Guns and their cupcake cousins

Some teacher friends and I have been talking about guns for a long time.  It’s an open question for us, one we’ve struggled with over the years.

I’m not a gun person.  As a child I fired a hunting rifle a couple of times – meh… it’s not really my thing.  I don’t pretend to understand some people’s love of guns but I try to separate my discomfort with guns from my relationships with the people who like them.  We have a lot of avid hunters in this area and many of our children have very responsible, safe relationships with guns at home.

I started my teaching career in a very challenging school context where guns were a daily fear for staff and students.  Because of that experience, and in an effort to implement school rules, I have often taken a very hard line when it comes to gun play in my classes.

And it comes up all the time.

“No guns at school.” – I say that almost as often as I say “walk”.

I understand why it’s a rule; we want children and adults to feel safe at school.  It’s hard to feel safe when someone is pointing a gun (pretend or otherwise) at you.

But still they play with guns – they make them out of sticks, out of blocks, and out of snap-cubes… oh, the snap-cubes!  We always wind up putting them away because they lead almost immediately to gun play.

children's hands holding snap cube guns

So I understand why it’s “no guns at school” and generally I adhere to that maxim but then I find myself torn.  Most of the time, I pay extra attention when children are very engaged in something and, let’s be honest, they’re VERY engaged by gun play.  They are totally captivated, riveted, and engrossed.  They’re not actually hurting each other but they are playing at hurting each other.  Where is the line between acceptable play and unacceptable play?  I have so many questions.

I don’t have the answers to any of those questions but I do have some student voices to add to the mix.

Some students are particularly savvy about rationalizing their gun play so that it will be acceptable to adults.  This week alone I’ve been told that what looks like a gun is actually:

  • a laser – “And it’s okay Madame, because the lasers on Star Wars don’t really hurt people.”
  • a ketchup squirter
  • and my personal favourite… a cupcake thrower (reminiscent of that moment in Ghostbusters when Dan Ackroyd conjures up the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man – “the most harmless thing”)

A colleague also has some great video of a child holding a snap-cube gun who, as the teacher approaches, flips it around and declares with a smile: “Look Sir, it’s an L.”  This one is particularly brilliant as it shows that the child knows that teachers are so fixated on literacy that making a letter might deflect any reprimand for what was clearly gun play.

These kids are aware that they’re transgressing school rules by playing gun games.  They’ve even come up with alternate explanations to placate the adults.  That’s some pretty sophisticated theory of mind going on.

So I’m left wondering: is there any place for this play in the classroom?  Is there something to value here?  The kids are obviously very engaged and that’s usually my bellwether for valuing.  What do you do in your classroom when kids are engaged in gun play?  I’d love to know!

 

 

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Some kinds of help

Our architecture project continues and we’re moving towards building scale models of our 3-D sketches.  This has been a challenging part of the process for us as it requires more adult helping than I would usually be comfortable providing.  While the children are able to take on some parts of the process, they are often assuming more of a fore-person role in directing the adults as we wield the utility knives and the super-sticky glue.  It’s been challenging in other ways too as the educators have been forced to develop skills that aren’t usually part of our jobs; precise measuring, cutting wooden dowels, using ratios to adjust the size of the model to suit the materials; balsa wood, it turns out only comes in certain widths.  We’ve also had to think about our own roles as teachers who may want to influence the process (towards making a building a little simpler, for instance) but who are trying to remain true to the students’ creative intentions.

The students’ creative process has been interesting to observe.  Several students worked on their 3-D sketches over the course of many weeks, adding small details every few days.  Now, they have to make their sketches more permanent and they’re torn about what elements to keep and what they’d like to change.

U.E.’s curved, sculptural house with a courtyard is being simplified as he re-creates it. He’s particularly fond of his new asymmetrical doorway.  We’re still not sure how to tackle the roof, which he also wants to be curved.

The tape is there to hold the pieces while the glue dries.
The tape is there to hold the pieces while the glue dries.

F.I.’s building has changed significantly as we discovered that museum board can be cut to create curves and that it holds its shape much better than cardboard or plastic.

DSCF6161 DSCF6151

M.K.’s tall building has stayed true to its original design but she has added a perimeter fence as well as two mouse holes on opposite sides of the structure so that the mice can run through.  It’s a delightful combination of pragmatism and whimsy.

DSCF6162

Embedded in Ontario’s Arts Curriculum document is the Creative Process Chart.  Teachers are asked to facilitate student creativity by becoming aware that their ideas will flow through this process and that they should be given an opportunity to revise and refine their work after it’s been presented for feedback at an initial phase.  For grown-up architects, scale balsa wood models and drawings are their preliminary works.  For our students, however, the scale models are the final product they create after having refined and revised the ideas they developed by creating 3-D sketches.  Being an observer and a contributor to this process has been both challenging and fun.  It’s hard to know where the line is between being a “usefully ignorant co-worker in the thick of the action” (McWilliam, 2008) and taking over the project.  We’re all learning as we go.  Part of our learning as educators has been to think about how much help is too much help when we’re in the throws of a project that requires some adult assistance to be safe.  It’s a balance we’re still trying to find.  It reminds me of the line from the Shel Silverstein poem Helping:

And some kind of help is the kind of help

That helping’s all about.

And some kind of help is the kind of help

We all can do without.

I’m interested to hear how other educators have handled this dilemma.  How much help enlivens creativity, allowing students to bring their ideas to life?  How much deadens it?  How much is too much?

Art, Perspectives, Flipped

How did that happen?  Where did it come from?

Those questions are so important when we’re teaching from an inquiry stance but tracing things back is sometimes hard.  Ideas are so organic that we can struggle to identify where the ignition point was.

This was not one of those times.

When our partner architect talked to us about drawing from different perspectives, it got me thinking about other ways that we could get the children to consider multiple view points.

Then, serendipitously, Teacher Tom sent out this blog post.  In it, he wrote about cutting wooden blocks for something he called “tall paintings“.  What are tall paintings, I wondered?  So I clicked on that link which brought me to another post of his and then to this video.  Wow.

Now, I do not have much in the way of woodworking skills so I sent the video out to the parents on a Friday and by Monday (Monday!) we had several boxes full of mini tall painting towers.

We got busy with the glue gun and tiny cups of acrylic paint.  What amazed us was the way that this art project appealed to children who very rarely visit the art studio.  Its structural elements and the kinaesthetic quality of pouring the paint mesmerized some of our reluctant artists and kept them engaged for the entire morning play block.  Then they begged to do it again!

tall painting and child's hand two tall paintings with child pouring paint

The finished products are mesmerizing, even hypnotic, and I’m particularly intrigued by how different they look when viewed from the top versus from the side.  This part of our architecture project has been a great reminder of how important it is not to dismiss a child’s lack of engagement with a particular subject – it may just be that they want to approach it differently.  Providing those multiple entry points is so important!

tall paintings tall paintings tall paintings tall paintings tall paintings tall paintings