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How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

  • 1.  How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

    Posted 04-15-2021 07:01 AM

    I am seeking opinions on how you deal with all objects being turned into a weapon with boys in the classroom.  I teach 3s, and regardless of what it is (legos, magnatiles, sticks, paper tubes)...a few of the boys turn them into guns/blasters/swords etc.  it disturbs me, but I'd like like a better way to communicate with them about it other than fruitlessly repeating "no weapons" in the classroom.  I think I feel especially sensitive to it this year with so much violence in the news, and don't want to project my feelings into the situation.  I understand this is often a natural component of play.  I'd love any articles or resources folks can suggest on how to embrace the positive aspects of this but minimize how they point their weapons at classmates and pretend to shoot (they build really creative weapons lol!).  

    Sue Ferguson
    Lead Teacher
    St. Paul Preschool
    Woodbridge, VA

    Susan Ferguson
    Manassas VA

  • 2.  RE: How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

    Posted 04-16-2021 07:14 AM
    Hi Susan!  Kudos to you for investigating best practice and your own attitudes around this topic.  I've studies and worked thru this topic and our staff made it a book study a few years ago.  We utilize our core safety beliefs around all play-making sure each individual feels safe.  "Do you like it?"  Teaching them what Lisa Murphy calls, "playface." And utilizing some conscious discipline tactics.  I have developed a training that I'll be holding online this June if you are interested in further discussion-it always comes up!

    Meredith Florkey
    Ohio Naturally
    Waynesville OH

  • 3.  RE: How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

    Posted 04-17-2021 10:57 AM
    Here's a story from a classroom of 3 year olds many years ago.  We had a no-weapon policy at our center.  I had to take a medical leave of several weeks.  The teacher who subbed for me was my student intern.  The day I returned I saw several children (not only boys) sitting under one of our large tables.  I asked the intern what was happening.  She told me that they had been making swords and other weapons out of paper and having play fights.  She made them stop.  They started going under the table and doing it quietly there--literally taking the play underground.  That's when I turned to Diane Levin and Nancy Carlsson-Paige's book, The War Play Dilemma.  

    The children and I had some discussions about rules and came up with some.  1. only children could make weapons--adults couldn't make them for children.  If you need help, ask another child to help you.  2. No real hurting, only pretend.  3. Only use your weapon with or on other children who are playing the game.   These rules highlighted the children's own processing, the nature of pretend, and the all-important issue of consent.  I highly recommend the book.  It was foundational to my understanding and is still extremely relevant.

    Aren Stone
    Child Development Specialist
    The Early Years Project
    Cambridge, MA

  • 4.  RE: How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

    Posted 04-16-2021 09:25 AM

    What a great question! I have learned that while families often believe they are screening what their child, or children, watch, a large portion of shows and games that children are exposed to are commonly designed for older viewers. Books and toys based on action figures as well as play weapons flood the market for young children to read and play with. And with a still-developing ability to understand, young children face conflicting, even bewildering, messages about violence. On television, they view both Sesame Street and Transformers. At home, they receive contradictory messages from adults: "don't hit, " play nice," "stand up for yourself," "fight back." I'm sure it's hard for them, and we can monitor weapons play in their learning environments too.

    However, I will say that some studies (like this one) are showing the positive side of this. I'm going to be upfront with you, with what I've learned from grad school and Gartrell's Guidance Approach, I don't agree with it. In the past, I have tried to move from "superhero play" to "imaginative play" where young learners could pretend to be first responders or firefighters. Too, I would look at the other outlets the learners have in their environment; I once had a director remove a climber that a family donated to the school because she thought it was unsafe. While it may have been coincidental, as soon as we brought it back, with mats underneath, the weapons play subsided. Too, I would let learners know in a quick meeting the guidelines we had for playtime. For example, I would say, "I love that you are being creative with our toys, and sometimes that scares others. I want this to be a safe place for everyone because everyone in this class is important."  (In the area I was teaching in, there was a lot of gun violence and many were exposed who lived in the surrounding area.) I would also suggest reading this article by Diane Levin.

    I hope this helps!

    Meghan Kay
    Westerville OH

  • 5.  RE: How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

    Posted 04-16-2021 09:29 AM
    Hello, again!

    The NAEYC also published this article that may help as well.

    Meghan Kay
    Westerville OH

  • 6.  RE: How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

    Posted 04-16-2021 09:43 AM
    I found this to be helpful: I believe if teachers have conversations about the differences between violent and peaceful solutions, and guide pretend gun play by encouraging children to use alternative solutions, the children will reduce the display of antisocial behaviors and learn to practice peaceful, compassionate ways to solve problems during unstructured play times.

    Candie Weyrauch
    Teacher Education Faculty
    Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College
    New Town ND

  • 7.  RE: How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

    Posted 04-16-2021 10:48 AM
    I would simply redirect. Give the boys acceptable options that they could use the toys for instead. The center I work for didn't allow us to use the word No. Instead of saying no weapons repeatedly. Try can we use those maganatiles for building please? Or ask what can we do with these paper towel tubes? Give some suggestions and model appropriate play. I.e. put cars through the tubes or paint them and use them to drop coordinating colored pom poms through them. Sit with the children and say things like legos are for building or counting can you help me build a tower? When the children are playing with the toys appropriately praise them dramatically. Saying stuff like I love the way you are using the toys today in a very excited and happy tone. Reward positive play don't acknowledge the weapons play. I hope this makes sense. If you have any questions please feel free to ask.

    michelle gaffney
    Plano IL

  • 8.  RE: How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

    Posted 04-16-2021 11:00 AM
    Hello Susan,
    Most 3-year-olds have little personal experience with guns. Their imaginary play with guns and blasters is usually based on media exposure. For me personally, if it is a singular preoccupation, the child has excessive exposure to that type of media and I would, without judgement, bring up the issue with parents. We would work to develop strategies to encourage children to explore imaginative play in other areas. In the classroom, I tell children that gun and blaster play is not for school. They lose access to the toy for the remainder of the day if they use it in that way. Some teachers have had success allowing some sort sword play or imaginary archery, but not gun/blaster play. If you decided to go this way, learning the principles and terminology of fencing could divert some of the attention to the skill of fencing.

    Jeanne deMarrais
    The Mulberry Tree
    Santa Monica CA

  • 9.  RE: How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

    Posted 04-16-2021 11:59 AM
    This topic came up a few years ago on this forum, here was my response with some added.

    Before going to Early Head Start, I taught in a Head Start classroom for about 5 years.  Being from Alaska, most families have guns in their home and children see and know what they are.  The way we handled this dramatic play scenario, when it would arise, (children naturally want to act out scenarios they see to try and make sense of them), we would talk to the children about gun safety.  What I mean when I say "gun safety" is: You may point your "gun" at trees, (or other non-human targets) and pretend you are hunting.  We also talk about the fact that although it is ok to pretend to hunt (using hands or a stick), it is not safe to pick up a real gun at home or anywhere, that is for adults only.  We also go in to the whole discussion of hunting and if we do shoot an animal, we need to then harvest it and eat it.  If we are not going to eat it, we do not shoot it.

    There are so many learning opportunities for children around guns/hunting that I think we would be doing our children a disservice by always shutting down this type of play.  We know as educators that children learn through play, what better way to allow children to discover that guns are not "bad" or "scary" but that they serve a purpose and there are safe and correct ways to use them, especially when they see them in their own homes.

    Another direction is this idea of protection.  Some would disagree, but I think boys (men) are wired to protect.  That is where I think this "super hero" play has emerged from.  Of course girls can and do join in with this type of play, but most of the time we see boys engaging in it.  I think when we shut down play, there is an element of shame present.  I agree with making sure everyone involved in the play scenario feels safe, but I think shutting it completely down without respectful dialogue is damaging.  That child might then think something is wrong with them for wanting to engage in this sort of play.

    The book Teaching to Thinking: A Pedagogy for Reimagining Our Work by Ann Pelo, and Margie Carter discuss reflecting on our own reactions to different types of imaginative play and where to go from there.  It is such a great book and very reflective.  You can find it on Kindle or Red Leaf Press.

    Kari Pralle
    Kenaitze Indian Tribe
    Kenai AK

  • 10.  RE: How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

    Posted 04-16-2021 12:00 PM
    In general, when something going on with the kids makes me uncomfortable, I try and ask myself what about it makes me uncomfortable.  It sounds like you are doing that.  Is it a legitimate safety issue? Is there a body of evidence detailing the long term negative effects?  Or is it more a personal reaction....a fear reaction...a judgement reaction?

    Specifically to items being imagined as weapons, I think we need to remember, that they aren't any more a weapon than a pan of sand is a cupcake, or two leaves being held together is a butterfly.  They are a prop being used in an imaginary framework.  They have no more potential to harm another student than any other prop being used in aggressive and unwelcome ways.  So, I handle unwelcome gun play the same way I handle any other type of unwelcome play.  Do you have consent to play? Is it making others uncomfortable? Can you move your play somewhere else? Can those being made uncomfortable move somewhere else? Can they remember it's only a play gun and can't hurt them? Can we modify the play to welcome others? Is it almost snack time and that's why everyone is on edge?  Can we talk about it as a class and make sure everyone's voices are heard?

    I keep some nerf guns and suction cup bow and arrows in my class (up high, only I get them down) so that we can all take part in some target shooting from time to time.  There are some great lessons to be learned about trajectories with target shooting and a lot of motor coordination skills are involved.  It also involves turn taking (patience) and we make targets together.

    Scott Mitchell
    Silver Spring Nursery School

  • 11.  RE: How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

    Posted 04-16-2021 06:34 PM
    Hello Everyone, I am responding to children making everything into weapons. For us, it was simple in the beginning, we were a No Weapons Campus. Even the Police did not have weapons, so I could "blame it on the Campus." When they armed our Police, we had to decide as a Center, what we stood for. We decided to tell the children that weapons are for hurting others, and we are a safe place for everyone and animals. We ask the children to think of something else to build/make. If we are not able to re-educate about weapons, we change the language to "fire-arms" and Archery, that are shot at targets. The children LOVE to make their own targets that they can attach to a tree or to the fence. The "aim" is taken at the target, NEVER a person or animal, or they lose their shooting privileges.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Donna Simon
    ECPS 3
    Assistant Director
    Campus Children's Center
    The Evergreen State College
    Olympia, Washington

    Donna Simon
    Olympia WA

  • 12.  RE: How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

    Posted 04-17-2021 11:43 AM
    Susan and others, You might check out Diane Levin's book on raising children in violent times, at also has an abundance of other resources on similar topics.  If you're interested in continuing to gather information and advice about nonviolence and children, you might consider joining NAEYC's Peace Educators Interest Forum, which you can do from your member account.

    John Surr
    Peace Educators Interest Forum
    Charlottesvle VA

  • 13.  RE: How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

    Posted 05-01-2021 10:35 AM
    Thanks everyone for the great resources.   I plan to spend some of my summer off digging deeper into this.  For the short term, we have been moving toward making sure any pointing/play has the consent of all involved parties...and one child claimed to be my protector :).  I myself did not grow up exposed to guns in any form...very minimal shot gun/ hunting exposure.  It all makes me uncomfortable, but I also try to have a permissive classroom and you all gave some great ideas.

    Susan Ferguson
    Manassas VA

  • 14.  RE: How to respond When boys maKe every thing Into a weapon?

    Posted 05-12-2021 04:48 PM
    I remember watching the video of the Reggio Amelia school in Italy.  The boys were allowed to play with toy swords and they ran and jumped and the teachers were not around their play and all of the children played without getting hurt.  Here's the video.

    Melanie Smith
    The Preschool Doctor