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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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War Play in Early Childhood

Published:  October 21, 2010

How much should early childhood teachers and parents allow, or encourage, children to play and act out scenes of violence? This is a question fraught with peril and few good answers for many educators who want to encourage children to play make-believe and express themselves creatively but who also are worried about maintaining control of their classrooms.

"Play is probably the most important resource that children have,"says Nancy Carlsson-Paige, author of Taking Back Childhood: A Proven Roadmap for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids in a recent podcast on BAM Radio that tackles this subject.  And yet, many preschool and kindergarten teachers -- and their principals and directors -- resort to "zero tolerance" policies that cut off "war play" because they say it gets out of hand and worry that someone will get hurt.

The guests on the segment, myself included, wade into the controversies over war play in early childhood by providing some context and new ways to think about what war play actually means to young children. For example, consider the difference between the ages within the years of early childhood. Childhood research teaches us that children are undergoing huge developmental changes, cognitively, socially and physically, between the ages of 3 and 7.  The 7- or 8-year-old who wants to play Star Wars and pretends that a stick is a light saber is understanding his actions at a different level than a  3-year-old who wants to imitate what he has seen on TV by picking up a stick and whacking at his friend.

If this is a subject that has come up in your school or early childhood center, take a listen to the podcast. The two guests -- Carlsson-Paige and Gerard Jones, author of Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Superheroes and Make-Believe Violence -- make several very helpful and fascinating points that can help educators think more constructively about how to handle war play in their everyday work.

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