Early childhood educators know the importance of pretend play in children’s lives. The sociocultural theorist Lev Vygotsky purported that when children are engaged in pretend play, they demonstrate and act out skills they have learned, often before demonstrating those skills in other learning areas. It’s knowing this that brings about concern regarding superhero play: Just what are children processing when they engage in play that is physical or aggressive?
Some research suggests that superhero play might actually portray a developmental step that is necessary to children’s healthy growth. In addition, parents and teachers can use this as an opportunity to teach values, respect, and safety.
The creative aspects of superhero play can be wonderful stimuli for children’s imaginations and provide a great outlet to expand energy. Embrace this kind of play with some of the following strategies for your superhero fans!
- Choose the time and place. When children know there is a specific time and place, it is less likely to impact other areas and activities. Outdoors is best.
- Emphasize the creative elements of this play. Focus on creating costumes, props, and a setting. Develop story plots.
- Talk with children about the objectives of their play. What does a superhero do? What does a villain do? What problem are they trying to solve and how can it be solved?
- Work with children to create rules for aggressive play. When someone crosses a boundary, revisit the rules. Redirect children when needed.
- Show children that everyone can be a superhero! Point out heroes in your community, or work together on a community project.
- Talk about superheroes that kids like to watch. What qualities do these characters have that make them special? What are their characteristics? Ask children, “What would your superhero power be?”
- Discuss ways that conflicts are solved on superhero shows. If children are accustomed to viewing violence as a solution, talk about the affects that would have in real life. How do they solve conflicts at home and school? Reinforce appropriate responses to conflict.
- Develop new ways to play with superhero toys. Have the “good” and “bad” guys work together. Where do the “bad” guys live? Do they have families? Why do the children think the “bad” guys make hurtful choices?
- Give children choices and the power to make decisions in real life. Allow autonomy in simple things, such as what to have for a snack or which path to take to a playground or store (with a grown-up, of course).
- Balance your toy selections and dress-up choices. Ensure that children have options to choose from a wide range of interests. Rotate items seasonally.