning to think about the perspective of others, provide protection and care as superheroes do good, they keep people safe and help people in trouble.
  • Understanding that rules of consent and safety are important for any game -you only shoot those who agree to be part of the game
  • Belonging and being part of a group - sharing interests helps build friendships.
  • Developing confidence - great for quieter children giving them playful opportunities to assume a more confident persona.
  • Developing play acting or drama skills 
  • Learning their own limits as to what is too rough (for example if they are too rough then the game will stop because someone gets hurt the game will stop).
  • Cooperation and collaboration as they build tribes and teams
  • Assimilating what they’ve experienced, witnessed or heard and beginning to understand what confuses them

It is not about ...
  • Supporting the killing or harm of animals and humans, and/ or the destruction of property

When you support this type of play you are:

  • Picking up on children’s own interests and it becomes possible then to use this interest as the starting point for further learning.
  • Helping improve spoken language as they engage in pretend play. 'Sportscast' or commentate the play this will help increase an enriching their vocabulary .
  • Engaging children in deeper level learning 

As an adult/educator you can help by:
  • Supporting this kind of creative and imaginative play. If they don’t have to hide their weapons they will feel safe in approaching you for ideas to develop their play.
  • Getting involved as and when appropriate. When you watch only there is a risk that you will end up being judgemental, it is harder to guide play or help to enrich it when you are not part of it.  Join in!  Die spectacularly or add complexity i.e I have a power that turns bullets/lasers to dust... 
  • Suggesting ideas, information, and materials and props to extend the richness of the play. Turn their play into a movie or podcast - what will happen next? What happened first - what's the story...
  • Facilitating children’s understanding of violence and aggression and why violence is never acceptable but aggression can be ie in sport 

Help the children establish clear safety boundaries, communicated in a calm manner, focusing on what the children CAN do, is the most effective way I’ve found to keep pretend weapon play safe. Naturally responsible adult supervision is advised during war play too. Think about the quality of the play - if it is low-level you may like to use the following indicators to help the children improve the quality.

The 12 indicators of quality play: 
  1. Using first-hand experiences 
  2. Making up rules 
  3. Making props 
  4. Choosing to play 
  5. Rehearsing the future 
  6. Pretending 
  7. Playing alone 
  8. Playing together 
  9. Having a personal agenda 
  10. Being deeply involved 
  11. Trying out recent learning 
  12. Co-ordinating ideas, feelings and relationships for free-flow play. 
Indicators adapted from Bruce, T. (1991) Time to Play in Early Childhood Education, London: Hodder & Stoughton