As a kid, I was enamored with reading comic books and having fun with my friends at the playground pretending to be our favorite heroes from the popular Super Friends cartoon that aired on Saturday mornings.
My best buddy who lived behind me always insisted on playing the role of Batman, the girl who lived across the street loved to imagine herself as Wonder Woman, and we let the little brother who always tagged around with her be Aquaman. Inspired by Christopher Reeves in his Superman movies, I was the Man of Steel during our Super Friends adventures. No one ever wanted to be the Wonder Twins from the show, though. Now that I’ve become the father of my own set of Wonder Twins, superheroes have once again reemerged in my life.
Superheroes have played an important role in bonding with my kids and helping teach them life lessons. While characters from Teen Titans Go! and The Incredibles (the two my twins are big fans of) are different from the ones I grew up with, superheroes in general share a lot of wonderful traits.
Superheroes are much more than people in wacky costumes engaging in fisticuffs against evil villains. In addition to superhero characters providing kids with an amusing source of entertainment, they also promote learning while having fun. Whether a child is taking in a story or engaging in pretend play, here are some educational aspects that can emerge from these experiences:
INSPIRING PERSONAL CHARACTER
“With great power comes great responsibility,” is the mantra of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Superheroes like Spider-Man provide positive messaging to children about helping others and protecting one another in an exciting way that captures the attention and imagination of young minds. These characters’ actions reinforce how being good, working hard, and thinking out problems are rewarded as superheroes overcome the adversaries and challenges they encounter. They can also serve as moral compasses for children who are in the process of developing their own personal character.
For example, one of the world’s best-known superheroes, Batman, doesn’t have any extraordinary powers, but rather uses his mind and technology instead to defeat his foes. The character’s focus on being a detective and engineer provides a motivational message about how brains can overcome brawn. He also never kills his enemies, providing a moral compass regarding the value of life. Most superhero stories have core themes about problem-solving, teamwork and living life by a code of moral conduct that can be very inspirational for kids.
The larger than life imagery of superheroes is great for enticing children to be creative while participating in pretend play. This type of play is great for building emotional, social, and thinking skills. Like when I was a child, my kids also have a lot of fun playing “superheroes” with their friends. These types of experiences are great for teaching children about interacting with others through cooperation, communication, and sharing.
It’s exciting to pretend to be a superhero. By imaging themselves as different heroes, children see the world through someone else’s eyes, which teaches them about differing perspectives, respect for others, and empathy. Pretending to be a superhero has also been shown to enhance both self-confidence and self-esteem within kids. Of course, it does! Who wouldn’t feel great about themselves after just having save the world against a monster, natural disaster, or dastardly villain?
Plus, pretend play nurtures critical thinking and creativity. After all, our young superheroes have to imagine the obstacles they are facing in their pretend adventures and think out how they are going to overcome these challenges to save the day. My daughter loves writing short stories she dreams up about heroines, while my son is passionate about drawing his favorite heroes and sketching characters that he hopes will one day be the stars of their own cartoon or comic book. While kids may think they are just enjoying themselves while drawing and writing about superheroes, these efforts are also valuable in bringing out artistic and scholastic skills as well.
INTRODUCING STEM CONCEPTS
Oftentimes a superhero’s origin revolves around a chemical reaction, mutation, or technological advancement. The character Daredevil was exposed to toxic chemicals that blinded him, but also enhanced his other senses. The X-Men were born with mutations that provide each member of their team of heroes with unique super powers. Cyborg from the Justice League was created when a guy was saved from dying in an accident by having his human body infused with robotic parts.
Superheroes also regularly use gadgets, scientific principles, vehicles and wonderous devices as part of the plot of their stories. The Fantastic Four are always using all sorts of amazing tech to defeat bad guys. Batman has his utility belt filled with awesome tools and weapons. Spider-Man created the fluid used to fling out his trademark webs in his high school chemistry class. Let’s not forget about Iron Man, whose entire suit is a technological marvel.
These elements of superhero stories get kids thinking about science, technology, engineering, and math and introduce them to a variety of STEM concepts and skills. Not only are the scientific careered characters who star in The Big Bang Theory comic book fans, but I know quite a few actual scientists and engineers whose interest in their career field was spurred by a childhood interest in superheroes.
Pointing out how STEM topics are incorporated into superhero stories is a nice way for parents to energize an interest in important educational subjects and career skills that children might otherwise not pay much attention to. By getting kids to embrace STEM, we are teaching them they can be real life superheroes who can save the lives of others and make the world a better place through science, technology, engineering, and math.