“Violent” Play

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Jadon and Tycho involved in some sword play.

Last Monday we had the fortune of meeting together as a small group of parents and teachers.  It was our first reading group of the year (I will call it a reading group from now on, since we don’t necessarily read books, and because ‘club’ sounds awful fancy), and we met at Amy’s (Willa’s mom) house.  Laura, Cari, Jeff, Kirsten, Lesley, Amy and I were there and we talked for about an hour and a half. The readings we discussed are linked below;

We started with a question:  What surprised you about the readings?  

Lesley began to talk about how she felt that the readings helped her to relax about the issue of “violent” play amongst preschoolers.  In fact, all who attended voiced a similar feeling.  There was a general realization that “violent” play is, after all, PLAY!   Lesley said that the article put the issue in a totally different light for her. Jeff expressed that he feels the children are simply experimenting when they play with these ideas.  Kirsten said that she found the readings comforting.  From the second article:

Michael Thompson, a psychologist who co-wrote “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys” (Ballantine Books, 2000), rejects even this characterization of boys’ play.

“There is no such thing as violent play,” Thompson told LiveScience. “Violence and aggression are intended to hurt somebody. Play is not intended to hurt somebody. Play, rougher in its themes and rougher physically, is a feature of boyhood in every society on Earth.”

I would add that this kind of play is carried out by girls as well. Certainly by girls here at Tulip Tree.

Lila and Emi playing "Robbers"

Expanding on this, we also spoke quite a bit about gender roles and sex-role training amongst young children.  The first article touches on the idea that if we are to be very concerned about the marketing of violent play, we should also be very concerned about the marketing of body and role image to young girls. From the first article:

Through play, children are trying to figure out the roles that are assigned to their respective sexes. While our attention is pulled to male training and the vio-lence of war play, however, it is no more human to be trained as a passive sex object than as a soldier. Yet girls’ sex role play often doesn’t set off the alarm bells in Quaker families that war play does. We need to remember that along with our Testimony on Peace we also have one on Equality; Barbie play deserves equal scrutiny with war play.

Along those lies, we discussed young girls’ (and boys) exploration of “the Princess” and Lesley gave us some great insight on ways to explore this theme more deeply with children. She said that she had a conversation with Stella about what Princesses actually do, ie, take care of all of their people, work hard, etc.  We also talked about how each concept that feels hard to us as parents, is just an opportunity for a discussion with our children about the topic.  We were speaking again of Princesses this morning at drop off, and Cheryl said that the role-playing around this character is also a great segue into ideas of magic.

Another BIG topic that we discussed at length, was that of death and dying.  Amy told us of Willa’s uncle and Great Grandma both dying this last year.  Lesley shared with us that Stella has been talking a lot about death and dying, and I said that Lila has also been processing these themes extensively.   We wondered if there is a connection between these themes (of violence, cops and robbers, etc) and fear of the unknown, and of death in general.  We spoke of how these are themes and ideas that are pervasive in our lives, and that we cannot control everything that enters our children’s’ awareness.

Graham as the "bad guy".

As I look at the pictures of these kids, what I see is innocence.  I see small children working through some really big ideas in the only way that they know how, through play.

So what is our role as teachers and parent?  What is the way to respond to this kind of play?  Especially when it makes us uncomfortable…  How do we enter into this play with our kids, without redirecting or shaming them?  How to we expand upon their ideas?  Please share your ideas and thoughts with us here.


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