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‘Weapon play’ in the Early Years – Exploring a controversial topic

"I know that weapon play is a controversial topic in the Early Years, and throughout my teaching career I have seen, heard and implemented both sides of this argument." says Emma Ryves. In this article, she explains why she believes that providing a safe and supportive environment where children can explore ‘weapon play' to test and evaluate their experiences is an important part of promoting children's learning in the Early Years Foundation Stage.

Child and Early Years teacher exploring weapon play in a safe environment

Recently in Foundation 1, the children have been making swords out of multilink cubes, creating different sizes and designs which they then used in their role play. This week we have followed this interest and set up a sword making station, a sword repair workshop and some sword templates to decorate and cut out. We have also been looking at sword training and learning how to control and move our bodies when we use them. Throughout the week the children have been incorporating knights and fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty into their learning by developing language and imagination and repeating the stories in the correct order. They have also been making up their own stories, collaborating as a group on how the story will unfold, taking turns in conversations and leading play. 

I know that weapon play is a controversial topic in the Early Years, and throughout my teaching career I have seen, heard and implemented both sides of this argument. 

I spent much of my early career advising against weapon play, but kids still made weapons - they just said it was something different. After a few years, I noticed that regardless of the cohort of children and the school where I taught, superhero and gun games were the game of choice for a significant number of children. Because children do not have the same extensive catalogue of experiences as most adults, when they experience the world around them they have to try to make sense of it. Before it makes sense, they have to work out in their minds what they think they have experienced. Role-play provides an easy way to revisit and relive these experiences. This is why role-play for children can be so varied and involve everything from house play to playing dead. Role play allows them to explore all these issues and feelings in a controlled environment and safe context. They can explore what is possible and, just as importantly, what is impossible. Playful exploration of what is risky and dangerous is essential if we want our children to recognise and accept the limits of reality. I really think it helps to think about this when we see the gun or the sword as a symbol. If we take away the symbol of the gun and the sword, the child's intention is the same: to assume a position of power and control within the game. The symbol is linked to experience and preference.

In my experience, if you allow children to explore weapons in their own time, it tends to be a short-lived endeavour which stops once they have learned what they need from it. However, if you actively discourage them from doing so, then it tends to last much longer. 

We look forward to seeing how our play/learning develops next week. Watch this space!