Debates around guns, gun violence and gun control have been receiving a lot of attention of late.

Recurring school shootings in the United States, President Trump's call to arm teachers, violence and conflicts around the world, and the recent March for our Lives, which saw 1.2 million people involved in protests, many of them schoolchildren, have highlighted the controversy guns raise.

This controversy found its way to New Zealand last week with the Herald story about 40 rural childcare centres in New Zealand, part of a larger for-profit network, developing gun safety kits and rules for our children under 5. This decision raises a number of issues and questions about how education works in the early childhood sector.

Having policies about gun play has long been a part of our educational settings. However, as most teachers would agree, having a "no gun play" policy does not result in no gun play in the educational setting.


What it means is that the play just happens around the corner in early childhood, just outside of the gaze of the adult or teacher. There is no policy that could, or perhaps even should, restrict children's creativity.

Research tells us that childhood undergrounds and peer cultures, and the play that occurs within them, are important to children's development. It further suggests it is important to talk about topics that children bring to the table, rather than to dismiss them, or ban them.

Embracing children's interests and the concept of children making and doing the curriculum, rather than allowing adult's interests to dominate, are central tenets of the early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki. When situated in this context, the controversial move by a large early childhood education provider to develop gun safety kits raises fascinating questions.

As adults and professionals we tend to assume we know what is needed for our children. We tend to think children do not recognise right from wrong, life and death, or the serious issues associated with weapons and their capacity to harm.

Guns, violence, weapons that harm and gun safety are serious issues. Yet, too frequently children's voices are missing from conversations about controversial topics and their participation absent from the creation of learning activities and opportunities that engage with such topics.

I have not seen the kit or the book, nor have I talked with teachers who have worked with this kit. However, I do wonder the extent to which children's voices and self-identified needs are present in them.

If we really want to create authentic and meaningful learning opportunities for young children about guns, it is essential that we stop having purely adult-based educational guesses about rules, guns, safety and violence, and to talk with children about their experiences and needs.

Telling children rules has not tended resolve much in the past. The unintended issue of any rules for children is that they cement the power of adults, including power over learning and the curriculum, too frequently marginalising or denying the voice of children.


Children do care about the environment, about space, and about lives. They often are more conscientious and cautious than adults. Yet, we do not listen often or openly enough to children.

Until we do, children's creativity and will to rebel will prevail, and gun play will continue in our educational settings, outside of gaze of teachers, whether gun safety kits, rules and licences are present or not.

Dr Marek Tesar is a senior lecturer in childhood studies and early childhood education at the University of Auckland Faculty of Education and Social Work.