Children, Youth, Families & Schools, Nebraska Center for Research on


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Published in Early Years: Journal of International Research & Development 29:3 (2009), pp. 296–298. Copyright © 2009 Tonia Durden and Julie Rainer Dangel; published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis. Used by permission.


What do parents and educators do when a child pretends to be a roaring T. Rex who devours his victims or becomes a dragon that burns fields and houses? Does allowing young children to engage in violence during pretend play negatively influence their moral and ethical development? In Edmiston’s book Forming ethical identities in early childhood play (2008), he boldly addresses this question using both experiential as well as scholarly evidence to support his proposition that children can develop an ethical identity through violent or what he describes as mythical adult–child play. The foundation of his proposition stems from a long-term case study in which he engages in mythical play with his son Michael (from 18 months to seven years of age). He continues his discussions with Michael to age 17. Edmiston presents Michael in discontinuous snapshots; in one section he may be three and another 13. Therefore, by the end of the book, we long to know more about the process of transformation Michael goes through in his development as a moral being. Although the methodological procedures of this case study are described only briefly, the author provides multiple examples of Michael as both villain and hero to demonstrate how adults can engage children in a reconceputalised version of play as ethical pedagogy and the long-term effects of such engagement.

One of the strengths of a case-study approach is the context it provides for understanding the findings. We argue that the context we live in today provides urgency for considering how we become answerable for our actions. Because terrorism, war and violent acts are prevalent in our global societies, we find that his argument for more scholarly conversations on this matter is timely and socially relevant for parents and early childhood educators.