The Year the Superheroes and Villains Came
As a parent and early childhood educator, I thought I was well-equipped to deal with every developmental stage. I was grounded in the teachings of child development. I knew I was ready for anything that could possibly happen between birth and age 8— that is, until the year the superheroes and their villains arrived. I was overwhelmed and was not prepared for this type of play.
Superhero play at my house went beyond Ninja Turtles and pizza. It included venom-spewing characters and weapons. Villains were occasionally jailed, but quite a few were … um, murdered. Comic books gradually replaced the cute picture books about hungry caterpillars and pigeons driving buses. I panicked!
After getting over the initial shock and reflecting on my own childhood experiences, I began to observe and assess. I quickly noticed some of the benefits of superhero play. The vocabulary used by the children during this play was complex and included words like camouflage, potent, mutant, and psionic. Building a structure that would defend the world from a villain who had an arsenal of toxic chemicals required higher-level thinking skills. Superhero play promoted social responsibility and democratic principles. It was also a great physical activity.
Like with any other type of play, my role was to make sure the superhero play was both physically and emotionally safe. I prepared an environment that fostered imaginary play. Many of the toys used were made with household items. I also facilitated conversations that addressed ethics. We examined the role of violence as a problem-solving strategy and the lack of female and culturally diverse superheroes. We also talked about the heroes in our family and everyday heroic actions like recycling and sharing.
Whew, what a difference a year makes! Now on to the next challenge: competitive sports. I may need superpowers to deal with this.
Marica Mitchell is Director of Higher Education Accreditation and Program Support at NAEYC.