The army is taking guns into primary schools, and the kids are loving it.
As part of a programme teaching children about leadership and weaponry, 9- to 13-year-olds get their hands on radios and unloaded guns.
The first school visit was on Thursday at Whakarongo School, just outside Palmerston North.
Each child was given the opportunity to play with radios and practise disassembling, assembling and firing an assault rifle.
The army also spoke about leadership and leaders, such as former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and Victoria Cross winner Willie Apiata.
Top tips for being a leader were honesty, delegation, good communication, confidence, commitment and humour, major Tim Woodhouse told the children.
Corporal Israel McNicholl said it was good to show a glimpse of ‘‘army life’’ interactively.
‘‘The kids just love the guns, you know what kids are like... but they are not toys.
‘‘Most of the children’s questions were about the kit, not what the higher ideas are.’’
Eleven-year-old Kane O’Hara said the seminar was ‘‘really fun’’.
‘‘It’ll just be something that’s imprinted on your brain.’’
He had never held a gun before and said ‘‘it felt amazing and cool’’.
But not everyone agrees. The content of the course provoked over 500 comments on our story via Facebook.
A Stuff Facebook poll on whether such weapons should be put in kids’ hands, found about three-quarters of voters supporting the scheme.
Woodhouse declined to comment on the suitability of bringing guns into schools.
Deputy principal Lisa Cuff said the 25 children enjoyed playing with the equipment.
She did not think the visit would be controversial.
‘‘It’s about the leadership side.’’
Massey University education professor John O’Neill said learning material from outside organisations should be carefully assessed for value and appropriateness.
Firearms safety and learning about the army could be valuable in a longer programme.
Child psychologist Kirsty Ross said views on guns in New Zealand were mixed, and rural families were often happy with their safe handling.
‘‘I think it would be important that parents are informed... and can make a decision as to whether the content fits with their values or beliefs, or not.’’
Maddison Brown, left, and Amy Van Leeuwen come to grips with a Steyr rifle.