I’m overwhelmed at times by the plethora of boys.
First, there is my stinky husband. Now, I love him, but good lord, he farts.. he burps… he just… stinks.
Then there is my stinky dog. Now, I love him but good lord, his name is Freuhauser. Enough said? (My stinky husband named him. Don’t blame me.)
Then there is my son. Now, I love him. No but. (Unless he smears his poop on the wall. Then I might not like him very much.)
Boys are a different animal, aren’t they? I mean, we (for the most part) are all married to one. (Were we crazy to CHOOSE that?) They even play differently with our kids. I notice the way Jon throws my son around, they wrestle, you know… boy stuff.
In May, Christopher Marshall, age 7, was suspended from his Virginia school for picking up a pencil and using it to “shoot” a “bad guy” — his friend, who was also suspended. A few months earlier, Josh Welch, also 7, was sent home from his Maryland school for nibbling off the corners of a strawberry Pop-Tart to shape it into a gun. At about the same time, Colorado’s Alex Evans, age 7, was suspended for throwing an imaginary hand grenade at “bad guys” in order to “save the world.”
With 70% of expulsions from schools being boys, how are our schools not serving their needs? Play is so important in the emotional and physical growth of boys (and girls.) By limiting creativity, and their natural tendency to be protectors. According to one study (cited in this article), play fighting rarely escalates to violence. (The study says only 1% of the time, in fact.)
Lately, with all the school violence and focus on bullying, many schools have adopted “Zero-Tolerance” Policies for many things. For the most part, I’m cool with them. But lately, there has been an increasing movement to ban all play that might include (play) fighting, etc. They are twisting the “no weapons” policy to include “guns” made of fingers, barkchips.. pencils… you name it.
As I read this article, I found myself torn. I worked with many students who were survivors of domestic violence and were triggered by violent play. But should we be expelling a kid who was pretending to fight monsters with a barkchip “gun?”
One paragraph regarding “action narratives” (what outsiders might coin as violent play) struck me quite close to home, as a former preschool student educator:
According to at least one study, such play rarely escalates into real aggression — only about 1% of the time. But when two researchers, Mary Ellin Logue and Hattie Harvey, surveyed classroom practices of 98 teachers of 4-year-olds, they found that this style of play was the least tolerated. Nearly half of teachers stopped or redirected boys’ dramatic play daily or several times a week — whereas less than a third reported stopping or redirecting girls’ dramatic play weekly.
In the era of decreasing physical activity but the cutting of gym and recess time, are our kids being force to lose their imagination to appease the ever increasing hot button topic of “Zero-Tolerance?”
Across the country, schools are policing and punishing the distinctive, assertive sociability of boys. Many much-loved games have vanished from school playgrounds. At some schools, tug of war has been replaced with “tug of peace.” Since the 1990s, elimination games like dodgeball, red rover and tag have been under a cloud — too damaging to self-esteem and too violent, say certain experts. Young boys, with few exceptions, love action narratives. These usually involve heroes, bad guys, rescues and shoot-ups. As boys’ play proceeds, plots become more elaborate and the boys more transfixed. When researchers ask boys why they do it, the standard reply is, “Because it’s fun.”
To take it a step further, are all-inclusive games not allowing our children to learn to win and lose? In my former life, I managed before and after school programs and summer camps, and inclusive play was ALL THE RAGE. Don’t get me wrong, there is a HUGE place for inclusive “no loser” games. These games provide a sense of teamwork and self worth. But, I did notice a huge shift in the older kids who were raised on inclusive games… well… exclusively. They were unable to handle situations where they failed. They were horrible “losers.” They couldn’t learn from mistakes, because previously all their mistakes were considered “creative.” I started hiring staff out of high school who couldn’t be instructed to do something without arguing and just saying “no, I won’t do that, because I don’t WANT to.”
In conclusion, I think there is a fine balance. I also think that like most things, it comes down to parenting. Do you talk to your boy (or girl) about pretend play vs. real play? Do you talk to them about making friends and making sure that they are kind? Do you explain the difference between a real gun and a pretend one? Do you teach your child how to win well? Do you teach them how to lose well? I think those are the things our boys need most.
That and more recess time.
And baths. (Let’s be honest here.)
What is your experience with your child and “banned” play?
Do you think boys are at a disadvantage in school?
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Julia, formerly a molder of young minds, has briefly stepped away from that task to manufacture a child of her own. Along with the standard baby accessories such as hands and lips, she is planning on installing chrome side-pipes, rollbars, and a bitchin’ spoiler. She is fending off accusations that Jesse James is the true father.