Posts Tagged ‘play’

The couch box

August 31, 2010
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When you pretend to kill someone, please use gentle hands

May 17, 2010

This morning, Charlie wanted me to tell his friend Matt about our bubble gun. It’s a gun; it blows bubbles.

There was a time, not too long ago, when Charlie had no idea what a gun was, or even how to hold one. Yes, we let him watch TV, but it’s always monitored. There is a specific selection of kids shows on PBS or Nick, Jr. on demand, which means no commercials and no violence. He’s also into old movies and YouTube, but again, monitored.

But this year his school friends are older. They know all about killing and guns and squashing bugs. Charlie has come home slashing a pretend sword and making his sticks cut down dandelions. Lately, when he gets angry he sometimes says he wants to cut my head off. (I swear, he’s well-balanced! I can be aggravating at times.)

I was worried about the aggressive talk until I started doing some reading. If kids can’t hit or kick or throw temper tantrums, they need to channel their aggression somewhere–like into words (I am so angry I feel like cutting your head off…you know, for example) or into game play, such as pretending to cut down dandelions or shoot each other with bubble guns.

So tentatively, and mixed with a lot of outdoor running around, we’ve allowed the violent play–as long as it is not rude or physically hurtful. In other words, you can pretend to kill someone, as long as you use gentle hands.

But today, when I told Matt about the gun, he said, “Oh! We’re not supposed to use that word.”

I thought back over what I’d said, thinking maybe he’d heard “sh*t” when I’d said “shoot.” “What word?” I asked.

“Gun.”

I was dumbfounded. “Gun? Really?”

I called the teacher over. “They can’t say gun?”

And she explained how the kids had been pretending to use guns and saying they were killing each other. The aggressive language and pretend play was disturbing to the adults, so they’d called a teacher meeting and decided the kids couldn’t use the word ‘gun’ in class.

My first thought was that making guns into something secretive and subversive would only increase their appeal.

My second thought was that this was the exact opposite of all that I’d read. Granted, I’m not an expert in childhood development and supposedly these teachers are. But I explained how we handle it at home, and told her about what I’d read. I said that pretend play–as long as no one was actually getting hurt–seemed to be the safest way to act out aggression and figure out problem-solving techniques. She said the teachers just wanted to promote peace in the classroom, which is understandable with 18 kids.

So now I’m not sure what to think. What about cowboys and Indians? What about robots vs. aliens? What about all those other boy games that I don’t know much about? Are all of these verboten?

I’m thinking of going to the head teacher with my printed-out articles and requesting some sort of compromise. Maybe pretending with guns and swords can be okay when they are outside on the playground?

But what if I’m wrong? What if it isn’t okay for kids to pretend to kill each other? What if that does lead to real-life aggression?

Am I blowing this out of proportion? (I do live one neighborhood away from Park Slope, after all.) Is it a case of, if you imagine it, you’ll do it? Or, is pretend play really what I think it is: an essential tool for helping boys–and girls, too–learn to express and work through their aggression without actually hurting anyone?

Land of Make-Believe

March 4, 2008

Charlie has recently begun to pretend. It started with sticks (and anything else big enough) becoming horses to ride. Then the toilet paper rolls became drums. And just last week he’s begun scripting out how we should pretend. (I wouldn’t go so far as to call these stories, or even scenarios. Not yet.)

We were on a walk home from a friend’s house when he saw a lion in a carving over the elementary school door.

“Lion, Mama. Lion.”

“I see that lion.”

“ROAR!”

“Is Charlie being a lion?”

“Yeah. Mama.”

“You want Mama to be a lion?”

“Yeah.”

“Roar!” I said, though not as loudly as Charlie.

“Daddy.”

“You want Daddy to be a lion?”

“Yeah.”

“Daddy’s not here. He’s at work. How about I pretend to be Daddy, pretending to be a lion?”

“Yeah!”

“ROAR!” This time it was long and deep.

The next day we had the same conversation, except we were bells. Bong. Bong.

I have to admit, I was excited that he is beginning to make believe. Those are fun games for me. (Much more interesting than building blocks, though that has its Zen-like merits, too.) Plus, NPR’s recent articles about the benefits of unstructured and pretend play have me looking at his conversations and imagination in a whole new way.