Should Kids Be Allowed to Play With Guns? Read About Melinda Walden's Gun Play Experiment by Mike Prochaska
Do you allow your children to play with guns? Do you think if we allowed kids to do more gun play they would get tired of it and move on to other things? Do you think that if we allowed kids to do more guy play they would understand guns better? In the world of child care, gun play isn’t normally allowed, at least here in the U.S. But children pretend play with guns; make guns out of LEGOs. How is a parent supposed to stop them? What if there was a better way?
I had an interesting discussion about this with Melinda Walden, who does many workshops on risky play and gun play based on projects she has done. Melinda is a teacher at Red River College in Winnipeg, Canada, and has worked as an ECE teacher. Her gun play experience involved kids 5 to 6 years old.
Q. Can you tell us about your gun play experiment?
"I live in Canada, so we have very different gun regulations and that's how I framed my project. The kids had to sign up for a firearm license and had to take a safety course, which was a paramedic and police officer to come in to talk to them, and their parents were welcome to stay."
Q. How did you start this project?
"Once I got everyone on board with the project, I had the children sign up for firearm licenses. I told them they had to sign up with their real name because in Canada they do background checks, so they had to give accurate information. One child signed up as Batman and even after explaining that he will not get a license if he lies on his application, he still signed up as Batman. He didn't get a license when everyone else did because he had to re-register.
"One girl asked if she had to. I said, 'No, it is your choice.' And she said she did not like guns and would never play it. I even suggested she could sign up for one and never use it, in case she changes her mind and she still said no – because she did not believe in guns. And she stood up for her right not to use a gun and told the other children why every time they asked her to play."
Q. Did Batman ever get to do gun play?
"He did after he re-registered. During the waiting period we had a police officer and paramedic come in to talk about guns. What to do if they saw a real gun. How they are to be stored. Here [in Canada] they have to be locked up. The police officer talked about how she had never actually shot anyone, and that she hopes she would never have to. It is only used as a last resort.
"The paramedic talked about bullet wounds and the impact of being shot. Parents and children asked questions for an hour and even little Batman, who can’t sit for five minutes for a circle time, sat and talked for an hour. The rules were: they had to have their license on them if they were playing. They could not bring in any toy guns – they had to make them out of LEGOs or craft material, which was interesting. They knew lots about guns and the different kinds. I found this out while they would explain as they made them."
Q. Can they play however they want with their gun?
"Yes. They could play anything they wanted. I saw hunting play, military play. Little Batman once put his gun over his shoulder and walked back and forth by a group of girls playing with a doll house. I asked him what he was doing, and he said protecting them.
"One time I walked into the room at the beginning of my shift and Batman ran up to me and pretend shot me in the head with his hand. He saw my face and he quickly begged, ‘Do you want to play with me? Sorry. Do you want to play with me?’ I told him how I felt. I said when you did that my heart dropped and I felt really sad and scared. Because you did not ask me. He quickly gave me a hug and said, ‘Sorry, can you please play with me?’ I told him that I came in that day ready to play but if he did it again I would take away his license and not play with him anymore. And he asked me every time after that.
"Every time something like that happened we got them to feel empathetic towards each other and talk about how they felt. I did not tell them what they could play or not play. Most of the play was adventure-like play."
Q. Would they shoot each other?
"Yes, if they both agreed to the play. We would stop it only if it got aggressive, and by aggressive, I mean as soon as one person was no longer having fun, then it was no longer play. I had quite a few children whose parents were in the military, and one who was a police officer. So I did not tell them that it was wrong to shoot others because that is what their parents did for a living."
Q. Would the kids feel bad shooting each other?
"I just let them play and really got them to understand how others felt when the play went wrong. Which is really what we do in all other types of dramatic play. Did [someone] feel bad? It wasn't about making people feel bad or guilty for what they were playing or figuring out. When one child's parents went to Afghanistan for six months I let him play it out if he wanted – as long as he was respectful to others. The thing is it is not the gun play that makes them aggressive or violent, [it's] lack of skills."
Q. Lack of skills? What do you mean?
"They need to learn about feelings and empathy. How to be respectful, self-control. How to care for each other! How to understand others' social cues. Everything you learn during play with others. When they learn these skills they just play and know how to figure out how to get along with others even when they disagree."
Q. What would you say to people who think gun play would teach kids guns are toys?
"Kids are smart. They know what guns can do if you talk to them about them. Most kids know it is not OK to shoot others. In their play they are pretending. In order to understand why it happens in the world around them and why others do it if is wrong.
"The thing is, we are looking at gun play from an adult perspective not from a kid’s perspective. A child is just figuring out the world and the things in it through play because that is how they learn, and guns are a part of our world, so how else are they going to learn about it?"
Q. But my kids are scared to go to school because of a madman with a gun. Won’t gun play just make worse?
"Adults can discuss things that bother them with a friend or a loved one to figure out how to solve a problem. Young children will play as a means to do that. Sometimes they don't have the words, but they can figure it out in their play. My question to you is: are your children playing guns? If they are then that is how they are going to figure it out. If they are not, then you don't have to worry about it. My project only started because they showed me they were interested in guns. If they weren't playing it, then I would not have this story."
Q. What about here in U.S., where gun laws are different? Do you think this gun play project would be safe to do?
"Yes, if caregivers make it a safe place to play and learn about guns and gun safety. It just might look a little different than the project I did because we have different regulations. It is weird to me that you can live in a place where anyone can have a real gun and are fighting for the second amendment, yet children cannot have pretend gun play. That is how they will understand about the real ones that are all around them."
Read Melinda's blog and share your thoughts and opinions below!
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