Superhero Play in the Early Childhood Classroom: Issues in Banning Play from the Classroom
Superhero play has received a great deal of attention from parents and educators in the recent past. Teachers of young children have become an increasingly vocal group, voicing concern about
superhero play in their classrooms. Increasing reports of teachers banning superhero play are evident (Bergen, 1994; Carlsson-Paige & Levin, 1995). Teachers are experiencing real concern for the safety of children and themselves and many worry about the violence in the future lives of children engaged in superhero play.
As a former child care provider/early educator and current teacher of teachers of young children, I too have concerns about reported increases in aggressive behavior in preschool classrooms. However, banning superhero play may not be the best way to deal with children’s increasing exposure to inappropriate, low-quality television. I suggest
1. that we do not have data on these “increases” in classroom superhero play,
2. that this behavior may play some developmental function in young children and
3. that by banning superhero play, teachers may be relieving themselves of a powerful opportunity to teach.
First, examine the source of the notion that aggressive, violent superhero play is on the rise in preschool classrooms. The published reports of this increase are based on anecdotal reports from teachers (Carlsson-Paige & Levin, 1991; Jennings & Gillis-Olin, 1980; Kostelnic, Whiren & Stein, 1986) and from limited surveys of non-random samples of teachers of young children (Carlsson-Paige & Levin, 1995). These non-random samples are often drawn from participants at conference workshops on superhero and war play in the classroom, who may already be sensitized to the issue of aggressive play. These reports suggest that children are spending more time in superhero play than in any other classroom behavior. My own research, in which observers collect time interval samples of young children’s behavior, suggests otherwise. In one group of 3 to 5 year old children, I found that only 2 of 17 children exhibited superhero play during a one month period. The time spent in superhero play accounted for less than 1% of the 300 minutes of play. In a second sample, only 5% of play time was classified as superhero play and was exhibited by one quarter of the children. We never witnessed a child being physically hurt by another child while involved in superhero play.