Learning & Development: Superhero Play - Superkids - the movie!

Meredith Jones Russell
Monday, April 21, 2014

Superhero play has inspired the creation of a film at one London school. Meredith Jones Russell hears about the creative process.

Children in Reception at Rosendale Primary School and Children's Centre in Lambeth flew superhero play to new heights with a two-week project culminating in a short film.

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In the first week, children read the story Superkid by Claire Freedman and discussed superheroes they already knew, making profiles for each one. Teachers then introduced lesser-known superheroes and encouraged children to start creating their own characters and profiles. Children created costumes for their new alter egos and learned a song and dance on a superhero theme.

sk3Class teacher Meadhbh Hassett says that taking two weeks for the project was vital to develop confidence in the children across all the skills involved. 'We really broke it down day by day, so by the second week they were all very familiar with it as a topic,' she explains. 'They'd had so much scaffolding put in place in the first week that doing writing or role play wasn't intimidating any more. We deliberately didn't start filming until towards the end to make sure they were in their superhero prime.'

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TEACHERS IN TROUBLE

The plot of the ten-minute film follows the children responding to calls for help from teachers in trouble, such as the PE teacher who has had his bats and balls stolen. However, the film was partly shaped by the children themselves, who devised ways to help, allowing them to develop ideas of right and wrong, as well as problem-solving and negotiation skills.

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The children also came up with the idea to start the film with a news bulletin. Miss Hassett says their direct contributions made up about half the film, so it was important to be able to be flexible and respond to them.

'If I'd planned it too much I don't know how it would have turned out. There were obvious goals and early years outcomes that came from planning like the use of technology for different purposes - which the children met by holding the camera and sitting with me in small groups to help with editing - but much more also came out of it.'  

SHE-RA AND GLITTER GIRL

Superhero play is often thought to benefit boys specifically, and Ms Hassett says that some of the best results did come from the boys in the class. 'The writing they did was absolutely incredible. Parents said they were running down the stairs in the morning to finish their profiles,' she says.

'We did think the boys would go crazy when they heard this was what we were doing. Some of the girls were more shy, and when we asked whether they watched superheroes and cartoons some said they didn't.'

Teachers decided to focus on some female superheroes to engage the girls, particularly She-Ra, a princess with super strength and speed. 'When the girls saw her horse turn into a unicorn, their faces just dropped,' Ms Hassett says.

'They went on to create these great girl superheroes, like Butterfly Girl and Glitter Girl. They really got on with it, embraced it and loved it.

'We had one girl who was very shy, but in the second week, when we started creating missions for them to go on in the outside area, you couldn't keep her out of there!'

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FAMILY SCREENING

The teachers put training they had received at the London Connected Learning Centre in video-authoring program iMovie into practice, making the whole film on iPads.

At the end of the two weeks, parents, grandparents and siblings were invited to a surprise screening of the film, which was met with a rapturous response, Ms Hassett says. 'When they switched into their superhero costumes there was a massive cheer.

'It's brilliant because then we could put it on our blog, so if parents were away they could watch it later, and other classes can watch it too. It's an extremely powerful tool in that way. It's great being able to use iMovie instead of putting reams of photos up after a trip or a project like this.'

COLLECTIVE EFFORT

Superhero play is often used to create bonds and friendships, and Ms Hassett says this was another noticeable benefit of the project. 'They all participated, they're all on screen at some point, and so many of the ideas really came from them. At the screening, you could see all these faces turning round to their parents to show them what they'd done. You could tell they all felt proud of this collective effort.'

Ms Hassett admits the project was not without difficulties. 'Any teacher would say the biggest challenge is finding the time. For example, the scene where they turn around and change costumes took a lot of time. But the children were great; they knew the parents were coming to see the film so they helped a lot and carried things for us.'

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JUST FUN?

The children are now able to make more films of their own using the iPad. 'They take the class teddy bear to put in different positions around the classroom, and you'll hear them saying "no, I don't like that, you can hear my voice in the background" and using their fingers to delete clips,' Ms Hassett says. 'Then at the end of the day we get a two-minute film to watch together about the bear's adventures.'

Ms Hassett says the educational benefits of the project were unquestionable. 'My housemate said to me, "This is just fun though, isn't it?" and I felt like just taking the Early Years Outcomes document out and laying it down in front of her. There really are just too many to list.'

MORE INFORMATION

You can watch the superhero video on the class blog at http://rpsrmh2013.wordpress.com/2014/02/2014/superkids-the-movie-enjoy

SUPERHERO PLAY: BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES

Superhero play allows children to use their imagination to imitate characters they admire using costumes, props or small-world figures. It has been controversial, with some practitioners raising concerns that children may be intimidated or hurt by the aggressive nature of the play, as well as the danger of reinforcing gender stereotypes.

But it has become increasingly acceptable to practitioners in recent years, particularly as its benefits in raising achievement in boys have been highlighted.Superhero play is particularly popular among four- and five-year-olds. At this age, children are typically keen to exercise more control over their lives, but are also trying out new experiences and exploring feelings of fear, worry and anger.

It can benefit storytelling, negotiation and problem-solving, and language skills, contain links to schemas, and help children develop empathy, a sense of right and wrong and teamwork abilities.

SUPERHERO STORIES

  • Superhero by Marc Tauss — Maleek may be a small boy in a big city, but he's also a scientist and a superhero.
  • Charlie's Superhero Underpants by Paul Bright and Lee Wildish — Charlie searches the world for his pants, which have blown off the line.
  • Superhero School by Aaron Reynolds and Andy Rash — Leonard finds sums dull until his maths teacher Mr Tornado is kidnapped by ice zombies.
  • Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero by Anne Cottringer and Alex T Smith — Eliot receives an urgent message: a giant meteor is hurtling towards Earth!
  • The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Superheroes by Maxwell Eaton — sidekick Pinky decides it's time for him to be the hero.
  • Superhero ABC by Bob McLeod — an alliterative alphabet of invented superheroes and heroines.
  • Super Daisy by Kes Gray and Nick Sharratt — if Planet Pea collides with Planet Earth, there'll be peas with everything!
  • Mini Grey's Traction Man and sidekick Scrubbing Brush have enjoyed various adventures, including Traction Man Meets Turbo Dog and Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey.
  • Max by Bob Graham — a baby superhero fails to live up to his parents' expectations.
  • Avocado Baby by John Burningham - baby uses his incredible strength for all kinds of incredible tasks.
  • One sneeze and Nat becomes a superhero in Nat Fantastic and Nat Fantastic and the Brave Knights of Old by Giles Andreae and Katharine McEwen.
  • Naughty Bus by Jan and Jerry Oke - the bus and its owner set off on a series of incredible adventures.

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