The following article was written by a friend who works as an Early Child Educator in a before and after school program. It is about his participation in the Warhammer School Clubs program, a program by Games Workshop intended to promote the hobby within schools. This article is part four, see part one, part two, and part three.
With 15 children participating, we had a pretty large group to contend with. During this past summer, the local Games Workshop came and did a presentation to the small summer group that we had. That was about 8 kids. He told me that was about the ideal number for a painting workshop, so having 15 is going to be something of a new challenge.
We did have some parents come and chat about the Club after receiving the sign-up letter. There was no concerns about the contents of the program, rather the biggest issues had to do with scheduling – trying to figure out how to work around hockey and dance practices, and all the other extracurriculars children do nowadays. The parents were really open to wargaming in the classroom, and I am grateful for their openness and the trust they’ve put in our program.
Session One: Vows of the Knights of Warhammer
January 23rd was our first session. Our after school program is a “roll-away” program, meaning that we share the gym with the school, and have to roll all our cabinets and material out each day and put it away each night. This is obviously a lot of work, however the upside to this is that our classroom is really adaptable when it comes to set up. So I put out one of our carpets and set up a whiteboard to make a “quiet” area in which the group could meet and not have the conversations interrupted.
And there was a lot of conversation. These two first sessions in the curriculum book are very “talk” heavy. I tried real hard to keep the time to 20 mins, since some of the children where having a very hard time sitting still and talking about “codes of conduct” and “Leadership Roles” in the abstract. This is especially true since the kids didn’t really know what they were getting themselves involved with — they were under the impression that it was mostly “painting tiny figures” and not working out rules and such.
Being more student focused is an important aspect of the club. While they are in school, students don’t get much of a say on the rules or how their classrooms are run. They are told the school matrix without having any real say or buy-in. Most teachers are used to that kind of teaching within the classroom. I am lucky enough to be a part of a more open ended before-and-after program, where the curriculum is more malleable and I am allowed to craft my own classroom style.
I took this as an opportunity to experiment with greater democratic organizing within the classroom. The children developed their own “Code of Conduct” that made sense to them democratically. This allows for greater ownership over the program, a greater buy-in from the children to follow the boundaries set by them. At the age that we’re operating at (middle/late school age) the majority of them know how to behave in this kind of situation, and those outliers that have difficulty are more likely to be focused when the proper behavior is reinforced by a group mentality.
The group determined what our club would be called. Some suggestions where “Warhammer Wednesday club”, “Warhammer Club”, etc. One that stood out was “World War One Warhammer Edition Club”. The children went with “Warhammer Alliance”, which is ironic, because the school club is called Warhammer Alliance in the UK (although they choose this because the acronym, WHA, is shares with the World Hockey Association, which is the league our local professional hockey team started in).
There were plenty of children excited to volunteer for student led positions, even if they didn’t quite understand how much work was going into those roles. The children picked between themselves and elected those positions. I tried my hardest to encourage each position to have two children, one boy and one girl, to take those positions. The hardest to fill was the “Librarian” or Loremaster position, since it involved a lot of reading, but afterwards I gave the girls who were elected I gave them the free previews of the Warhammer Adventure books I had.
At the end, I asked the children to take a knee and repeat the “Oath of the Valiant Warrior” which is in the curriculum book. At this point we’d been talking for about 20 mins, so some of the kids were getting pretty squirrely. Instead of repeating the Oath after me, they yelled incomprehensible screams. It took a moment to give a reminder, but when we were done, I told them to rise, “As Knights of Warhammer!”
After all the children had dispersed, two girls asked if they could get out the boxes we’re keeping the figures in. They set up a space in our reading area, where they used the models in their play. It was a family drama, with a fantasy twist, where magic cousins and families going to “fight” their enemies. It’s really special to see how they can use these fantasy figures and create their own narrative with them.
Session Two: The Ethics of War(hammer)
The Second of the “talking Sessions” was about the ethics and morality of warfare and a dive into the factions, their motivations and the ethics of each factions. I drew out these weird half circles to have three different points of reference when talking about the morality of war and the factions: “good”, “bad” and “maybe”. I was thinking, moral compass, compasses are round, so how about make a round chart for them to plot their ideas on? Reflecting on it, this was totally over complicated and a simple line graph which they could show the spectrum between “good” and “bad” would have been far easier.
The discussion on war was probably one of the most interesting group discussions I’ve had with children. It brought out a lot of the children’s personal family history, how grandparents and parents were touched by warfare in the past. The hurt involved that still affect their families to this day even if direct family members have not been in combat situations, it’s was really a deep conversation we don’t usually have in the “play focused” environment.
After talking about the general morality of war, we moved into learning a little about the Age of Sigmar world and characters in it. This is where our Master Librarian really stepped up – she had taken the Warhammer Adventures preview all the way though and wanted to share what she had learned. She was most excited to share the different realms – fire, life, beasts, metal, etc – that the characters have moved though, and the battles between the barbarians and the Stormcast. She also shared that the first chapters of the “Lifestone” novel were sad since the main characters mother dies.
After this explanation from our young Librarian, we went though some of the different factions in the Age of Sigmar, and how the kids saw them on the moral compass. They had some interesting ideas – I’m not sure if you could say that Ironjaw Orks are a “good” faction, I would think that they’d be neutral (more of a “force of nature” then a “force of good”). But that’s how they saw them, and we’ll see how they continue to build their understanding of the narrative world of Sigmar coming.
Something I did for them is that I printed out copies of the free preview of the Warhammer Adventures. The program has few “take homes” written into it, so I thought that this would be a simple way for them to have something to keep for themselves and be introduced to the whole lore of the game (I mean, it is why GW is making them, after all).
These first two sessions are very discussion heavy, and that can be difficult for some children who have difficulty in group sitting situations. That being said, it’s a worthwhile exercise to create a sense of ownership within the Warhammer Club, and develop a conversation around the ethics of war, giving children a greater context to place the world of Warhammer in. How play-based programs give space for heavy philosophical discussions, and this is a great way to bring philosophy and critical thinking into a program.
Next time, we’re finally getting to the nitty gritty of painting. Expect a lot of pictures!