Sunday, April 13, 2014

Big Questions and Superhero Play

What happens when a superhero dies?
Just how powerful is a superhero?

Superhero play has taken over our classroom.  Every morning many children want capes and masks.  Immediately they are transformed into Batman, Spiderman, Superman and Wonder Woman.  They all seem to have some familiarity with these characters, which makes it easy for them to connect with each other during this type of play.
Can a superhero push a grown up without even touching her?
Offering a teacher some popcorn while she is in jail.  Is she a good guy or a bad guy?
Can superheroes fly?

These three-year old children are just emerging from parallel play, and they are newly aware that peers have ideas and feel emotions which might be different from their own.  I wonder why one of the first things that happens when more socially engaged play appears is that children begin dividing people into categories:  are you a good guy or a bad guy?

When Chris was in our classroom, she willingly took on the role of Bad Guy.  The children loved it when she said, "Oh!  Your power is pushing me into a corner!"  They seemed to feel great satisfaction over their ability to control an adult.

However, the children are unable to tell me what makes someone good or bad.  Is it the clothes they wear?  A mean looking face?  Can someone be both a little bit good and a little bit bad?  Even the four-year olds who visited our classroom couldn't tell me…and quickly changed the subject. Perhaps these older children are just becoming aware that some things don't have a simple answer.

What does it feel like to take on another role?
This child wrote, "You are in jail and you will never never never never never get out."
"We are fighting without hurting."

Our studio teacher, Anna, supported the children in creating a Bad Guy.  They eagerly took tools she helped them create (hooks, spiderweb shooters, ropes) and attacked the Bad Guy.  They showed remarkable restraint when hitting the paper.  I've noticed when we play this game, no one wants to be the bad guy.  Even at their young age, these children seem to have a moral compass. A paper representation was the perfect solution, and carried over from the studio to our classroom.
 Were the children connecting with Anna as well as with each other?

In the classroom, the children wrote a story about superheroes and bad guys.

Yesterday two Batmans and Flash and Iron Man were walking down the street and they saw a bad man.  He saw the Batmen and Flash and Iron Man and he tried to gobble them up!  They knew he was a bad man because he looked mean.  He was wearing black pants and black shoes.  The bad man hit all of the superheroes with his fist.  Then the Batmen threw their battle wings on the bad guy.  The bad guy hit all of the heroes again.  That made the superheroes mad.  Then the superheroes threw their powers and then they hit him.  They took him to jail.  The bad guy escaped from jail the next day.  The bad guy ran away and ate all of the beads up.  The superheroes opened the bad guy's mouth and took all of the beads out.  They carried the bad guy above their heads back to jail.  He stayed in jail until Wednesday.

The children seem to be wrestling with a lot of questions.  How can I identify a bad guy?  How strong am I?  How powerful am I?  What does it feel like to be dead?  What does it mean to be bad…or good?