29th October 2011
Should we be encouraging children to fight? Both forest school programmes I ran this week slipped happily into war games without any injury or incident and all the kids seemed to relish the opportunity to attack, defend, chase and outwit their enemies in the course of a day playing in the woods. I never advocate people physically hurting each other, but it seems to me that the need to play war is as natural to children as den building and climbing trees and to deny them the opportunity is to deny an instinct that goes back to our evolutionary roots.
The children had worked on making dens, which became castles, then we set them the challenge of trying to steal each other’s treasure from the castles whilst protecting their own from raiders. It soon became a very physical game which included bows and arrows, swords, traps and double crossing. We stepped in to agree the ‘terms of engagement’ such as its OK to throw larch cones, but not stones, and nothing at the head. Out of respect for their hard work they asked each other not to destroy the dens and when things were spilling over we called a ceasefire for lunch. The thought, energy and dedication they put into the task showed they were clearly in their element. <
Both my children are girls and, whilst unfortunately its not unknown for them to kick and thump each other from time to time, they don’t naturally fall into a wrestling heap on the floor as I often see friends’ sons do. I don’t like to generalise with the sexes, but many boys seem to need to fight and for often understandable reasons this is usually denied at school and home. Once more, I notice how the structured freedom of a forest school enables physical and mental development hard to achieve elsewhere. When appropriately managed, boys and girls can learn a lot about their own capabilities from playing combat. They develop their gross motor, strategising and team working skills, as well as their resiliance and awareness of risk. And you don’t get all that from playing ‘Call of Duty’ on the Playstation.