Certain questions stay alive for us teachers as our philosophies grow and change; we explore different sides of the issues, experiment in our classrooms, observe and continue to learn. Year after year, we find ourselves discussing the children who can fly, shoot webs from between their fingers, and keep the school safe from bad guys. Superhero play is deeply compelling to children and in it we observe both great possibilities and some significant drawbacks.
Superhero play allows children a sense of invincibility and control; it allows them to experience their bodies as active and powerful; it allows them an opportunity to play out some deep and archetypal human dramas. It also allows them to work through questions they may have about violence; they are exposed to a great deal of it in the media and play is the way they make sense of what they see. Through superhero play they can discover aspects of their own personality—courage to stand up for themselves, for instance—that they might struggle to find otherwise.
On the other hand, superhero play is usually very physically aggressive, and becomes quickly adversary; children pretend to fight against one another, and often the child designated as “the bad guy” doesn’t want this role. We see children get hurt bodies and hurt feelings pretty often when superheroes show up in the classroom.
Our current strategies surrounding superhero play require
your help; we would like superhero costumes to stay at home; masks and capes
tend to elevate the energy surrounding the play so that it spins out of control
more easily. Similarly, we would
prefer that superhero books or comic books stay at home. The images in these books are very
engaging for the children, but in a large group setting, the physical
expressions of aggression that they imitate leads quickly to actual aggression
against one another.
We do not disallow superhero play. Instead we encourage the children to notice the ways that superheroes help people and encourage them to work together to solve an imaginary problem. We believe in giving children lots of time for “rough and tumble” play, but we ask them not to play games that are about hurting one another. There is a difference between wrestling and pretending to (or actually) fighting one another, and we support their play by helping them to understand the difference. We also ask them not to use pretend weapons, reminding them that weapons hurt people and animals, and that we don’t play games about hurting when we are at school.
I recommend the book The Art of Roughhousing to all of you parents of active children, and you might also enjoy the article “From Superhero to Real-Life Hero: Encouraging Healthy Play” located here.
Thank you, dear families, for supporting our work in creating a harmonious and safe environment that respects the interests and passions of our children.