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Gun Play in Early Childhood

Never, ever underestimate the importance of having fun.
Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture

In a 2014 newsletter of the Children's Community School in Philadelphia, founder Merryl Gladstone talked about her struggles with gun play in early childhood programs.  She shared some insights from Elizabeth Criswell:

"She explored zero-tolerance gun play policies and shared how and why she tried to create space in her early childhood classroom for gun/weapon play.  It was eye opening and a relief to hear her ideas and experiences.  Elizabeth shared that she decided to change the zero-tolerance policy in her classroom because she felt first and foremost, it wasn't working.  It was fostering a culture of dishonesty in her classroom.  In having a zero-tolerance policy, Elizabeth wondered what message she was sending to children about their imagination and what message she was sending about the difference between real and pretend.

"She turned to research and learned that gun or weapon play is a universal truth in early childhood.  Studies where gun play is permitted show a short spike in aggressive behavior, but then this behavior notably recedes as the games are allowed to progress.  Lastly, her research affirmed that 'aggressive,' rough and tumble play, play fighting have been consistently linked to increased social competencies.  In the end, Elizabeth found that as it was in the studies she read, when gun play is allowed and is treated like any other type of play, it eventually moves from high interest to the periphery.

"Play is a tool that children use to explore and know their world.  When children are given the chance to explore and play with weapon play, it eventually gets played out.  They have explored it and they are not as driven to explore it.  It seems to me a better outcome then if we are to deny them the chance to explore an issue they are curious about and as a consequence they feel they have to hide their interest or curiosity."

Contributed by Kirsten Haugen

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