Wednesday, November 13, 2013

". . . But He Doesn't At School"

Yesterday, Mason arrived at school with a Lego Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtle. He had brought it for show and tell, saying, "At home Donatello has a weapon, but he doesn't at school."

Later, at the art table, he worked quite hard gluing together wine corks and craft sticks. When he was done he showed me his work, "At home it's a bow and arrow. At school it's a water bow and arrow."

And yet later, as he stood in front of his classmates describing one of his crayon drawings, he said, "And this is the pocket where he keeps his sword . . . at home. At school he uses it to keep his water sword."

After more than a decade of the children, on their own initiative, choosing to ban pretend weapons in our 3-5's class, this year's group has so far stopped short, banning only real weapons and the act of "pointing pretend weapons at other people." But last year, the class did enact a ban, and Mason was in that class, which is what he was navigating yesterday: his memory of the ban.

The truth is that we've had very little weapons play in the class this year, which might be why no one has found a need for further rules on the matter, but weapons are clearly on at least one boy's mind to the point that he is driven to explore them through his imaginary and artistic play. He's also obviously a guy who likes to abide by the agreements he's made (or thinks he's made) with his friends. It's wonderful, I think, how he's found a place for himself that satisfies these apparently opposing desires.

In our 5's class, where the weapons play more often takes the classic form of a full body, vaguely threatening exploration with sticks and shovels and whatnot being swung around in ways that look dangerous to adults, I've found that it's often possible, when it gets too intense, to let the air out of it by re-directing the play, saying something like, "Hey, we're making light sabers at the workbench," or "I'm going to paint a cannon at the art table." Even if neither of these statements are technically true in the moment I speak them, they will be the moment we arrive on the scene: after all, everyone knows that anything can be made into a "weapon" and often we do, cobbling together our arsenal from odds and ends, paint and glue, usually talking our way through our processes aloud.

I remain uncomfortable with weapons play. I wish it didn't happen, but it does. I suppose what occurs in preschools right around the world, whether pushed underground by strictly enforced rules, allowed to flourish out in the open, or existing in the kind of fluid gray area we have at Woodland Park, is just a reflection of the complicated relationship our war and peace loving societies have with them. This is something children, at least our boys, need to work out, and they will work it out one way or another, even if Donatello is forced to leave his weapons at home.

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Sue VanHattum said...

In my son's free school, we decided that, if you wanted to (pretend) shoot someone, you had to ask first.

I loved it.

Jen Murphy said...

So true! They do NEED to work through it. This has always been my view that if they can not work through these things in a safe environment such as preschool then they will work though it later with the real thing or spending way too much time in front of a tv or computer screen playing video games with guns. So in our classroom (3 year olds) we have the children make the rules about it. They've decided that they have to ask first to see if it's an ok time in the classroom (because they can get pretty rowdy with the guns) then they have chosen not to shoot at each other but to shoot out the windows. Of course we live in Texas where most shooting they see has to do with hunting so they are usually shooting deer or bad guys. But what an opportunity to show self control and cooperation by navigating through these big subjects!

Diane Streicher @ Diane Again said...

Most boys, even at very tender ages, instinctively begin to experiment with weapons play. We all know that. Our culture assumes that this fascination stems from our aggressive, militaristic, violent world, and that it is a bad thing. But what if this fascination represents not a culture-driven desire to lash out but an instinctive need to protect? I've found that oftentimes, weapons-crazy boys can be subtly redirected into playing through scenarios that cast them as noble protectors, and find it immensely satisfying.

Unknown said...

I love this thoughtful, honest post. I love that you honestly express your discomfort with weapons play, but that you respect the kids enough to honor their ideas and needs as well.

Sue VanHattum said...

My son did not play with weapons when he was little. (Now he does, and it's clear his fascination came through a friend.) He was into cars and trucks, not weapons.

But I love your thought about bringing out a positive aspect of that urge.

-Lo said...

I love reading all of your stories. I wish more human beings had a brain such as yours.

(Pre-K teacher)