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Starring:
Jane Katch


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"Most boys, all over the world, play games of good guys and bad guys, adventure and violence," observes Jane Katch. "I look for ways to let young boys know that I do not disapprove of their thoughts -- after all, they cannot control their fantasies."

As head teacher of four- and five-year-olds at Touchstone Community School in Grafton, Massachusetts, Katch does expect her students to learn to control how they treat other people. The author of Under Deadman's Skin: Discovering the Meaning of Children's Violent Play and They Don't Like Me: Lessons on Bullying and Teasing from a Preschool Classroom says that she wants the children to learn how to enjoy the games they love while remaining considerate of the feelings of those around them.

"It's better to understand kids' violent play than to forbid it," says teacher/author Jane Katch.

"That will help the children be more empathic as they grow up and have access to more powerful toys and even real weapons," Katch explains. "In addition, talking about how to play safely and without hurting others provides material for wonderful group discussions, encouraging children to express their own feelings while learning to listen with empathy to others."

In Katch's kindergarten classroom, she sets the rules for safety's sake. When safety is not an issue in a conflict, however, the children involved are instructed to stop their play and talk about the problem. If the conflict is one that interests the whole group, Katch brings it to the daily discussion held during snack time. She follows the steps below:

  1. Describe the problem.
    First Katch asks each child involved in the disagreement to explain the problem from his or her point of view -- with no interruptions and no arguing from others.
  2. Collect ideas.
    Katch asks, "What would you like to have happen now?" Each child in the group can make a suggestion -- with no interruptions, criticism, arguing, or put-downs.
  3. Choose a solution.
    From the suggestions provided, participants in the conflict choose one idea to try out. Most of the time, the solution is selected by consensus -- the children all become excited about the same idea, refining it as they talk. If consensus does not happen, they keep talking, sometimes postponing a decision until the next day. Katch makes it clear that if a solution is tried and doesn't work well, they can try a different suggestion.
  4. Act out the solution.
    Different children take the roles of the children who were involved in the problem when the conflict first occurred. Sometimes roles are exchanged, so children experience other points-of-view.
  5. Try out the solution.
    Katch and her students reevaluate the solution; if there are still problems, they make changes until the participants are satisfied.

Recently in Katch's class, a group of boys were playing a noisy game of Pokemon during activity time. The game was disruptive to children who were trying to do quieter activities and to Katch because she was trying to write down the stories children were dictating to her. They discussed the problem at snack time. Katch explained that, although she didn't have anything against Pokemon games, she did have a problem with the noise that had gone on in the morning, as well as with the unsafe running of the players.

"To my surprise, the boys who were playing quickly suggested that the only noisy parts of the game were the battles, and that many other parts of the game could be played more quietly," Katch told Education World. "They agreed to play the parts with battles at recess. Of course, at recess they know they are not allowed to touch each other when they pretend to fight. If I had simply banned the game, they would not have had the opportunity to learn that they could accommodate others while still playing the game they love. That's the kind of quality I'd like to encourage in boys in this violent society!"

When Katch sees real aggression among her students, she stops it immediately. She does not permit hitting, pushing, kicking, or other hurtful behaviors in her class. Her rule is that when the children pretend to fight, they cannot touch each other. They must be two arm's-lengths apart to shadow box or to point fingers at each other if they are pretending to shoot. All violent play isn't ruled out because a distinction is made between pretend fighting and real aggression.

"We must keep in mind that violence in a fantasy is not the same as real aggression that hurts someone," says Katch. "In superhero play, boys imagine they are powerful enough to protect the world from evil. Children can happily pretend to shoot each other with pointed fingers. If they follow the rules of the game and follow rules for safety, that play can be cooperative and satisfying. There is no evidence that it leads to real aggression."

In her close observation of kindergarten girls and boys, Katch has discovered that girls rarely express violence directly in their play, but she adds that a crying baby in the doll corner can be every bit as disruptive as a boys' Pokemon game. The girls have physical conflicts less often, Katch says, although name-calling, spreading rumors, and exclusion can be just as hurtful as the boys' testing of strength.

"I am continually surprised by how well children can listen to each other, express their opinions, and come up with creative solutions to problems once they have learned the process," Katch adds. "Their solutions surprise me every time."

Photo courtesy of Jane Katch.

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected].

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

02/24/2006