This is a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As a Kindergarten educator that fully embraces and believes in the value of play-based learning and the emergent curriculum, I want to listen to and build upon student interests. My teaching partner, Paula, and I spend a lot of time discussing our kids. We’re constantly noting our observations and trying to determine next steps together. We realize that students are at different development levels, and they need various degrees of support to get to that next stage. What happens though when their interests include violence?
Our kids spend a lot of time outside, and stick play is often a part of this outside time. Thankfully, this year, the biggest interest in sticks actually revolves around letters …
but at some point, a child looks to a stick as a weapon. Thankfully the interest is actually not in physically touching the person with the stick, but it’s held in such a way as to signify a gun, knife, or sword. And if it’s not a stick being used in this way, it’s a wood chip, a piece of wood, or sometimes even just their hands.
The discussion then builds around bad guys, robbers, and jail, and the play becomes physical. Yes, it’s often boys that interact in this way, but sometimes girls are also involved. Some may say that “boys play differently,” or that “school is not always receptive to boys and their needs.” I’ve heard these arguments before, and contemplated them. Paula and I have discussed this topic a lot, and tried to figure out if there’s ever a point in which more hands-on play is okay. To us, there’s a difference between the physical contact that might happen in a soccer game versus the weapons, fighting, kicking, hitting, and punching that happen through this more aggressive imaginative play. We know that many of these same students are interested in Autobots, transformers, Power Rangers, and super heroes, and there are physical components to all of these interests.
As much as I want to follow the child’s lead, I’m not sure that I’m comfortable in following it if that lead involves violence. In real life …
- weapons hurt and kill.
- violence is far too prevalent in our society.
- “bad guys” — of any variety — are not people to put on pedestals.
In a young child’s world, where the line between real and imaginary is often quite fine, I want all our children to see the value in love versus hate. It makes my heart happy to see the number of our boys and girls — from last year and this year — that find different ways and reasons to share a hug with each other.
They wanted me to take a photograph of their hug! I do love a little "love" at school. #iteachk #teachersofinstagr… https://t.co/e7VuIeIbnP pic.twitter.com/IjtQ7nw1Lr
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) September 6, 2017
As Wyatt noted, "the hug got bigger. Now there are four." #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry https://t.co/DRNVP8bsEz pic.twitter.com/cVWVBMkTAY
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) June 29, 2017
There’s something powerful and positive about this physical touch.
I’m not saying that every topic that we discuss needs to be sunshine and roses. We have many serious conversations, including these ones about the environment.
He told me he had some “very sad news.” Then shared this news about littering. We developed a possible plan together. pic.twitter.com/WJzNbSp3aF
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) November 27, 2017
We always encourage students to find ways to make a difference and have their voices heard. But violence is not a solution, and if we raise kids to understand that now, what long-term, positive impact might this have?
So there is a lot that we will allow. There are an infinite number of topics that we’re open to exploring together. But when it comes to weapons and violent play, we don’t discuss. We just say, “No.” What do you do? Are there times that you allow this kind of play, or are there ways that you interrupt this play to change its outcome? I want to try to see things from a child’s perspective, but I also want to create a safe and caring classroom and school environment. I don’t think that violence can be a part of this, even in a make-believe sense. What do you think?