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Archives, Childhood, Education, Natural Toys, Outdoor Play, Parenting, Play, Sunday With Sarah, Toy Safety, Waldorf Education, Wooden Toys

Children and Weapon Play: Should Parents Be Concerned?

Parents often become concerned when their child learns about guns for the first time and starts playing shooting games.

In this week’s “Sunday with Sarah,” video, I address the topic of kids and weapon play: why children (particularly boys) pretend to play with guns, ways it can be addressed, and how to meet a child’s need for weapon play in a less threatening way.

Click the image above to view.

As always, please leave your comments and questions below, and I may answer your question in a future video!

Have a week full of safe and healthy play!

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PRODUCTS FEATURED IN THIS VIDEO:

P.S. If you’re enjoying these videos, be sure to visit the Sunday with Sarah YouTube Channel and click SUBSCRIBE!

CORRECTION: I’m afraid that there is some outdated information in this video. In it, I mention a surge in testosterone that occurs in boys at around the age of four, however recent research has questioned this previously accepted theory. For more information, see this recent article on the subject: Do Boys Really Have a Testosterone Spurt at Age Four?. Whether or not it is caused by a surge in testosterone, what is clear is that at around the age of four, it is not uncommon for preschool boys to start becoming interested in more active, physical play.

VIDEO SYNOPSIS:

Healthy kids are often drawn toward violent gunplay. Guns are fascinating for young boys and, considering the massive amount of media dedicated to the weapons, it’s no surprise that kids emulate the violence they observe in their own play.

As the parent of two grown boys, I completely sympathize with parents who are concerned when their children develop this fascination. It can be concerning when your kids are pretending to shoot imaginary (or real) enemies. Does this mean they’ll grow up to be violent? Should we allow our children to indulge in such play?

Over my 20+ years as a Waldorf early childhood teacher, I can first and foremost assure you that this kind of play is completely normal. All boys participate in it to varying degrees and, unless your child has taken the additional step of actually committing physical violence toward others, you can rest assured that you’re simply witnessing normal behavior.

So why are kids, boys especially, so drawn to guns? It’s a complicated question with no easy answer, but one reason I would suggest is that guns give children a feeling of control. Kids are rarely in control of anything; their parents, teachers and older siblings all exert authority over them. Pretending to fire a gun satisfies a child’s urge to be in control of something.

While I would strongly discourage providing toy guns for children, I would also caution parents against trying to completely eliminate gun play. The most compelling reason for this is that it’s nearly impossible! Children’s imaginations are simply too strong to combat: a stick, a wooden spoon, even a finger can become a make-believe firearm.

Ground rules regarding gun play should be enforced, however. In my classroom, the rules were that children could pretend to fire guns but they must do so outside and they must never point it at another person. Trees, rocks, imaginary foes and other non-living targets were fine. Not only did this keep gun play from becoming too menacing, threatening or non-inclusive, it actually followed some of the basic safety precautions of real firearm handling.

All this being said, there is one way of discouraging gun play: by providing the alternative of sword play.

Sword play might seem, at a glance, to be no different from gun play. They’re both lethal weapons, right? While that’s true, there are some important differences in the way children play with them and I’ve found that sword play is much more productive.
The single biggest difference between guns and swords are the stories they evoke. When children engage in imaginative play, they’re really telling stories. As all storytellers do, they borrow from the stories they’ve already heard.

So when a child plays with a gun, they’re going to imitate the gun-related stories they’ve heard or seen before. Flip through the TV channels or watch an action movie and it becomes quite clear that guns are most often (not always, of course) associated with stories involving massive amount of indiscriminate violence.

Swords, on the other hand, are more likely to be portrayed within the context of chivalry and honor, in stories about knights, dragons and castles. While there’s no denying that these weapons could be just as deadly and used just as indiscriminately as a gun, the simple fact is that the stories we pass on about them are much more gentle and focus on good triumphing over evil. And that’s the kind of play they inspire!

Swords can still be hurtful and dangerous, so it’s equally important to treat them with respect. In my classroom, children could only play with toy swords after completing a knighting ceremony. They would wear a rainbow cape and a crown and sit on a special branch. Then I would recite and they would answer:

MISS SARAH: John Andrew Young, have you been good?

CHILD: Oh, yes.

MISS SARAH: Have you been true?

CHILD: Oh, yes.

MISS SARAH: Have you heard the stars singing in the sky?

CHILD: Oh, yes.

MISS SARAH: Here is your sword. Use it for right, to carry the light, not for some silly quarrel or fight.

At this point I would tap the child with the sword on each shoulder before handing it to them. This ceremony really helped the children understand that wielding a sword was a privilege and responsibility.

While I did allow children to mock sword fight, I strictly enforced the rule that sword blades could never be used against another person. The swords could hit each other, but not a human.

I hope this helps. Leave your comments and questions, and I’ll see you next time!

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Archives, Handmade Toy Alliance, Handmade Toys, Natural Toys, Toy Safety, Waldorf Toys, Wooden Toys

In Praise of Handmade

One year ago, I was ready to take a break from teaching. I felt a need to spend more time at home with my family (ever hear the expression “Waldorphans?” Those are the children of Waldorf teachers), and I was yearning for a way to put my knowledge and experience to work in a new way. I made the bold decision to resign from my position as a Waldorf early childhood teacher, not knowing what would come next.

It seems that no sooner had I made the decision than I learned that Bella Luna Toys was for sale. I had long been aware of Bella Luna Toys as a wonderful online resource for wooden, natural and handmade toys, inspired by Waldorf education. The idea of working from home, selling the kinds of toys I loved and believed in would be an ideal situation for me. I was excited by the possibilities of using the website, not only to sell beautiful and unique toys that would inspire creative play, but also to share my experience and knowledge.

Then I got cold feet. I learned about the recently passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which in its noble mission to prevent dangerous toys from being imported into the US, was written in such a limiting and restrictive way that it threatened to put many small toymakers in the U.S., Canada and Europe out of business. Since most of the suppliers of the toys sold by Bella Luna Toys are made by indvidual woodworkers, crafters and small businesses, I worried about whether I would be able to sell the kinds of toys I wanted to. I nearly abandoned my dream of becoming the new owner of Bella Luna Toys.

Before I raised the white flag, someone suggested I call Dan Marshall, founder of the Handmade Toy Alliance and owner of Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care in St. Paul, Minnesota. I called the store and Dan picked up the phone. He spoke to me for a long time. I learned about the important work that the HTA is doing to amend the language of the current laws in order to allow small batch manufacturers of handmade toys to continue producing the heirloom, natural and handcrafted toys that we all believe in and love. Dan probably doesn’t remember our conversation, but he convinced me that this is a great business to be in, in spite of the challenges. Knowing that there were such committed, caring business owners like Dan and the other board members of the Handmade Toy Alliance gave me the courage to follow my heart and take a chance with Bella Luna Toys.

Dan Marshall, Handmade Toy Alliance

Dan Marshall, Founder, Handmade Toy Alliance

The week of June 21 is the first annual Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA) Blog Week and I am happy to be participating. Here is some further information on the history and mission of the HTA from their Website:

In 2007, large toy manufacturers who outsource their production to China and other developing countries violated the public’s trust. They were selling toys with dangerously high lead content, toys with unsafe small parts, toys with improperly secured and easily swallowed small magnets, and toys made from chemicals that made kids sick. Almost every problem toy in 2007 was made in China.

The United States Congress rightly recognized that the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) lacked the authority and staffing to prevent dangerous toys from being imported into the US. So, they passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August, 2008. Among other things, the CPSIA bans lead and phthalates in toys, mandates third-party testing and certification for all toys and requires toy makers to permanently label each toy with a date and batch number. All of these changes will be fairly easy for large, multinational toy manufacturers to comply with. Large manufacturers who make thousands of units of each toy have very little incremental cost to pay for testing and updating their molds to include batch labels.

For small American, Canadian, and European toy makers, however, the costs of mandatory testing, to the tune of up to $4,000 per toy, will likely drive them out of business. And the handful of larger toy makers who still employ workers in the United States face increased costs to comply with the CPSIA, even though American-made toys had nothing to do with the toy safety problems of 2007. Toy makers won’t be the only ones impacted by the CPSIA, the thousands of US businesses who offer clothing, jewelry and other gifts for children –in essence– the entire children’s industry will be as well.

The authors of the CPSIA simply forgot to exclude the class of toys that have earned and kept the public’s trust. The result, unless the law is modified, is that handmade and small batch children’s products will no longer be legal in the US. The Handmade Toy Alliance represents these toy makers, manufacturers, importers and retailers. We actively lobby the House of Representatives and the Senate for CPSIA reform and also serve as a collective voice to the CPSC. Thriving small businesses are crucial to the financial health of our nation. Let’s amend the CPSIA so that all businesses large and small are able to comply and survive!

Handmade Toy Alliance

Bella Luna Toys is proud to be a business member of the Handmade Toy Alliance. Please become a fan of the HTA on Facebook, and visit their website at http://www.handmadetoyalliance.org to learn how you can support their work to keep handmade toys legal in the U.S.

Do you love handmade toys? Leave a comment here professing your love! Do you have a blog? Then please join me in spreading awareness of the Handmade Toy Alliance and add a post to support HTA’s first annual Blog Week!

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Sarah's Silks, Toy Safety, Waldorf Education, Waldorf Toys

Interview with Sarah Lee of Sarah’s Silks

Because the play silks and line of products from Sarah’s Silks are bestsellers at Bella Luna Toys, and being that my name happens to be Sarah, I am often asked if I dye the silks and make the line. The answer is no! That honor belongs to Sarah Lee, who founded her delightful company 16 years ago in Forestville, California.

Today, I am very pleased to introduce you to Sarah Lee, the founder and owner of  Sarah’s Silks. Sarah’s company is truly a pleasure to do business with and I am very proud to carry their entire line. Not only are their playthings beautiful to behold, but they also embody the qualities that I am committed to providing at Bella Luna Toys—toys that are nourishing to the senses and that engage the imagination. (Oh, and did I mention how incredibly nice Sarah and all her employees are?)

I got to know Sarah shortly after taking ownership of Bella Luna Toys last fall. I discovered a kindred spirit in Sarah. Not only did we share the same first name, but I also learned that she grew up just up the road apiece from me in coastal Maine. I thought it would be fun to interview her so that you could get to know her a little better, too. If you’re not familiar with Sarah’s Silks, when you’re done reading the interview, head on over to Bella Luna Toys, and take a look at the play silkstoys and dress ups from Sarah’s Silks. (Though sadly, photos on a website just cannot covey the rich, shimmering colors, and the wonderful tactile experience of silk!)

When did you start Sarah’s Silks and can you tell us how your company came to be?

I started Sarah’s Silks 16 years ago, shortly after my middle son Noah was born.  I wanted to stay at home and nurse him, yet still be able to pay for my four-year-old to attend a Waldorf kindergarten.  Our local school, Summerfield in Santa Rosa, California, had a lovely teacher, Ellyn, who had play cloths in her classroom. I saw the creative play and use of the cloths and thought it would be wonderful to have some at home, too. I bought some silk scarves and dyed them with the help of my neighbor and our four-year-olds, while wearing Noah in a sling.

Friends started asking for some and soon I was selling them to the local Waldorf toy store. Then my four-year-old son, Josh (now 20 and an artist), wanted capes and tunics to dress-up in, so I expanded to dress-ups too. I made the first silk blanket for Noah. He loved the silky feeling, and I found silk wonderfully warm.

Voila! Sarah’s Silks was born.

Last February, I attended the NY Toy Fair where I saw many cute dress-ups for children, but noticed they were all made from polyester or other synthetic fabrics. Why silk?

Silk for no itch!  Many children are sensitive to synthetics; they may like the look of dress-ups but wear them only briefly, as they don’t feel good. Silk is also a renewable resource, encouraging Mulberry Tree farmers to plant trees in China. Furthermore, silk takes dye beautifully and flows well.

Where are Sarah’s Silks products dyed and made? Can you describe the process?

In the beginning all of our silk was dyed here in our home.  We still dye some items here, like most of the play silks.

However, cost became an issue and so my husband Mike went to China and worked closely with a man named Yue Fung, who has a degree from a Silk College!  He works with people in a small village who hand sew and dye much of our silks.  The rainbows are painted with a paintbrush.  Mike has visited the village, seen the women sewing in their homes, and carefully monitors the dyes for safety. We use non-toxic acid dyes, which are called acid because they use vinegar as the solvent.  It is much like dyeing Easter eggs!

toys boys girls maine wood

There has been much concern lately about toy safety and worries about toys made in China. How can customers know that Sarah’s Silks products are safe and non-toxic?

We employ small village workers who are closely monitored.  Also, all of our products have been safety tested to the highest European standards and the new U.S. CPSC standards by independent test labs.

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