Boys ‘can learn healthy lessons from toy guns’

The Scotsman 29 Dec 07
The advice may go against the instinct of almost every parent, but new guidance says young boys should be encouraged to play with toy guns. According to recommendations from the UK government, playing with pretend weapons at an early age may encourage an enthusiasm for learning. In the new guidelines, nursery staff are told to resist their “natural instinct” to stop boys playing with weapons. But some teachers have criticised the advice for nurseries in England and Wales, warning that toy guns “symbolise aggression” and adding that the advice amounted to gender stereotyping. The guidance – Confident, Capable and Creative: Supporting Boys’ Achievements – was issued by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. It says: “Sometimes, practitioners find the chosen play of boys more difficult to understand and value than that of girls. They may choose activities in which adults involve themselves least, or play that involves more action and a greater use of the available space, especially outdoors. Images and ideas gleaned from the media are common starting points in boys’ play and may involve characters with special powers or weapons. Adults can find this type of play particularly challenging and have a natural instinct to stop it. This is not necessary, as long as practitioners help the boys to understand and respect the rights of other children and to take responsibility for the resources and environment. Creating situations so that boys’ interests in these forms of play can be fostered through healthy and safe risk-taking will enhance every aspect of their learning and development.” Boys fall behind girls in educational development at an early age, a pattern that continues throughout their later years at school. The guidelines aim to help boys improve by “creating the right conditions for boys’ learning” before they start formal primary education. Making use of boys’ interests can help them to become more engaged in their education, the document suggested. But the National Union of Teachers in England yesterday criticised the advice on toy guns. Steve Sinnott, the NUT general secretary, said: “The real problem with weapons is that they symbolise aggression. “We do need to ensure, whether the playing is rumbustious or not, that there is a respect for your peers, however young they are. “The reason why teachers often intervene when kids have toy guns is that the boy is usually being very aggressive.”