Young Children and the Controversy of Weapons Play

I just discovered this tremendous resource of videos about early childhood, done by Jeff A. Johnson at Explorations Early Learning, and listened to a recent discussion on children and Weapons Play. Like many, many people I feel really uncomfortable about this kind of play. Jeff suggested that it is okay to let kids know our feelings and add that we understand it is important play to them, so it can be allowed. See the video below.

sword-playThis reminded of me of Rona Maynard’s story of her son who turned sticks into guns when she declared home to be a gun-free zone. Once, when he did manage to play with a plastic gun, he reassured her “I’m pretending it’s a stick.” Weapons play is a phase that children go through and suppressing it may prolong it.

There can be guidelines and rules for this type of play, the most important ones being no hurting, safe spaces, and that no means no. If a playmate says Stop or No, the other kids have to listen. During play, kids will wear a “play-face” and look like they are playing. Changes of expression can signal play that is getting too intense or has a different kind of motivation than simply playing. There can be underlying issues and by watching, we can pick up on clues and possible red flags.

“Weapons play is more about symbolism, than it is about violence.” These symbols could be leadership, power, and control, and themes like heroism, honor, mourning loss, and compassion. Kids try to make sense of big, adult concepts with play. Life and death can be part of the reality for kids and play helps them process these issues.

Listening to the video, has helped me examine these issues. It was a relief to hear that there are benefits for big body play and movement activities that help with core development and motor coordination. There are also elements of pre-reading, pre-writing, math, language, and social skills. Suddenly, the territory shifted from discomfort to neutral and maybe even a degree or two of positive. I’ll rethink about this kind of play. What are your thoughts on this kind of play?

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