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First-grader suspended for ‘shooting’ classmate with pretend weapon

Children engage in pretend play on a regular basis, and this, of course, extends to school recess time. However, the parents of a first-grader in Ohio found out that certain types of pretend play are not allowed at his school.

The offending child had done nothing more than pretend to shoot a classmate on the playground with a “bow and arrow” — a bow and arrow that didn’t actually exist. For his trouble, he earned three days’ worth of out-of-school suspension, and his parents are wondering how this happened.

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His mom and dad said that their son was playing a game of Power Rangers when the incident occurred, and when they tried to reason with the principal, they found out that any real, pretend or imitated violence would not be tolerated at Our Lady of Lourdes in Cincinnati. So their boy had to serve out the rest of his suspension, but they don’t want to stop him from playing pretend.

And they shouldn’t. Despite this way over-the-top punishment that was doled out to a 6-year-old pretending to be a Power Ranger, pretend play is a crucial part of growth and development in the life of a child, according to Doris Bergen of Miami University. For starters, it enables kids to learn about themselves and their world, helping to sort out what their own personal likes and dislikes are. It also allows them to interact with their environment in new and different ways, and it helps fine-tune social skills, like taking turns, sharing and negotiation.

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Another benefit of make-believe is that it helps kids learn valuable problem-solving skills as they create complex situations and work out a solution by themselves. It helps kids learn to self-regulate, and also allows kids to make up their own rules, by which they can learn about discipline as they dole out “punishment” as they deem necessary.

Playing make-believe also boosts vocabulary and language skills, as they often interact with other kids or pretend play by themselves. Exploration of language, stories and narrative help develop those skills — all of which improve a child’s ability to learn in a structured academic setting.

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Besides, playing make-believe is fun, and as this first-grader’s parents point out, they’re not about to tell him that he can no longer pretend to be a superhero or play Ninja Turtles. They recognize that it’s not healthy to squash a child’s imagination, and rightly so. Their hope is that their experience will change the way future similar incidents are handled at the school. Of course, schools should prohibit real violence, actual weapons and serious threats. But anyone can see that a 6-year-old child can pretend to shoot an imaginary bow and arrow and that this is nothing more than beneficial pretend play.

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