Ireland is currently excelling in the sport of boxing and we see male and female medal winners at the Olympics. Adults and children are fast becoming ‘experts’ in the practices, concepts and language as we watch rounds and bouts and become familiar with boxing terms ‘south paw’ and ‘uppercuts’, ‘out for the count’ and maybe even ‘saved by the bell’.
Children learn in many ways, by doing, by internalising and by copying. Reconstructing or acting out experiences and events help children figure out and make sense of their worlds. So, after the excitement of London, we might expect to see some young olympian boxers in our services and communities.
Children often engage in play fighting and super hero play (imaginary and often physical play where children imitate characters or action heroes they admire). By definition, superheros are larger than life, courageous, powerful, and seemingly able to overcome any obstacle with great physical prowess while doing great deeds at the same time. For these reasons children, boys in particular, are drawn to superhero play. Superhero play allows children to feel brave, fearless, in control of their world, outside of the ordinary and someone who can overcome any obstacle in their path!
When children begin leaping and tumbling about, however, adults worry that accidents will happen. Sometimes adults discourage superhero play for fear that someone will get hurt, it will become too disruptive, or that children will engage in it at inappropriate times.
From Superhero to Real-Life Hero: Encouraging Healthy Play
Keep in mind that this type of play gives children the chance to face their fears, work through them and show off physical feats. When supervised by adults, superhero play can help children improve their language skills and teach them to work together to solve problems, in turn helping children develop or maintain friendships — not to mention how it encourages creativity. When children begin pretending they are superheroes, adults can help them make the most of it. Here are some tips which might help early years practitioner support superhero play:
Show children that superheroes are not special just because they are physically powerful. Point out when superheroes show kindness and helpfulness to others, and praise children when they do the same.
Talk about real heroes and heroines with children. Introduce them to people like Katie Taylor, Jedward or Robbie Keane, and discuss how everyday people can demonstrate acts of courage and goodness.
Point out the difference between movies, TV and real life. When you see actors pretend to leap out of windows or jump over speeding cars, explain to children why they shouldn’t “try this at home.”
Make the rules about when and where superhero play is allowed. You may limit this sometimes rough-and-tumble play to outdoors, or during recess time. Be consistent — if “flying” indoors is not allowed on Monday, it shouldn’t be allowed on Tuesday.
Help children build on their interests through superhero play. Watching Batman may lead to learning about bats and birds. A Spiderman comic book may lead to exploring the world of insects and Buzz Lightyear may extend to space travel. Always keep your eyes open to learning opportunities for children.
Be on the lookout for overly aggressive play. Get involved if you see a child become frightened or angry. When the laughter stops, and threats or complaints begin, help children get back on track — or end their play. Show them you are there to help, and offer options. Maybe it’s time to take a break, or to find out why the frustration occurred. In any case, make it clear that physical or verbal aggression is not acceptable.
Affirm children when they accomplish real “feats” — like solving a real problem. Children may still imitate superheroes, but they’ll have more confidence both during play and in everyday living
- Good luck and may the force be with you!