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Reflections Magazine : Reflections Magazine Issue 55 Winter 2014
REFLECTIONS • GOWRIE AUSTRALIA • WINTER 2014 - ISSUE 55 15 Children's consumption of popular culture has pronounced impacts on their play. The superhero genre has traditionally been marketed to children with films and television series being created solely for this purpose (Barbaro and Earp, 2008). Meanwhile, many adults are concerned about children's consumption of popular culture, specifically the superhero genre, through viewing films and cartoons, integrating action figures into play and wearing trade marked costumes for play. Superhero play and play which explores violence remains a contentious issue for educators and families alike. Some of the major concerns explored in recent literature include: • The negation of flexible imaginary play through the use of narrow story lines in children's films and cartoons (Glenn Cupit, 2006). • The depiction of the female as the submissive victim stereotype and a sexualised object of desire, relegating girls engaged in superhero play to powerless, peripheral roles (Marsh, 2010). • The clear but restrictive messages associated with masculinity in superhero play - superheroes are quite strictly aggressive, strong and quiet, while villains are associated with a much wider range of personality types. Marsh (2010) asserts that this sends a strong message that to stray from the prescribed masculinity is inherently bad. • The assumption that toy guns and pretend violence is connected to the development of aggressive behaviour and using this reasoning as justification for a zero tolerance policy on superhero play (Holland, 2003). Despite the concerns outlined above, there is much evidence to suggest that superhero play is, in fact, an essential learning tool for many children (Marsh, 2010). Children have a real need to explore the themes upon which superhero narratives are based - violence, dominance, good and evil (Levin, 2003). It seems that the largest pulling factor drawing children into superhero play may be centred around children's own experience of life compared to superheroes. With superheroes representing strength, power and integrity (Barnes, 2008), we should not be surprised when children enjoy bringing these qualities into their play (Glenn Cupit, 2006). Supported superhero play In our service, superhero play had been developing in the kindergarten room and educators began to closely observe the themes which children were bringing to their play. With the understanding that superhero play is often about allowing children to feel powerful and to explore different aspects of violent behaviour, intentional teaching possibilities were carefully considered. After receiving little response to efforts from educators to insert real life heroes (emergency service personnel) into children's superhero play narratives, power began to be more closely considered as a possible point of interest for the group. With the involvement of the entire kindergarten group, a list of superheroes was compiled, including many female characters. This brainstorming session piqued the interest of every child, as all were able to share their knowledge and contribute to the discussion. With a very long list recorded for the group to see, the children were then challenged to consider what made each of the listed characters a superhero. When asked, "What is it that these characters do that makes them super?" the children had a variety of suggestions: • They help people out. •They are clever. • They are strong. • They wear costumes. When the group reflected on the list, all of the children identified as having the top three character traits. Of course, the fourth led to a flurry of costume making. Through intentional teaching moments during play and formal whole group meetings, educators encouraged children to consider what superheroes would do if they were at kindergarten - How would they show that they were clever and strong? How would they help people out? These discussions led to significant changes in the nature of superhero play observed within the group. Superheroes in the kindergarten environment supported their peers with difficult tasks, conducted safety checks of the environment, showed more confidence in social problem solving, and displayed increasing independence in many ways. In an unexpected extension of this supported- superhero-play, the focus moved to 'Superfoods' with a parent led nutrition presentation, many cooking experiences and, eventually, a review of the kindergarten menu provided from the service's kitchen. With a theoretical understanding of the benefits of superhero play, the children's interests were harnessed to promote a sense of belonging and security as children actively showed care, concern and respect for one another. At the same time, healthy eating habits were promoted from a perspective of building 'super' bodies. Perhaps, most importantly, children experienced an increasing sense of control as they developed understandings around how they, rather than their favourite superhero, could be super. References: Barbaro, A and Earp, J. (2008). Consuming kids: the commercialization of childhood. Media Education Foundation, 66 mins. Barnes, H. (2008). The Value of superhero play. Putting Children First 27: 18-21. Glenn Cupit, C. (2006). Superhero Play and Very Human Children. Early Years: An International Research Journal 16(2): 22-25 Holland, P. (2003). We Don't Play with Guns Here. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Levin, D. (2003). Beyond banning war and superhero play: Meeting Children's Needs in Violent Times. Young Children. http://www.decal.ga.gov/documents/ attachments/WarAnd SuperheroPlay.pdf (accessed 4 July 2013) Marsh, J. (2010). "'But I want to fly too!': Girls and superhero play in the infant classroom." Gender and Education 12(2): 209-20.
Issue 56 Spring 2014
Reflections Magazine Issue 54