While Pacific Primary has a 'no weapons' policy, which includes not making them in art class or using as props in dramatic play, the children often look for ways to negotiate with their teachers. "It's not really a gun, it just looks like one."
"I'm allowed to play with weapons at home."
“It's just make-believe; it can't really hurt you.”
In response, we ask them to change the shape so others won't think it is what it looks like. We ask them how they use what they made after they change the shape. We talk of emotional safety and how pretend play can feel real in someone’s imagination. We advise, without judgment, that there are often different rules at school than at home.
As preschool teachers and parents, we often look underneath the play to its essence. Underneath the aggressive play is often a desire for power. We try to empower the children through clarifying questions.
“How else could you feel powerful?”
“Do you know someone who is powerful? Who?"
“Firefighters!” they exclaim, hearing our neighborhood fire engine race past the window.
We draw flames on butcher paper and hang it over the open doorway. With pieces of rubber our little firefighters crash through the paper to put out the fire and save the day.
“Who else is powerful?” I ask.
“Superheroes!” shouts one four-year-old. “Superheroes!” echo the other children.
“What can we make for our superheroes that won’t hurt anybody but will protect you?”
“Capes!” they shout in unison.
They love making capes from fabric and tape and flying around the room. They become superheroes. I then ask about their special powers.
Inevitably, their first response involves weapons.
Sensing that today we need new answers, I tell them what just arrived. “Our new tape rolls with little designs on them have just arrived. And I have this special shiny paper left over from your classroom’s Chinese New Year’s dragons.”
I then give the instructions: “Instead of answering with your words, let’s make art that will show your special power.”
“What besides a weapon could give you power? Remember, it protects you but doesn’t hurt others.”
The children begin to work, silently, separately.
At first each works on his or her own project, until one child made his 'engine.'
"It helps me go as fast as a race car."
This small piece of art that he taped to his shoe began to evolve.
He adds more loose parts and tapes it to different parts of his body until he settles on the old favorite—taped to his back like a cape.
Others, inspired, soon design engines of their own. One child directly states what his engine is about. “I turn the engine on and it gives me extra power.”
With their engines (their power) taped to their clothes, the superheroes fly all about the room with big grins on their faces.
As teachers, we have huge tool kits from our collective years of experience, but it is often the children's own ideas that catch fire, sparking from one child to the next.
For today, weapon play has been put aside.
If only solutions could be so quick and easy in the world outside our classroom window.