Preschoolers and “Weapon Play”

A block, a stick, a paintbrush…preschoolers are an inventive bunch and can turn almost anything into a weapon.

“Look! Our firetruck has plenty of bombs on it!”

“Bang! I shoot-ed you!”

“Let’s get those bad guys!”

I am a complete loss for how to redirect this kind of play in the classroom. Superheroes, that I feel comfortable with, since there is a narrative that you can tease out of helping others and working together. It is when it is straight up “I’ve got a gun” type play that I’m caught off guard.

I know it is useless to “ban” this type of play. So far I’ve talked about how we don’t use weapons at school, asked them what they are building with the blocks (knowing full well they are using them as guns but trying to spark conversation) and also answered their questions about WHY no guns at school honestly by saying that it scares some of the other kids when they play that way.

Usually I try to make these posts somehow helpful to other people, but I can’t even pretend to have an answer…so I am looking for yours!

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“Hands On” Art

wp-1476210266787.jpgThe first child picked up the brush and dunked it in the paint. As the paint dripped off onto her hand she ran the brush back and forth spreading a thick coat all over her hand and arm. She was totally absorbed in the feeling of it on her skin and how it looked as she moved the brush through the paint. When her hand was coated she gave the paper a SPLAT, creating a handprint, before going back to covering her hand with more paint.

The second child looked on warily. “I don’t want to touch the paint like that!” He said in a worried tone. I reassured him that he could paint however he wanted and showed him all of the brushes we had available. He carefully dipped the brush in the paint and worked steadily to cover his whole paper in color.

In the end, both papers were full of swirled color, but the hands of the two children couldn’t have looked more different. It was a perfect snapshot of how individual kids are in their approach to sensory (or “hands on”) experiences and why it is so important to have a variety of ways that they can get involved.

If I had asked the first child to paint just the paper, she might have slapped some color around but probably wouldn’t have been absorbed as she was. If I had told the second child he had to get his hands dirty he probably would have avoided painting at all. Instead, by letting them approach it their own way they both were able to experience the texture of the paint and the way the colors mixed and what happened with different brushstrokes.

As your planning experiences, in the classroom or the museum, look at how you can respect the different needs that kids have for (quite literally) diving in with both hands. It can make quite a difference


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Setting Expectations


“Setting expectations” is part of classroom management 101. What they mean is, getting the kids comfortable with the routines and with how they are supposed to behave at various points in the day. What I think is often left out is setting your OWN expectations.

I started the year with grand plans. I was so excited to be back in the classroom and was full of ideas of the things we could explore together. I thought once we got comfortable with our “meeting time” routine was could jump right in. Well, after about a week I realized my expectations weren’t calibrated correctly. My class was bright, enthusiastic, happy to be at school…and needed more time to get used to how meeting time worked.

I spent one day beating myself up that I was doing something “wrong” because circle time wasn’t running smoothly. Then I watched them figuring things out, waiting to hear what their friend said before they spoke up, raising their hand, able to sit next to a friend without getting too distracted. It made me realize that our learning was happening in a big way, it just looked “ordinary” because we were figuring out how to be a class together.

I think early learning AND museum educators see all the wonderful potential for the kids in their programs and the collections they have at their fingertips and get a little greedy. They want to do it all right away. It’s important to remember that success isn’t measured by the vocabulary word that the kids can rattle off, or how many paintings they’ve seen. Every moment spent getting in the groove of the day, getting comfortable with routines and learning to be with others is time well spent.

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Project Confidence


On the playground the other day, one of the kids came running up “I’m afraid of ants!” she said “They are scary!” Without missing a beat, my co-worker jumped in to the conversation “Oh really?” She said “I think they are so cool!” She pointed out all the things that they were doing and finished off by saying “Besides, think how scary WE must be to THEM! We are so much bigger then they are!” In a much sunnier mood, the child ran off to play.

About ten minutes later she ran back up to us “Look at this!” She said with great enthusiasm. In the palm of her hand was a giant, dead, cicada. “Wow!” we agreed “Look at that!” She then organized a group of kids to collect all of the cicadas they could find for the science table.

That is the power of projecting confidence. Whether it is about things that you find creepy-crawly, or even your kids starting a new school, they read so much from your emotions. If you can project confidence in what is going on they will model that.

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The Gift of Time

wp-1475285310549.jpgYoung children can do amazing things when they have the time. You’ll read article after article talking about how we over schedule our kids and we need to slow down and simplify. However, I think it goes even farther then that. We don’t just need to simplify, we need to give them the blocks of uninterrupted time to let their ideas unfurl.

I am very lucky to now be working at a “learning through play” preschool. Our whole day is built around giving them large chunks of time to play, and the materials to do it. In just three short weeks I’ve seen how this “gift of time” is leading to more and more complex ideas and cooperation.

Take the block area. The picture above is from the first day…and it was quite a mess. They delighted in pulling out every block (it was new to many of them), building structures as tall as they could and then crashing them down.  It was glorious fun, but it was pretty one dimensional.


Now here we are in week three. The same groups of kids are coming back to the blocks time after time. Instead of just fighting to get the choice materials they are banding together to make more and more complicated structures. This picture is of the fire truck they built, with enough seats stretching out behind for four or five kids.

I think that often we adults think that if kids have the same things to play with day after day that they’ll get bored. Maybe that is true with “uni tasker” toys (an Alton Brown phrase for something that only does ONE thing). But, with open-ended toys time can actually make the play more involved and they can get MORE engaged…rather then bored.

Does your space have room for kids to explore? Do they have access to materials? Most importantly, do they have time to do it?


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Vegetable Peeler Nostalgia

wp-1470679213424.jpgThe exersaucer was surprisingly hard to let go of.  When my daughter outgrew it, I was giddy to get it OUT of the house. It is bulky, and we needed the space back. But, as I put it on the steps for the next parent to come pick up…I had trouble leaving it there. Part of me wanted to stick it back down in the basement. This wasn’t a “just in case” for another baby, it was more because my son and daughter had both used it and it had been part of our life for four years now.

I’m like that, I get sentimental about the oddest things. I can easily let go of items that you typically think of as “nostalgic” but in my silverware drawer is the vegetable peeler that I’d grown up using and that came with me to college. It barely works, but I wouldn’t let my husband get rid of it (so we just have two…)

I’d like to think this is what makes me a good museum professional. If all we saved was the flashy things, the really “big ticket” items, we would have no idea what life was really like. Stories of everyday life and especially minority communities are difficult enough to find in museums, we need to be really specific in making sure we share them by not focusing on just the mainstream moments.

A professor in college had us think about our photo albums. If aliens came down and picked one up, they’d think we ate cake every day and went on trips and had lots of presents… because that is what we typically take pictures of. In reality, the day to day lives are about the stories of the people. How a mama kept her baby safe in this round bit of plastic that will give us the full and complete history of who we are.

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Imposter Syndrome

wp-1466433857436.jpgIt was my first article for a peer reviewed journal. I’d worked for months and it was down to the final round of edits. I opened the attachment from the editor and worked my way through the suggestions. Word change here, grammar fix there, clear up confusing sentences. Then, I got to a highlighted section with single question “Citation?”

I stopped, not really sure what to do, because there really WASN’T a way to cite that section. It was my own thoughts and analysis, with nothing pulled from any published source. I finished the rest of my editing and went back to that request for a citation.

Now this, this is where I should have put a reply explaining there was nothing to cite because it was my own writing. But I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I went into the basement and dug through my academic books trying to think of what one might have something related to the section I’d written on. I found something that fit and added it to my footnotes.

Sure, that piece probably did influence my thinking…eight years ago when I read it in grad school. However, layered over it was years of my own thinking and reflection and time in the field. So why was I unable to stand up for myself in that moment?

Imposter Syndrome” is described as feeling like you are a fake who isn’t actually capable of doing whatever you are doing. You also may feel that at any moment you are going to be found out. I think this type of self-sabotage is what happens a lot in these instances. Although I have an advanced degree and years of experience in the field, who am I to be pretending I have any expertise? Especially putting it in writing and asserting it to a national audience!

It comes across most clearly in my writing. I hedge, I try to back things up with other experts. I am careful to keep things tied directly to my personal experience and not attempt to draw wider conclusions.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, to some degree. It keeps me from coating everything with my personal bias and makes me consider other research being done. However, too much and I undermine my own point!

Beyond writing, it can happen in conversation when someone asks an opinion, in presentations or even when you are considering new topics to research. If you don’t trust your instincts and experience, then you dismiss ideas and assume they’ve already been done…or that someone else could do it better.

I wish that I had a solid idea for fixing this. I have been trying to be more assertive (in speaking and writing) with the things I know I know. I’ve put in the work, I’ve earned the right to these opinions. However, it is an imperfect road and I still find myself looking over my shoulder waiting for someone to call me out as the fake I feel I am.



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