Have you ever been asked by a child to draw a X-Wing?
Or asked to make a utility belt that Bruce Wayne himself would be happy to wear?
How about a philosophical discussion about diversity and empathy using Bruce Banner’s alter ego as the focus?
The scenarios above are a small selection of genuine examples of my experience as a practitioner in the past year alone. Much is made of dynamic responses to child-initated play and queries, but do you feel your professional training has prepared you to use the characters and fantasy environments of today’s pop culture? They permeate every facet of childhood; from lunchboxes to action figures to books to television to socks; superheroes, fairies, magical ponies and more are as much a part of children’s lives as we are. Often they provide key social learning conversation starters (why does Bruce Banner turn in to The Hulk when he’s angry, is he Marvel’s answer to Bombaloo?) and opportunities for reflection without suffering a traumatic event (a child once asked me whether Alfred was Batman’s new daddy; a study in mortality and family bereavement within a safe and familiar format – cartoons).
This even applies to children who do not watch television or read books about these pop culture icons, the mere fact that their friends embody those characters during role play or delightedly discuss their lunchbox characters during lunch means they will need extra support to engage fully with their peers. As practitioners who aim to cultivate an inclusive care and learning environment, it is our duty to utilise the expertise and interests of our children to foster their sense of individuality and “ableness” – whether that means adapting nursery rhymes (“The Daleks on the bus go EX-TER-MI-NATE”), creating literacy toolkits that Bob The Builder would envy, allowing monsters to destroy cities in the small world area (“it’s alright, Iron Man will fix it… with robots”) or holding up the moral decisions of fictional characters to incite thoughtful consideration for others (“and what would Buzz Lightyear do?”).
Recent additions to planning (italics indicate further development):
- A trip to the local museum after a child brought dinosaurs in a bucket to school after reading Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs (a dinosaur swimming pool in the water tray, dinosaur bingo and dinosaur dancing books)
- The recreation of a zoo (complete with “really tall” fences) in the sandpit after a child watched Madagascar (the addition of a “Move it, move it” CD to the music box, fluffy dressing up fabric, discussion about what “the wild” is and an explosion of geographical interest supported by atlases and videos)
- Planting seeds and hunting for fairies in the garden after a child saw Epic at the cinema (talking about keeping our trees and woods safe, making tiny clay pots for fairies, measuring height and discussing growth, a “small” natural materials collection including acorn hats for the small world people, creation of hot air balloons and wings for small world people, visiting the woods and beach – what kinds of fairies live on a beach?)
- Inventions and self-made role play items due to the high level of interest in both Iron Man and Batman (robot suits, play dough machines, Lego robots, reading The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, building Bat Caves, making workshops, adapting the Cozy Coupe, capes and utility belts, superhero phonics, special recognition for “super kind person” and “super inventions” at story time, talking about good deeds and real life super heroes including daddies who make the most bubbles at bath time, grandmas who make “super biscuits”, mummies who draw the best ponies and aunties who are police officers who keep us safe)
Whilst Waybuloo may not be the height of cultural artistry, a skilful practitioner can use the child’s expert knowledge to provide meaningful learning opportunities which ensure that the curriculum adapts to the needs of the child; whilst valuing their interests and supporting their independent learning. In the same way that we aim to create partnerships with parents and carers, so we should aim to utilise partnerships with pop culture to enhance our practice and relationships with children.
To that end, if you make one commitment to continuous professional development this week, let it be to watch or read something your children are really interested in – you may find yourself a part of the superhero fan club.
If you have any experiences with utilising pop culture as a positive aspect of your practice, please comment or contact Kate.