Friendly Fire

Guns in role play

Project author:

Project summary:

This project is a study of how practitioner and parental views of war and weapon play impact on how this type of play is accommodated in our setting.


This project looks at the complex issue of war and weapons in role play, with a focus on finding ways in which we can accommodate this play in our setting. The study will explore how the adults around our children react to war and weapon play and the approaches they take towards this play.

Taking time to reflect on our practice and consider what may influence our approach.

It is important our children feel safe to express themselves in their play and for them to feel that the adults around them truly appreciate their play and their right to develop their own interests (article 29 UNCRC).

Therefore it is important that as a team we find ways and strategies which are consistent and enable our children to engage in their role play without judgement or inhibition.


Role play involving elements of war or weapons feature regularly within our setting, particularly scenarios of bad guys being pursued and caught. This play is often observed outdoors and in our block area (a ½ arch block makes a great gun!). The children observed engaging in this play are predominantly boys but not exclusively. As they play children demonstrate imagination, creativity and good language skills. They appear to be immersed in the play, showing high levels of motivation and engagement. Yet weapon and war play isn’t held in the same regard as other forms of role play within our setting.

I like most of my colleagues am not against this play, however it is not an area of play we as a team have been confident in recording or extending.

I feel that as a team we would benefit from the opportunity to look at our own personal views on war and weapon play and gain a greater understanding of ways in which we can facilitate this in our setting. This will hopefully enable our children to have the freedom to engage in their choice of role play, with the adults around them having a shared approach in how they interact or respond to this play.

I was initially focused on gathering the thoughts and opinions of staff, to enable us to collate our views on weapon and war play and then progress as a team to look at if/how we accommodate this play in our setting, creating a more unified approach.

I quickly identified the need to extend the research to our families to gather a wider range of information about how the different adults in the children’s lives perceive the addition of weapons and themes of war in children’s role play.

I felt a questionnaire for staff would be the best approach, as it would give practitioners the opportunity to take time to reflect on their own experiences, thoughts and feelings before submitting their responses. I also chose to send out a parental questionnaire to all families offering everyone the opportunity to share their opinions without feeling inhibited in any way.


Before the research study took place, all parents/carers were issued with a permission form for their child to take part in the study. Parents and families were also given verbal information regarding the study, why it was happening and what the focus of study was. This gave our families the opportunity to ask any questions or share any concerns.

Permission was also sought from my head teacher and local authority lead, who were also given the project proposal to give a clear indication of the purpose of the study.

Staff also gave permission to participate. All questionnaires were voluntary and responses anonymous allowing participants the ability to share freely their own feelings and opinions.

“Moreover, children are re-enacting scenarios where force, often violent wins out, which contradicts practitioners’ efforts to resolve conflict peacefully. A major difficulty with this analysis is that because children are generally interrupted in such play scenarios I do not feel we can begin to evaluate the imaginative potential of such scenarios unless we allow them to develop.”

Penny Holland ( We don’t play with guns here, 2003 )


The staff questionnaire focused on practitioners’ individual feelings towards war and weapon play, how they approach this and if they record role play with elements of war or weapons in a child’s learning journal.

The questionnaire was issued to seven members of staff, and was completed by six.

The questionnaire focussed on gaining an understanding of the individual’s feelings towards war and weapon play and the approach they would take towards it within the setting. Although no one said they were against war and weapons featuring in role play, there were some apprehensions or concerns expressed particularly regarding play becoming boisterous or causing injury.

There were some conflicting responses regarding the approaches staff take with war and weapon play. Some members of staff said they would discourage this play, while other members of the team would allow the play to continue.

The responses show us that while as a team it would appear we are open to the prospect of elements of war and weapon play and acknowledge there are positive aspects to it, we do however have some concerns and inconsistences in the approaches towards this. This results in children receiving mixed responses to their play. Our next step is to look at agreeing ways in which we can make this more consistent for our children while ensuring staff feel more confident and comfortable in doing so.

The final focus of the staff questionnaire was around recording children’s play. 100% of the responses stated that they had not recorded this type of role play in a child’s learning journal. A lack of confidence and also concerns of parental reactions, were given as some of the barriers to recording this form of role play. Could we now begin to make these observations and record children’s role play, fully sharing the learning taking place with our families?

The parental questionnaire was issued to all 39 of our families, I received 13 responses.

85% of the responses said they would not discourage their child from engaging in war and weapon role play. The feedback also revealed that 46% of the children represented in the completed questionnaires own a weapon type toy at home. When asked if practitioners shared the benefits would they be happy for their child to engage in this form of role play 92% of participants said yes they would.

This data shows us that a large percentage of our families are open to the prospect of role play taking place in nursery with elements of war and weapons.

The following observation is an example of war and weapon play which has taken place during the study:

Two boys were working together at block area gathering up the quadruple unit blocks and placing them on top of shelving unit, in a row.  As they did this they negotiated, helped each other to manoeuvre the blocks, and carefully and purposefully placed each one. As he placed the final block onto the unit child 1 said “Right Guys, Charge your guns!” (They appeared to have created a charging station) Child 2 then said “Its charged, let’s go!” They each picked up a quadruple unit block, carrying it under their arms. Child 1 said “We need to find the bad guy!” Child 2 replied “Let’s get him and put him in jail.”

The boys then went around the nursery in search of the ‘bad guy’. Another child joined their play taking on the bad guy role as the boys appeared to catch him. They acted out putting handcuffs and marching him back to the block area, pointing their guns at him as they put him jail. the three boys then worked together to construct a jail for the bad guy. They played together for  some time, as they took turns at being the bad guy. Child 1 said “They are trying to capture me but I got away, oh no here they come!” before running out into the garden where the  play continued.

Throughout the play the boys displayed great imagination and creativity. They played cooperatively and shared resources. They used good language skills in their role play and extended their play theme by incorporating other resources and children. They also constructed new models to accommodate the evolving play theme. The boys demonstrated a high level of engagement in their role play.


This research project has given us the starting point to explore the theme of war and weapon play in our setting. This form of role play arises with each cohort of children we have, and therefore there is clearly a need for some children to engage in this play. In the past we have all been known to stop this play or redirect it to something we are more comfortable with. After reflection and many staff discussions, we are now as team questioning why we do this. We are all willing to try different approaches, becoming more open to the benefits of this role play. We now need to build on this research and look at developing a shared approach to this play. We will begin to extend this project into our written recordings of the children’s war/weapon play. When recording these observations of this play we will refer back to our Local Authority quality observation checklist, ensuring we are recording the learning taking place. All staff are keen to develop their understanding of war and weapon play, therefore as team have all agreed to take on some professional reading, engaging with Penny Holland’s book. Then come together, share our thoughts and compile an action plan as to how we develop our approach to this play.

We hope this will demonstrate to our children and families that we value all play and recognise each individual child’s interests and play themes.

I have found that many of our families are open to war and weapon play and we strive to share the benefits with them and reassure those with any concerns.

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Lauren Campbell
    Lauren Campbell
    22 Mar 2024 at 3:31 pm

    Interesting read. I will now think twice before putting a stop to war and weapon play. 🙂

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  2. Natalie Morgan
    Natalie Morgan
    24 Mar 2024 at 2:55 pm

    This project has made me think about our own practice in our setting and it would be good to share this with them to find out their thoughts. I enjoyed reading this and had some good arguments for both for and against. It showed the benefits and how it was good for language development in children.

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  3. Lynne Morrison
    Lynne Morrison
    25 Mar 2024 at 10:11 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your project. It has made me reflect on my practice and question why I feel uncomfortable writing about this type of role-play and sharing it with parents. Through reading this, I can tell how much you value the importance of getting this right within your setting for the benefit of your young learners. Thank You for sharing.

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  4. Sharon Muir
    Sharon Muir
    26 Mar 2024 at 4:16 pm

    What an interesting topic to research! I really enjoyed reading this and it has certainly made me reflect on my daily practise, sharing this with the team. I was also interested to hear your parental feedback.
    Thanks for sharing this.

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