Friday, February 17, 2012

War Play Update

This week my assistant and I have been more focused on asking questions of the children about their war play this week after reading and discussing the book I mentioned in my last post.

Some of the conversations have gone like this:

Boy 1 : Yeah, we’re gonna kill the girls!

Boy 2: Yeah! Kill the girls!

Me: Why do you want to kill the girls?

Boy 1: Because they are mean.

Me: What have they done that is mean?

Boy 1: They won’t play with us?

Me: Why do you think they won’t play with you?

Boy 1: Because we keep saying we want to kill them.

Me: What do you think you could do about that?

Smiles and shrugs…

Me: Do you want me to help you play with them?  I will go with you to talk to them.

We did walk over, and Boy 1 asked if they would play with them, but the couple of girls they asked did not want to play their game.  The girls did invite them to join in their game that they had already established, but the boys declined.  They went off without mentioning killing the girls for the rest of that outside time.

Is this a case of this boy clearly wanting to play with the other girls? Or is he just astute enough to know what the “teacher wanted to hear”?  The other boys seem to find solidarity centered on this topic that seems very bonding.   Boy1 was back at discussing the killing of the girls later that day with a couple of other boys.  I repeated a similar conversation with this group.  I think it is a good strategy and am hoping to see some results from it. 

The next day on the playground, they were playing a superhero game that did not involve killing the girls.  In fact, it did have some interaction with a couple of girls who were being chased, chasing back and capturing each other.  We made metion of this at our morning meeting.

The other thing we did all week is focus our morning graph question on toys with which they like to play.  Following the examining of the graph and the counting and seeing which group had more, etc. I asked the questions, so is this toy a boy toy or a girl toy?  The evidence was there each time, both played with the same toy.  It was a good opener for discussions of how girls and boys play alike.  By the end of the week the kids were saying, there are no boy toys or girl toys.  Progress, I hope.

We also spent some time putting them in boy/girl pairs to complete large puzzles.  This way they had to work as a team with someone with which they do not normally choose to play.  Afterwards we talked about what it was like to play with this person and how the activity felt.

My assistant made a great point as well which we will try to be more cognizant of and that is that we do tend to answer them when they say “the boys” and “the girls” with similar terms.  Often the situation is only referring to a few boys or a few girls.  We need to be careful to use names and be more specific or we are fueling the generalizing ourselves. 

Lastly, I did want to comment on the fact that the amount of negotiating and problem solving that is going on in this type of play as they decide which characters are allowed, which powers belong to whom, how their powers work, and so on, is quite elaborate.  I know as I reflect upon my own feelings, I can tend to view this more negatively than it merits.  Following these groups around and deeply observing and questioning is helping me to adjust my own feelings and prejudices and helping me to respond much more appropriately. 

I appreciate the feedback that I have been receiving.  I hope it will continue as this attempt to respond to war play appropriately is a constant “battle”. J

The photo chosen for this post is from an interesting blog post on the site Get More Out of Life about a forest school.   


  1. Loved reading this update, Dana! The ways you encouraged the kids to explore ideas about gender apart from the pretend play were simply brilliant!! They may not be a quick fix to the war play "problem" but I would say you've managed something so much better - to get these young children to think really deeply about one another. That kind of social knowledge/intelligence will probably have a ripple effect throughout this group of kids that I think you will so enjoy observing!

    One more idea about the dramatic play - what would happen if you asked to play with them? Still let them direct the play but take on a character - whatever character they decide. Might flop ("no thanks!") but might be interesting!

    Please keep us posted - I love hearing about what you're discovering!

  2. Daine Levin has written a lot on this topic. I suggest you reference her book Teaching Young Children in Violent Times; Building a Peaceable Classroom. On page 30 she relays a scenario in which some children in a Kindergarten classroom are upset because other children are shooting at them. The teacher says, "You know our number one class rule is everyone needs to feel safe here, so we need to find something to do about the guns that helps everyone feel safe. After a discussion the children decide that they will try a solution and come back to discuss how it is working in a few days. The solution they decided to try is the ones who want to shoot must ask their classmates if it is alright to shoot them and if the classmates say no, the shooters must respect their wishes. On page 86 of the book Diane relates another class meeting around Power Ranger play. Again, some of the chidren complain that they do not like the Power Ranger play all the Power Rangers do is fight and they are mean and loud and this interrupts the play that is going on in the other areas. During the class discussion, a student says, "But that's what Power Rangers do. They need to fight." After more discussion, the class decides that Power Rangers must do other things besides fight and they brainstorm a list of other things Power Rangers might do. One of the ideas is that Power Rangers must eat to stay strong, so the teacher suggests the children who like to play in the kitchen area, make food for the Powers Rangers to eat. The class decides to try this idea and come back in a few days to see how it is working. Hope these ideas help.