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Children have played at war for a long time. Model soldiers were found in some of the Egyptians tombs, and there are scenes of children in battle play pictured on others. In his article “The Importance of Play”, Bruno Bettleheim refers to battle play through out several periods in history. Adults have probably had an interest in children's war play for just as long, wondering what meaning this kind of play has for children - what needs it might be meeting, what learning might result from it, and whether or not it should be allowed.

Get in the past few years, war play (defined here as play with pretend weapons or play involving "good guys" and "bad guys" or super heroes) has become a topic discussed and debated with increasing frequency by educators, parents and the media. Professional conferences on the topic and boycotts of war toys have been organized in the US. What has happened to turn an issue of long-term interest to children and adults into a topic of increasing attention and intensifying debate?

In trying to investigate this question, we turned first to those who are closest to young children — teacher and parents. We asked them through interviews and questionnaires, about their current experiences with children's war play. The almost 100 parents and 50 early childhood professionals who answered our questions expressed many of the same views and concerns. Most of these adults were concerned about the prevalence of war play in children's lives today, which many felt had increased dramatically. Many mentioned the repetitive nature of the play — that the same simple actions, often mimicking those seen on TV, would be repeated over and over. They described the imitations of characters from television shows such as "Hi-man", and a frequent confusion among children between fantasy and reality.

Many expressed concern about an increase they were seeing in the amount of violence and aggression in children's play. They described aggressive actions which occurred without an apparent cause. Teachers and parents alike described a spill-over of violent images and behaviors into other areas of children's lives beyond their war play. They mentioned children's innocent desire for and obsession with the toys which accompany many of the violent TV-shows.

Many teachers described problems with trying to ban the war play from the classroom. For many who had always banned it, this approach was becoming more difficult to implement. They described children sneaking into concealed areas of the classroom or play ground in order to carry on with war play. Other teachers who had allowed the play to some extent were saying that it was becoming more difficult to control many parents and teachers expressed a strong sense of powerlessness about current societal influences on children's lives; for some, a sense of outrage accompanied this powerless feeling. Most were struggling to find ways to respond to what is happening and were asking many questions about what adults should do and what is best for children.

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