Weapon play and fighting games – allowed or forbidden – that is a controversial question. It doesn’t have and easy answer. I don’t encourage the use weapons and I don’t have toy guns or swords available in the playroom. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t let the children pretend to use guns and swords. Confused?
This confusion is due to the difficulty in defining the ‘fighting’ aspect of the children’s games. So, I’m going to try to provide an explanation of my views on the subject. First, let me discuss weapons. What is a weapon? According to the legal dictionary at Duhaime.org a weapon is “An instrument of combat; something to fight with – used or designed to injure or kill”. So then, consider these scenarios – all actual dramatic play activities that I have observed the children engage in;
- The princess and her friends have been captured by the evil witch. They are trapped in a dungeon and tied up with imaginary ropes and chains. The Knight arrives and to rescue them uses his imaginary sword to cut them free. The princess creates a magic potion and the group chases down the witch who begs for mercy and promises to be good. The group ignores her pleas claiming ‘You are evil and that will never change’ and they use the potion to destroy her.
- The ‘Family’ is at home. The mother is putting her children to bed. She covers them gently with blankets and reads them a story and then goes to do some housework. The father is busy using tools to repair the home. A ‘cat’ crawls into the area where the children are sleeping. The children start to panic, crying for their mother to come and save them. The mother rushes over and pretends to spray the cat with the soap. The cat is upset and says ‘But I am a good cat and I want to play with you’. ‘Too bad, you don’t belong here and you have to stay out.’ the mother says. The father uses a hammer to threaten the cat and chases it away.
- The hunters are hiking through the forest. They use binoculars to spy their imaginary prey. Slowly they move forward to sneak up on the bear/dragon/dinosaur. They work together whispering and using gestures to coordinate their movements and corner the beast — then they kill it with their imaginary weapon. Sometimes the beast gets one of them first and the game play changes as one hunter gets his injured friend to safety.
- Two spacemen are engaged in combat – they narrate their actions so the other knows how to interpret the actions. They are on opposite sides of the room – several other children are present but involved in other unrelated activities. One spaceman holds his arms out with his palms open toward the other and says “I am forcing you with my power”. The other responds “I put up my shields and the beam bounces back at you”. The first one replies “I’m hit”, he falls slowly to the ground – careful to avoid the nearby structure being created in the block area. He then pulls a crystal from his pocket and uses it to restore his ship’s power and the battle continues.
So, which ones are fighting games? Which ones may require me to become involved? I’ll tell you what I see;
- The princess was in danger and the knight used the sword as a tool, not a weapon. The princess’ potion is not necessarily considered a weapon but in this case it is used as one. I would not ban this type of play however, I would use this opportunity to discuss weather the ‘person’ was bad or their ‘action’ was. In my opinion this princess was just as evil as the witch. Retaliation is not a good solution to solving disputes.
- This is the worst type of fighting game and I will be putting a stop to it immediately. The children involved here will vehemently deny that they are using any weapons – but they are. So should I ban the workshop tools and cleaning supplies? They will deny that they are being mean and excluding the cat – they will have excuses such as ‘allergies’. Even if they agree to let him play they will continue to be bullies only more subtle and they will watch me just as closely as I am watching them. In fact, they will probably stop playing this game all together because I ruined it.
- I love this game. The cooperation and camaraderie must be commended and encouraged. Yes, there are weapons and violence involved but it is not the main focus and there are no ‘people as targets’ – which is something that I discourage. If I did intervene here it would simply be to clarify their reason for killing. Food? Survival?
- OK, this one is in a ‘grey’ area. They are using people as targets but the players in this game are in total agreement. They are being respectful of everyone and everything around them. There is no actual physical contact – most of the play is through conversation. The younger children in the room are not trying to join in or mimic the older ones – in fact, most of them are unaware that this is actually a fighting game. Those that do may come to me and ‘tattle’ which will give us the opportunity to have a discussion about what we are observing as the game continues. This is a teachable moment.
Basically, it all comes down to respect. If the children are being respectful of the space and other people — involved in the game or not, I will not redirect the activity even if it is a fighting game and they are using weapons. Some may agree with me, others may not. Like I said at the beginning, it’s controversial.