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....
he 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 realistic. Letting 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.
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.
When you support this type of play you are:
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:
- Using first-hand experiences
- Making up rules
- Making props
- Choosing to play
- Rehearsing the future
- Playing alone
- Playing together
- Having a personal agenda
- Being deeply involved
- Trying out recent learning
- 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