What is it about superheroes that beguile young children? In my nearly ten years of working alongside children in different early childhood settings in New Zealand, superhero play has always been an interest, a hit among children and one learning area that I really like to extend and support because of its richness in learning opportunities.
Imagine children arguing quite heatedly. I’m Ironman. No, I’m Ironman. The arguing goes on and on. Imagine the language learning opportunities here and the words that can be used for conflict resolution and socio-emotional learning moments. Imagine the bucket of tears from wounded feelings that I have helped mend just because children thought there could only be one Elsa at any given time.
Being a superhero in socio-dramatic play, is physically empowering for children. They become bigger, faster, higher, stronger and more powerful than they already are. Think of the monsters they have slayed, the heavens they have flown, the heights they have scaled and the mountains they have climbed.
In between strenuous running, I would often take a break with them. I would often ask what makes a superhero. Almost always, their responses gravitate towards physical strength. You must see us scale the “mountains” of kindergarten as we chase the “baddies” – heaps of heaving, running, vocal improvisations – all to showcase physical strength!
There is one learning opportunity in superhero play that really stands out for me, though. It is the morality of superhero play; the sense of right or wrong that children learn as they play. Children at a very young age, could actively explore morality as they pretend to be somebody they are not; battling the so-called “baddies”.
Morality, I think, could be taught to young children. Being in the “right” could be about being kind. Being in the “wrong” could be about hitting or mocking others.
I am still in awe of all research that supports the New Zealand Early Childhood Curriculum’s (Te Whariki) dispositional learning. Children’s ability to take risks, to take interest, to participate, to be friendly and to negotiate; could be encouraged among children from birth to preschool. Such dispositions could all form part of their lifelong character.
That notion of lifelong learning brings me to the question: What if we start the moulding of our children into the kind of persons Jesus wants them to be, at a very early age? Then my friend, I must say, we are preparing them to become their future selves; the kind of superhero, God envisions them to be – fearless in their faith and loving and kind to others.
Jesus has far more amazing qualities than your regular superhero. Let us draw our children closer to these qualities. Jesus as our God and who is also our friend. Jesus as a great listener. Jesus as kind and loving. Jesus as fearless.
Encouraging children to be fearless in their faith and to be kind and loving, is not always taught through show-and-tell. It is a process that starts at home. Let me highlight that learning as a “process” as opposed to learning as a “product”. While the product focuses more on superficial standards and quality, the “process” focuses on the beauty of relationship; the journeying, the solving of errors, together. It is the constant modelling of kind and loving words at home. It is the constant forgiveness they see at home when one errs. It could be that while playing, we model taking turns. It could even be the constant asking of one of the most important questions of all – How does that make you feel? It could be about modelling feeling words; “I could see how being hit could make you feel very angry”. We need to show children humanity and part of it is empathy and expressing emotions.
In Philippians 4:13, it is said, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”. If there is anything that keeps us from being that teacher or parent who teaches our children how to to be like Jesus then…KAPOW to our fears!