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Don't stop the war games

As the Iraqi crisis spills into playgrounds, how should teachers deal with pupils' reactions to current events? Adi Bloom reports.

WAR games and toy gunfights are on the increase in nursery and primary schools as children respond to media images of impending war in Iraq.

Early-years teachers have reported a rise in the number of violent games witnessed in the playground, since news of a possible war in Iraq began to dominate the headlines.

In imitation of television images, children as young as three have begun to feign gunfights and soldier battles.

Bernadette Duffy, head of early years at Thomas Coram early-childhood centre, in London, said many pupils were acting out battles between good and evil. "There are a lot more superhero games now - Spiderman and Daredevil. They're choosing a format they're familiar with, in order to explore ideas of right and wrong.

"We always tell them it's wrong to kill and hurt people, so now they're trying to sort out in their own minds when it's right and when it's not."

Janet Moyles, professor of education at Anglia Polytechnic University, is conducting a research project into young children's responses to current events.

She believes that violent games can be a cathartic expression of inner confusion.

"After September 11, many, many children were building up twin towers, crashing them down and throwing 'bodies' out," she said.

"Young children see violent images on TV and film, and we don't know what it does to them, because we don't stop to talk to them about it. Often, we're so busy protecting them, we don't realise they feel less troubled if they talk things through."

Professor Moyles said that rather than outlawing violent games, adults should draw out children's fears and concerns. It was also important to recognise that not all children reacted to events in the same way - Muslim children, for example, may feel more personally affected than their peers.

Teachers in both primary and secondary schools have said that they will respond to impending war by encouraging classroom discussion. But speakers at the London anti-war rally on February 15 called on public-sector workers, including teachers, to walk out of their places of work in protest, if the Government declares war on Iraq.

Unions warned that teachers who walk out of the classroom will be at risk of disciplinary action. And classroom teachers who strike are unlikely to receive the support of senior management.

John Voice, head of Filsham Valley school in East Sussex, said: "It would be totally wrong. We need to be here to support the children through a traumatic time.

"We also have an Office for Standards in Education inspection in two weeks.

I'm afraid even Iraq takes second place to that."

International, 18

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