Weapon play. Gender-Bender play. These are the play themes that press against our comfort zones and challenge our perspectives.
And they’re topics that author Heather Shumaker isn’t afraid to jump right in on in her book, It’s OK Not to Share (*affiliate link).
When we’re confronted with kids wielding toy swords and guns or boys dressed as princesses we tend to squirm. Whether we’re wrestling with our own thresholds or our perceptions of social norms, we start to wonder.
“Should I intervene?”
“Should I redirect?”
“Should I worry?”
With both types of play, Heather is consistent in pointing out the danger of viewing children’s play with our adult lenses. As she says, “A child’s play is not the problem. It’s our reaction to it.”
A child’s play is natural. It’s expressive. It’s exploration. It’s therapy. A variety of themes — and some of them weighty — will be explored and examined, because that’s what play is for.
When we react with severity or out of the child’s context, we may short circuit the process.
We have to remember: “A preschooler’s job is play and exploration.” We support that exploration with props like baby dolls and dress up clothes, so why not with toy swords and pop guns? When we restrict the props, we restrict the exploration. And with the clear developmental drive to explore powerful themes, it seems counter to developmental logic to curtail powerful play.
Clearly we have to know our limits, the limits of the children engaged in play together, the limits of our surroundings, but we also have to respect a child’s right to play.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this section! I’ll be sure to review your comments as I prepare to chat with the book’s author, Heather Shumaker, along with Allison McDonald of No Time for Flash Cards. (It’s going to be awesome!)
(Video will be posted here as soon as it’s recorded. Past posts and videos can also be found on the kick-off page for this series.)
Other points in the section to consider:
* “The Boy Code” (pg 258)
* Teaching kids to set limits with their playmates.
* Finding your own limits for weapon play. (Check out the chart on pgs. 246-247. Where do you land? My knee-jerk reaction happens somewhere around #6.)
* Research indicates it’s “watching people insult each other” that actually leads to children being unkind and aggressive. (pg 244) Consider the common lack of civility in popular culture and media.
* Dramatic play as communication, exploration, and therapeutic expression and the consequences of being too restrictive or rejecting of certain play themes.
* Changing our perspectives: “I had been looking at things in an adult, sociopolitical way.” (pg 238)
* What about “Zero-Tolerance” policies that have become common in many schools and the many ways kids find to create toy gun from anything? (What would you add to the list of improvisations on pg 240?)
* Consider the juxtaposition of the fear of violent play leading to violence and the awareness that the self-control and emotional skills built through free dramatic play is what truly promotes peace. (pg 243)
Add your thoughts in the comments section, or begin the read along at the beginning!
Psst– You might also enjoy these posts on a similar topic: