Archive for category Super Heroism, War Play, Cops and Robbers,etc.

Kids in Battle Play

I wanted to catch some of my students in the glory and fantasy of battle play. What I find most interesting about this particular interaction is the gender cross over.


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Sticks in Play

I can’t help myself but to allow sticks to enter into games and play. No one has lost an eye…knock on wood… But what is real play, without some risk?


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Drawing War

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Shooters, Guns, Missiles and other Battle Play In The Classroom

If I had a dime for each time I heard a group of boys say: “shoot, kill, gun, sword, attack, bad guy or good guy,” I could retiree from teaching. And if I interfered or corrected this language each time it occurred, I’d retiree as an old grump. Instead I learn ways to relate, to find deeper psychological and emotional understanding, and embrace it for what it really is: kids at play.

Inevitable heroism and battle language is more often heard coming out of boy’s mouths, however young girls also tend to chime in from time to time. But for the sake of this article we will focus more on the boys, as this is where most of the cultural hype around “aggressive play” most notable stems.

“This is my shooter,” the boy belts out after constructing weaponry out of tape and Popsicle sticks. “Look, I made a sword,” another four year whispers to another playmate. All of these fascinations to weapons preschoolers brandish in the midst of play further reflect a society that tends to idolize weapons, either through war, military industrial complexes, media (cartoons, magazines, television, radio, etc.), an Uncle Billy who shoots pheasants or an older brother plucking squirrels with a B.B gun – guns and the sense of elusive power behind them is not going away any time soon. Many battles raged and many wars fought, on a patriarchal front. To many battles and wars to list inside one book, let alone an article. We are a world saturated in weaponry. And when a mother or father here’s that little Johnny or Susan is mesmerized by things that shoot and go boom, you want to pin them down and read about Gandhi. Yeah, all this war, cops, and robbers in the play yard certainly can drive adults absolutely bananas! But seriously, what is all this talk and fascination of weaponry really about?

Living within a culture that is entrenched in violence and war, anxiety about young people creating or playing games revolving around guns, lifesavers, swords, arrows, and other like weapons, can be alarming for adults. Honestly there is not a day that goes by as an early childhood educator that I do not hear inferences to weaponry. This interesting connection to things that go “boom, ” in the preschool world is not going away soon, with or without “no weapons policy,” (For the record: I am referring here to imaginative weapons.) at school, or the home front. Environments that preach absentee or a No Tolerance approach to kids pretending to project weaponry, usually are constructed out of a place of fear and anxiety, which do not constitute a rational understanding of kids play, in particular boys who imbued in the fascination of hunting and weaponry. These environments either in the home or at school, I would argue starkly resemble the ineffective or destructive approach of Drug Free School Zones. Systems of “no tolerance” measures originate from a punitive place that leaves kids further alienated socially, distraught, and other wise not to be trusted in the eyes of an adult. In these systematic structures imposed by adults that enforce 0 tolerance measures, leaves little in any room for experimentation and exploration in life. Rarely, the adults who thrust these measures among young people take the suitable amount of time to build more of an understanding and connection with why they experiment in this degree of play, and as a result kids are being condemned for the nature in which they chose to play, instead the behavior becomes stereotypically illegal, inappropriate, unacceptable, punishable, or banned from happening. Freedom does not necessarily mean license, as A.S. Neil in Summerhill, A Radical Approach TO Child Rearing strongly advocated that within any community there exist a mutual respect. In other words the adult does not intrude or force a child to a defined way of being, nor does the child inflict these same measures of pressure on the adult. Just imagine if some one in a position of say: “authority,” came along and demanded that no longer can you indulge in a certain freedom in your home or community without any inquiry, questioning or further discussion. As adult and what would this pressure look and feel like? Surely it does occur in our times, but rightfully so, should we be inflicting it onto kids and does it come from a place of nurturing and understanding. I’m not advocating to sitting out in the play yard watching submissively if another kid is poking another in the face with a sharp stick, but there needs to be more space for kids to play those games that tend to be on the rough side, and where conflict just may arise, no matter how annoying it may be.

Kids who are learning about the world either the days before they enter young adult hood or in their early elementary school age, search to find ceremonial ways of belonging, and the imagination wrapped around power, identification to the group, and experimentation have precedence and relevance. One way kids, especially boys begin to process and relate tot the complexities of the world is through inventing imaginary conflicting characters and sources of weaponry to act out engaging scenarios.

Lend an ear in the schoolyard around the pre-k and kindergarten age group and you’re sure to get an earshot of “good guys versus bad guys ” or “our team versus your team.” This language is important to growth, as they learn to perceive power dynamics.

Despite the teachers pipe dream of harmonious and cooperate play the structure of the play in a free environment is defined by the minds of the young people doing the playing, and sometimes play can be conflicting.

All human beings have seeds of violence and love inside them, but playing cops and robbers or war in the play yard gives reason for adults to be seriously alarmed? One particular boy in my classroom has a quick trigger figure, like a nervous tick in the spontaneity of the game. And when he tends to be angry or frustrated his hand points in rapid fire, as if it is a gun. Many who do not know him would be quick to judge and label him as aggressive or violence. (Actually within a few months this trigger-happy behavior weaned and must of those unsettling, socially nervous issues of distraught, along with sometimes disruptiveness of others playing, has stopped, mostly because of the pressures and complaint coming from his peers.) But, I find him and the mostly boys I have encountered who thrive for a game of using pretend weapons, as vulnerable, sensitive, sometimes insecure, and generally sensitive to emotions and others. When adults spend too much time labeling or branding the behavior then often times the individual continues to be stymied within a role of the “agitator.” This is self-deprecating label, much like the popular label of “bullying” that it is so prominently misused in our media. Names, labels, casting judgment or any other intrusive labels cause much more harm, and stiffens the natural growth of children. It is respectful to watch our tongue around kids, being careful not to slap a label on their play. For example, over hearing another teacher visiting our school (with years under her belt in early childhood) “Joseph you are being aggressive and mean towards others…you need to stop being a bully.” This is where we can show more tolerance, patience and sheer mutual respect can come into play. Take the time out to listen and connect to this play, to discover why a kid may be choosing this form of play, while being careful not to analyze or place adult anxieties on the play they may be indulging in.

Developmentally four and five years olds are at the epic age of exploring competitive play, of defining their personal limits – testing the waters, — squabbling with others, and learning how to work it out. These competitive games where groups team-up, boys versus girls or girls versus boys, and the mantra of “winning,” some how emerges despite your wishes that it would subside, kids thrive on setting structure within their play, as they learn about commonalities and differences. These games also exist because socially and emotionally they’re at the appropriate age to go through these struggles, especially in autonomous school environments where relationships can fully blossom.

Sometimes as early childhood educators, requests for kids to conceal or stop the brandishing of their imaginative weapon fall short, as they return in blank stares, as if awoken from a bad dream. After all these games can be an educators nightmare if we do not take the appropriate time out to rethink, reflect, and relate to the challenging behavior around weaponry play.

Preschool Punks. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint/publish, please leave a comment.

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Super Heroism and War Play In The Preschool

Does Super Heroism and War Play Have A Place In The Preschool Classroom?

Parents and educators often show concern about superhero and war play. More recently there has been a greater concern for “violent activity” after the events of 9/11 and the war in the Middle East. Television, movies, video games, and comic books are constantly saturated with the depiction of violence, and children are at our front lines – looking and listening.

However, war play and “super heroism” play have always existed well before the advent of television, comic books, video games, as nations are commonly found on the premise of hostility, violence, destruction, and death. The “good versus evil” psychology is heavily indoctrinated into western society and is quite evident historically.

The American Revolution War, the Civil War, the World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and more recently the war against Iraq, constitutes our western pathological dependency on “power,” through violent means. Yes, the world of war is deeply entrenched in a militaristic and political landscape, and our children are being exposed.

Understanding super heroism and war play

Violence is often in the home, on television, and in our communities. According to Diane E. Levin, in Beyond Banning War and Superhero Play, (Meeting Children’s Needs in Violent Times) comments, “children who seem most obsessed with war play have been exposed to the most violence and have the greatest need to work it out.”

From both therapeutic and cognitive perspectives, children use play to work out an understanding of experience, including the violence to which they are exposed. Young children may see violence in their homes and communities as well as in entertainment and news on the screen. We should not be surprised when children are intent on bringing it to their play. Children’s play often focuses on the most salient and graphic, confusing or scary, and aggressive aspects of violence. It is this content they struggle to work out and understand.

Kids who are feeling powerlessness or insecure have a higher need to create power through play. And this is evident by a child’s real need of creating a superhero or princess character. A strong need for creating a superhero or princess persona, is a sign of the internal struggle occurring to control and understand, a rather complicated world.

And so the question arises: are humans innately violent? And young people take on these highly physical roles in their play? Alfie Kohn in Psychology Today (1988) states multiple references stating why war is not humanistic trait, but a product of politics:

We conclude that biology does not condemn humanity to war, and that humanity can be freed from the bondage of biological pessimism. Violence is neither in our evolutionary legacy nor in our genes. The same species [that] invented war is capable of inventing peace.

However, we need to be cautious of places that are exclusively labeled as non-violent or peaceful places because this sets the stage for standardizing and stereotyping behavior. For example a liberal parent may propose maintaining a “peace house,” where “aggressive” behavior is not allowed. Restricting the natural emotions instincts, especially among boys to engage in physical play and free expressionism, only suppresses a human need to explore. In other words the need for some to have physical dramatic super heroism or war play will be robbed of this freedom of expression and of greater understanding of finding self empowerment. A “peace house” is also an illusionary approach to child rearing in a society where dissent and resistance is fundamental need for democracy. Instead the home or school need to be places where young people can have honest and authentic reactions to conflict, unfettered at times by adult expectations in behavior. Youth who are more apt to use super hero or war play, should never be punished – this only perpetuates a cycle for rage, resentment, and confusion.

There are many schools that have a zero tolerance for playing guns at school. Penny Holland from the University of North London focused her research on a book titled: We Don’t Play with Guns Here: War, Weapon and Superhero Play in the Early Years (2003.) Holland discovered that a zero tolerance on toy weapons is “ineffective” enforces further gender demarcation, and results in boys “receiving negative attention.”

In her conclusion Holland has found that adults need to:

“Model the use of power in our relationships with children . . . and must use it wisely” especially at a junction in history where the world is witnessing “an unending spiral of resistance and revenge” as a result of terrorist events unleashed by the events of September 11th.

Adults need to rethink their want to interrupt or deter fantasy and play if it is physical in nature. There are countless times when working at a preschool that I have heard the words “kill” and “gun.” Yes most schools don’t endorse weaponry at school but educators need to use their wise discretion about what is appropriate developmentally and what would be considered threatening. There is a difference between a four year old sticking tinker toy in someone else’s face and saying, “I’m going to kill you,” then a child who has built a tinker toy gun and is firing it imaginatively across the room. The concern with the tinker stick in front of their peers face is that it may intimidate or disrupt the other person’s play. I am not advocating for superhero or war play that completely disrupts another person’s play. However, some youth this age won’t hesitate to tell you: “oh…I’m just pretending.” And this is a sincere response, as young people often are absorbed in a world of fantasy and mean while are measuring up to the complexities of life, especially around exploring subjects such as mortality. “Heroism” and war play is their vehicle to finding ways of indentifying individually and socially, to their natural environment.

When is super heroism and war play acceptable in the classroom?

I would argue that it is developmentally appropriate for young people to engage in super heroism and war play. Physical play is acceptable as long as no one is being seriously threatened or hurt, and those involved have each other’s consent. Our rule of thumb at a independent school I teach at is: as long as the play does not disturb other peoples play or provide a unsafe environment, then there is a place for it. The kids in our class came up with the rules: no hitting, punching, or hurting each other. It certainly does not mean that rules are not broken or stretched dependent on individual needs. Normally, if I observe super heroism or war play, I’ll ask them if they all are “o.k.” or if they “feel safe” with this sort of play. And if someone is not “o.k.” with, it then we request that they ask the other person to Stop or find another activity.

If a conflict arises out of super heroism or war play into full on physical contact, it commonly does not last longer then it took for the short-lived tension to develop. Often a sticky conflict among playmates amounts to laughter and smiles. Preschool age kids are resilient when it comes to conflict and seldom hold grudges or animosity for long; love takes care of the rest.

Punishment for violent play is not the answer?

Understandable, teachers and parents become concerned when fists and feet our flailing and young people are upset. The number one goal is to provide a safe playful environment for learning. But, the reality of fantasy in play often contributes to some unpleasant and often annoying instances of tension. The worst we can do as teachers to inflict punitive measures during these times and set unrealistic limitations. Punishment of play, only breeds dishonesty, while they wait for the teacher to turn their back.

Working with three, four, and five year olds, the “good versus bad” interaction is constant. War like play is not going away, it is a natural course of childhood development. It does not need to be warmly embraced, but rather an accepted as an exploratory part of the growth of a child.

As educators may we create places understanding of our young “superheroes,” with more attention on the internal needs then what is occurring on the surface. As there is much more going on then meets the eye.

Preschool Punks. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint/publish, please leave a comment.


Spider-Man Finally Exposes Himself

Finally Marvel the famous comic strip over fifty year old takes a bold new move – taking off his mask to face a brave new world. No longer is the comic strip industry boasting omnipotent characters, with out a name and face. Today’s spider-man has a face with a full set of hair and a interest in civil rights. Read more here:

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