“Easter bunny” anyone? Working theories about superheroes

An Easter holiday break is ahead. Now there’easter bunnys an occasion ripe for working theories! Perhaps as part of the magic and joy of childhood, adults promote imaginary characters associated with significant holiday breaks. The Easter bunny anyone? Santa/Father Christmas? And let’s not forget the tooth fairy. These characters provide interesting opportunities for children to believe in enjoyable aspects of Western family life, and to eventually question and challenge related aspects of the world and associated beliefs.

In addition, how do children reconcile these characters with further fictional characters in books they read and movies they see? Those characters can take on a life of their own as children draw on these in their sociodramatic play and develop scripts that act out themes that are fundamental human values and actions. Think Elsa and Frozen, Superman and his various similarly-motivated friends… Any parent or teacher will have examples of children who become quite obsessed with such characters, take on their identity, and explore of good and evil, what being a friend means and so on.

In our TLRI project (Hedges & Cooper, 2014), a discussion about characters and superheroes arose amongst children. Niky saw this as an opportunity to develop and extend children’s working theories while also ensuring that children’s beliefs were respected. She developed a project approach to curriculum that explored “real and pretend”.

Here are two examples of documentation (minus the photos for ethical reasons) of conversations and activities that occurred between Niky and some boys during this time to explore children’s understandings:


Over the last few months there have been lots of discussions about what is real and pretend. Transformers have been the topic of debate for some of our boys. When the interest in transformers first came up, almost all of the children thought they were real. Children have since explored this interest through role play, drawings, building and creating and teachers have challenged children’s theory about transformers being real through showing them the digital making of transformers and also that we can make it look like they are flying when they really aren’t.

Niky: “Are transformers real”?

Isaac: “Pretend coz they don’t come to our house”.

Hunter: “They are real. They stay on the movies. It’s on TV so it can’t come out to see us”.

Hal: “Pretend. That’s why you showed what all happened, what it looks like. Remember you showed us on the computer”? (Referring to when we watched the making of Transformers).

Hunter: “I saw him real on TV. He’s not real he can’t come to your house. He stays on the channel. He’s real on the TV”.

And the second:

Many of our children have shown an interest in television and movie characters including transformers, super heroes and Ben Ten. Over time we have had conversations with children about these characters and whether they are real or pretend. As children view these TV/movie shows they are developing working theories about what they are seeing and often try to makes sense of it through role play.

Through conversations we have discovered that many of our children believe that these flying, gun shooting, bomb throwing, fighting characters are real. With today’s advancements in technology the graphics on these shows can look extremely realistic, especially when accompanied with real actors alongside computer generated images.

I wanted to challenge children’s working theories to give them another perspective about what is real and what is pretend. After all how scary would this world be if you truly thought there were robots that could transform and shoot you? Also how worrying to think that some programmes are teaching our children that you can shoot someone and they can get back up without being hurt at all?

To challenge the children’s working theories about what is real and pretend in terms of superheroes and tv characters, I suggested to Milan and Hal that I could make it look like they were flying in a photo (using photo shop). Milan was super excited [about the resulting photo] and ran to show Hunter. Hunter seemed really shocked and asked me:

“When was Milan flying because I didn’t see him?”

Hunter then also went through the process of making a “flying picture”.

Hal and Hunter’s words are recorded in the following learning story describing their developing understanding of how to make it appear that someone is flying:

How to make it look like you’re flying…

Hunter: “We lied on the table.”

Hal: “Then we put our heads up.”

Hunter: “Take a picture.”

Hal: “And then we printed it out and then we cut it out.”

Hunter: “Then we print the sky.”

Hal: “Then we glued us on the sky picture.”

Hunter: “And we weared our capes.”


Enjoy the Easter break ahead and the various working theories it encourages thinking about – for both children and adults …


Photo credit:  Easter Bunny” (CC BY 2.0) by  somewhereintheworldtoday 


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