Guidance on the EYFS for practitioners describes how boys play differently from girls and includes case studies from early years settings on how to support boys' learning through play, including superhero and weapon play.
Confident, Capable and Creative: Supporting boys' achievements says that 'sometimes practitioners find the chosen play of boys more difficult to understand and value than that of girls'.
The guidance states, 'Images and ideas gleaned from the media are common starting points in boys' play and may involve characters with special powers or weapons. Adults can find this type of play particularly challenging and have a natural instinct to stop it. This is not necessary as long as practitioners help the boys to understand and respect the rights of other children and to take responsibility for the resources and environment.'
Early Education chief executive Anne Nelson welcomed the publication, saying it gave clear strategies on how to build children's confidence and self-esteem using their interests and enthusiasms as starting points for learning opportunities.
She said, 'It promotes the views of children - being on the carpet for a long time "wastes your life". The section under Enabling Environments deals with the issue of superhero play and it does give the advice that gun play need not be stopped.
'This is a crucial area for all of us in the current climate of violence in society. I feel that all practitioners need to debate this point, come to a decision and monitor the outcomes of their decisions.'
But the National Union of Teachers said that the use of toy weapons was not acceptable.
'The idea that we can encourage or tolerate youngsters into an acceptance of guns and knives is quite bizarre,' general secretary Steve Sinnott said.
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'Confident, capable and creative: supporting boys' achievements: Guidance for practitioners in the Early Years Foundation Stage' is at www.standards.dcsf.gov.uk.