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Thursdays are our homeschooling park days. One of the cool things about them is that the kids aren't limited to just playing with their age-peers. There's lots of cross overs from one age or interest group to the next.

Last week, however, there were some new kids, and the dynamic changed. I don't know exactly what happened, but what used to be one group of four 5-7 year olds split into two groups of three or four 5-7 year olds. Roman said one group was trying to take over the other, and that they had to "fight" each other. Whether because of this dynamic or for some other reason, Eva chose to play with the older girls or alone for the rest of the day.

This morning, while Roman was waiting for breakfast, he was drawing up a "battle plan" for today. When I suggested that maybe the two groups could find a way to play together, he said that they couldn't, because the other group's "leader" wanted to take over, and he was a "first grader!" What's wrong with that? "I'm a second grader! I'm smarter than him!"
I have no idea where that came from, because it certainly didn't come from me! I was speechless.

There were some other problems, among them, that one of the "new kids" had brought a rather realistic looking toy gun, and kept trying to get Roman to play with it (Roman was more than willing). I understand that weapon play is norman & natural--my husband was a soldier, for crying out loud!--but I'm not cool with using a gun like that in a crowded park! I wasn't sure whose child it was, and I didn't know what to say to her, even if I had.

Any suggestions for dealing with any of the above? THANKS!
 

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If no one is getting hurt I'd let them play it out. I wouldn't just go in and redirect play automatically. Children need space to play out many different scenerios. This is how they figure out things like good, bad, justice, and other virtues. If it gets out of control THEN redirect and talk to your child about the situation.

It's not unusual for the dynamics to change when new kids come into your park day group. We experience it too. Talk to your children about how to meet new kids and families and ways to try to incorporate them into the group. My ds and I have done role playing that has truly helped him.
 

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I can tell you how a mom in one of our groups handled it. There was some "too rough" play yesterday at park day (I missed it...we had another commitment.) One of the moms, who I think everyone respects, sent an email late last night opening up a discussion about the play dynamics in a non-confrontational, respectful way.

She concluded with "I'm just wanting to name this and make those who didn't directly observe it aware so we can help our kids find their voices and work together on making sure everyone is safe and having as good a time as possible."

Once the kids are past toddler/preschooler age, the parents aren't necessarily located right on top of their kids. The kids range around the park and the parents tend to cluster talking (as is age-appropriate). Parents might not be aware of what kind of play is taking place.

I love that this mom trusted the group enough to bring the dynamics into people's awareness in a gentle way, so that families could talk about ways to make sure everyone has a good time at park day.

One more story, might help:

When I was growing up, we used to play war. (This was during the Vietnam War, so there was a lot of news about battles and lots of protests where I lived.) We built forts and threw mud-covered pinecones at each other. Then one genius decided to make mud-covered pinecones and leave them to bake in the sun...yup, pinecone bricks. Next thing you know someone gets hit in the head and the parents ban war.

So, I'm thinking that you might want to discuss what kind of play *preceded* this new way of interacting. Maybe this is just mud-covered pinecones morphing into pinecone bricks...a matter of degree rather than difference.

Either way, I like the idea of opening up discussion (via email before the next park day if possible) with the other parents.
 
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