For the longest time our preschoolers have been playing Star Wars, Spiderman and Batman which led me to wonder and research more about how we can foster healthy superhero play, how we can focus more on the creative side of superhero play and why superheroes are SUCH a fascinating topic for most preschoolers.
If you’d like to extend superhero play into something more meaningful and complex read along for some resources, projects and ideas we’ve been exploring. I promise it will be magical and enriching for everyone involved!
Superhero Play occurs everyday in preschool classrooms, yet many of us educators struggle to facilitate superhero play and parents often express concerns about ‘violent’ and ‘rough and tumble’ behavior. However, there are many benefits to superhero play and reasons why children are so attracted to it:
Young children, facing the challenges of learning many new skills, may often feel small, helpless, fearful, unable to accomplish what they desire, or troubled—in other words, just the opposite of superheroes. It’s no wonder that many preschoolers are drawn to superhero play. Through play they can feel brave, fearless, in control of their world, outside of ordinary, and just plain good. Research tells us that play is a major vehicle in development. Through play, children test the waters, try out roles and behaviors, investigate right and wrong, experiment with language, use creativity, find outlets for physical activity, and learn more about difficult skills like impulse control and conflict resolution. Clearly, many children have a need to play superheroes, and this form of rough and tumble, free play, can contribute to healthy development. Early Childhood News, From Superhero to Real-Life Hero: Encouraging Healthy Play, Shelley Butler and Deb Kratz.
Meaningful superhero play:
If we want children to become their own persons who feel empowered and define their own characters and roles, we have to stimulate their imaginations and create opportunities where they can follow their own ideas and expressions. Through exploring superpowers and becoming their own superhero we we can engage and empower children more deeply to explore their own individuality, allowing them to try out different roles and behaviors beyond the set roles of Batman or Spiderman, and encouraging them to develop their own voices as well as empathy within a personal and social consciousness.
During our week-long exploration of superpowers we’ve created our own superhero papier mache masks and capes, visualized our Superheroes and Superpowers in clay and pictured ourselves as superheroes in Mixed Media Collages.
- Paper/Styrofoam plates
- Cardboard scraps
- Masking tape
- Modge podge
- Kwix Sticks Paint Markers
- Collage materials (feathers, sequins, glitter, foam shapes, pompoms, tissue paper shapes, scrap construction paper, pipecleaners etc.)
- Hole punch
- White paint (or spray paint, it’s faster!)
- White capes
- Sharpies (optional: thick foam brushes and liquid watercolors)
Step 1: Introduction
To introduce the topic of superheroes we read this wonderful book about courage, focused on what makes “good guys” good (determination, kindness, helpfulness, bravery and courage create a superhero) and collected stories from everyday superheroes and real ‘superhelpers’ (“Who helped a friend lately?”, “Who did something especially brave and kind before?”, “Who tried something difficult?”).
Step 2: Collage
Set out a tray with cardboard scraps, scissors and tape. Place individual trays with a precut paper plate mask in front of each child (cut 2 eyes, hole punch the sides, attach a string). Show how to securely tape cardboard pieces on the mask and invite the children to assemble their own superhero mask. I asked the children to use their imaginations, think about what powers they’d like to have and who they would be as superheroes. They had to come up with their own superheroes and couldn’t create something that already existed (Batman, Spiderman etc.). If you’re working with 3-4 year old children consider to precut some tape and stick it on each tray to allow them to work independently without the frustration of trying to cut the tape.
Tip: Children usually get excited if materials are set out on the table and likely just start creating with them. If you need to explain a project first or show how to use the supplies safely you can play a game where you gather the children around the table and ask them to put their hands on their head, on their ears (“tug a little bit to turn on your listening ears”), behind their backs, on their shoes, and on their bellies where the hands rest until you’re done explaining and have refreshed a few rules and sharing scenarios (e.g. “what can you do if someone else has the color you want to use etc.?”).
When a child is done assembling their mask, cover everything with a layer of Modge Podge (glue) and newspaper strips. Let the children tear newspaper in small pieces, show them how to apply some glue, press a newspaper strip on it and apply some more glue on top. Explain that this will hold their mask together better so they can play with it later. Let dry overnight. Once dry, paint the masks white so the children can color them.
Step 3: Paint
Once the masks are dry invite the children to color their mask with Kwix Sticks (easy to handle, mess free tempera paint in marker form – we absolutely love them!). We also used normal tempera paint which will cover the surface more evenly. Set out cups of paint, put a paintbrush in each color and let the children take one color at a time. Remind them to put the paintbrush back in it’s color.
Step 4: Decorate
Set out glue and a few collage supplies (tissue paper shapes, pompoms, feathers, beads etc.) to further decorate the masks.
Step 4: Make a cape
Invite the children to make their own cape to complete their superhero outfits, draw on the capes with Sharpies. Let the children brainstorm ideas of what they could draw on their superhero cape or what they could use it for:
“Does the cape show your superpower? Is it a shield? Which colors are you going to use? Etc.”
Step 5: Reflect and discuss
During snack I often let the children show their projects to each other. Each child introduced their superhero, mask and cape. We talked about the particular superhero strengths and powers and what their superhero character would do out in the world. Look at these way too cute and surely empowered superheroes with some truly amazing powers!
Read closely how much the children defined their role and characters, how they explored their individuality when they become their own superhero and how deeply they were in dialogue with their character. Some children picked up on personal themes or truly refined their characters for play (e.g. “I’m a jaguar, he bites when you come too close!”). Other children found personal empowerment in making sense of- and actively creating their surroundings, finding magical solutions to real life problems (e.g. “If I want to knock the snow off the roof I need to be very strong. It’s dangerous if it sits on the roof, it could fall on my sister. Red and pink are strong. My power has lots of red and pink!”).
You bet superhero play got much more nuanced and girls and boys played together for weeks!
I have sun power, love power, ice power, fire power, hot lava power, animal power, flower power and lion power. On my mask is a catcher that catches sunlight and makes sun power.
My power is red bing power. Red has bings in it and they come out. Red make bings. It goes “Psshhh”.
My power is a jaguar, he has sharp teeth. It’s a type of tiger who is black and he chases food. You can carefully touch one but you have to watch out because it could kill you if you get too close.
My power is sunrise power. I touch the earth and the water.
I’m strong. My power knocks all the snow and ice off the roofs. I have a lot of pink and red powers.
I have ladybug powers that squirt water out and get birds and knock down trees. My power is real because water can knock trees down.
I have ice powers. I suck up all the powers from others. And I can take on the spirits of all animals.