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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CORRECTION: I’m afraid that there is some outdated information in this video.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, Family, Natural Toys, Play, Waldorf Toys, Wooden Toys

Indoor Play: Ideas for Keeping Kids Active and Screen-Free During Winter

Now that the holidays are behind us, in many parts of the country long winter months still loom ahead with bitterly cold days when kids are home from school,  spending less time playing outside.

On such days, it can be difficult to keep their children away from the TV or off electronic devices, which can lead kids to be inactive and unstimulated for long periods of time.

To minimize the stress that can ensue from unplanned “snow days” or days when it’s too cold to play outside, here are a few ideas for keeping children screen-free and active indoors:

1. Keep a variety of board games that appeal to different age groups: not too advanced for younger players, yet challenging enough for older children. Play a different game each day to prevent boredom.

2. Encourage children to build a fort or tent using furniture and playsilks or cotton play cloths. Children love creating their own cozy play spaces, in which to read or play with dolls and stuffed animals.

3. Encourage dress-up play by providing a basket of dress-ups and costumes and invite children put on a play for you and an audience, even if the audience consists of their stuffed animals!

4. Traditional games like hide-and-seek can be played indoors; or hide a little gnome or fairy doll and have children try to find it.

5. Keep children engaged by introducing a new craft kit such as knitting (e.g. Quick-to-Knit Scarf Kit), origami, or baking a new cookie recipe.

6. Keep a box of art supplies that only comes out on special days. Your box could include a variety of different kinds of paper for making collages, glue sticks, glitter, crayons, watercolor paints, markers, and so on. Keeping the box neat and organized will encourage a child’s creativity!

7. Don’t keep all of a child’s toys out all the time. Most children have too many toys. Bringing out certain toys—like wooden building blocks or Lego bricks–only on rainy or snowy days make it a special occasion.

8. Here are some of my favorite toys that encourage indoor movement across different age groups:

Happy Winter Play!

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What are some of your family’s favorite indoor activities? Share your ideas by leaving a comment below!

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Archives, Childhood, Dress Up Play, Education, Halloween, Play

10 Benefits of Dress-Up Play for Children

Children throughout the ages have enjoyed dressing up in costumes and engaging in dramatic roleplaying. Whether your child is a dragon, a princess, or a fairy, your child’s brain is going into high gear when she puts on a costume!

And although it may appear to you as just play, when your child dons that cape, crown, or pirate’s eye-patch, his brain is developing in more ways than you can imagine. As early childhood educators know, play is the work of the child, and children benefit cognitively, physically, socially, and emotionally through dress-up play.

Here are 10 developmental benefits of dress up play for kids:

1. Brain Building

Dress-up engages your child’s brain and memory. Dramatic play requires kids to remember what they’ve seen or heard. They remember how their mother behaves when performing household chores when they are imitating her. Or they recall the details of a fairy tale they’ve heard before acting it out.

2. Vocabulary Building

Dress-up play builds vocabulary as a child decides what his or her character would say. It gives them a chance to expand their vocabularies with words and phrases that they might have heard in stories, but wouldn’t ordinarily use. Children may then begin to use these new words in conversations.

3. Problem-Solving

Who’s going to be the doctor? Who’s going to be the patient? Children must make decisions when they engage in dress-up play. They practice problem-solving problems when deciding on what costumes elements and props each character needs to act out a scenario.

4. Empathy

When a child is engaged in role-play, it helps her see the world through another’s eyes which increases empathy – whether pretending to be a parent nurturing a baby, a doctor taking care of an injured patient, or a firefighter putting out a fire. Dramatic play helps children understand the role that helpers play in in our lives.

5. Emotional Development

Children are constantly confronted with scary situations that they don’t understand – whether witnessing an accident in real life, or seeing violent images on TV. Children process their fears through play, which helps them make sense of the world, and overcome their feelings of helplessness.

By allowing children to act out their fears through dress-up and role playing, we are helping their emotional development.

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6. Motor Skills

Children develop fine motor skills by putting on dress-up clothes, whether buttoning a shirt, zipping up pants, or tying on a pirate’s bandana

They use their large motor skills when engaged in role-play, whether they are jumping like a superhero, running like a baseball player, or twirling like a ballerina.

7. Gender Exploration

When children choose costumes and characters to be, they are able to explore different gender identities and the behaviors of those characters.

While boys often want to be superheroes, firemen, or pirates, and girls often want to be fairies and princesses, it is normal and healthy for children to try on different gender roles as they learn about the world. A child should never be ridiculed for pretending to be a different gender.

8. Imitation

Children are naturally imitative creatures. They learn about the world by imitating the lives of the adults and others around them. Through dress-up and dramatic role-play, children explore the lives of other people by imitating their actions, feelings and words.

9. Socialization

Dress-up play encourages cooperation and taking turns. Children learn how to negotiate as they agree on stories and rules. They develop interest in others and learn how to give-and-take.

10. Imagination

Children’s imaginations are limitless, and have not yet been hardened and constrained by the “realities” of the world. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, believed that imaginative play in early childhood is the key to creative thinking during the adult years.

When children engage in dress-up play, their imaginations are given free reign. There is no limit to who, where, or what they can be.

Wishing the children in your life many hours of fun dress-up play!

Warmly,

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Here’s a list of recommended items to include in your child’s dress-up basket:

  • Play Silks can become capes, veils, a pirate’s head band, a belt, or a baby blanket.
  • An elastic waist Fairy Skirt can become a fancy dress or a veil when worn on the head.
  • Our knight’s Sword Holder Belt can hold a wooden toy sword or a tool like a hammer.
  • Sunglasses, long gloves, strands of beads, and headbands add glamour.
  • Hats of all kinds– a cowboy hat, a fedora, a Robin Hood hat, a tall cone-shaped princess hat.
  • A chef’s hat and child-sized apron.
  • A doctor’s scrubs, and face mask.
  • And don’t forget to add your child’s Halloween costumes to the basket when the holiday has past!

What items are in your child’s dress-up collection? Please add your suggestions in the comments below!

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