Sunday, April 29, 2012

Superhero Pre-teaching

In the special education world you hear a lot about "pre-teaching" -- that is, going over material the student has been learning or will learn in the classroom setting on an individual basis to cover the missing pieces that might fall through the cracks. A child bogged down by processing challenges or one who is easily distracted may miss things in class or only get part of the picture. Pre-teaching gives the child a chance to slowly go over the information separately, covers those details that might have been lost, and helps ensure the child truly does "get it."

We've learned something the past six months or so. No one is going to tell me that boys and girls aren't wired differently, that their differences can be attributed to nurture rather than nature. Awhile back we realized that Ethan is really "into" bad guys, good guys, play fighting, and play dying. This is not something anyone ever initiated. This isn't even something he saw on TV, because mostly we watch DVDs of the Wonder Pets and Wubzy variety.

A few months ago Ethan started a six-week play session over at Kidspace. I told Karen not to push him...that I didn't care if he was playing at his level as long as he was enjoying playing. I suppose she listened, but she did also start off introducing some typical play schemes for a kid his age (firefighter, astronaut, police officer) to see what he would do with them. Turns out, he loves it! Ethan doesn't do much pretend play on his own, and he has trouble generating lots of ideas, but give him a play partner and he's golden. And so they've been flying rocket ships and putting out fires and throwing bad guys in jail.

Anyone will tell you a typical four-year-old will most likely be at least a little bit interested in superheroes. It's kind of the natural progression from the fighting/wrestling/bad guys theme. But superheroes are complicated, and I don't mean just for Ethan. Not just superheroes, really: for this mama, any of these boy themes are complicated. I know dolls and ponies, not pirates and dinosaurs and which good guy has which power. Half the time I'm not even sure how to introduce many new play ideas.

We'll be playing pirates, for instance, and I'm thinking, What do pirates DO? Ride on a ship, have swords, drink rum, and steal treasure? How do you carry this out for more than a minute or two? It doesn't help that Ethan often gets a bit confused about his terminology, which is while I'll often hear something like:

"I'm going to get you, you bad pirate ship!"

No Ethan, a pirate ship is a boat. I'm supposed to be a pirate, I've said about 20 times now. He doesn't care. He just wants to fight me.

I pointed to a Spider Man picture recently and asked who he was. Ethan didn't know. Do you think he's a good or a bad guy? I asked. Bad, he answered. He's actually a good guy, I told him. That's Spider Man. Next time we saw a Spider Man logo, I asked him again.

"That's Spider Monster!" he answered enthusiastically.

The other day we were at Target, and Anna was off admiring the Lalaoopsy dolls for the 759th time. Ethan and I traipsed over to the boy section. There were several ads up in one aisle, I think advertising the new "Avengers" movie. I know nothing about the movie, but the guy staring back at me looked superhero-ish.

"Who do you think THAT is?" I asked Ethan, out of curiosity.

"That's Jesus!" he said emphatically. "He's God."

Chagrined, I pushed the cart away and thought about how the whole God/superhero thing fit into all of this. God can do anything, but He's real, even though you can't see Him. Superheroes can do anything, but they're pretend. Well, they're on TV, and they're all over the toy aisles at the store, but they're not real.

"Jesus you're my superhero, my best friend..." Anna likes to sing sometimes in chapel at school.

Oy vey.

Back home yesterday morning, I decided that was it. Dan had been watching some Thunder Cats on YouTube with Ethan (a nostalgia thing for him, and nice "boy time" with the little guy) but it was time to get serious. Thunder Cats was a remake with complicated and more mature themes. We needed to start with the basics. Only Ethan and I were up, so I pulled up YouTube again and asked Ethan to come sit on my lap. I typed in the key words. Up popped the first video.

I have learned that I can't force my son to like something age-appropriate if he's just not into it. But then there are times when we know he has an interest, and it's a matter of putting the pieces together -- and arming him with information that might come in handy with other children. I don't care so much if Ethan thinks Spider Man is Spider Monster. But I'd hate for him to be the butt of jokes because he makes the gaffe on the playground.

"You see this guy? This is Spider Man. He can climb up buildings and shoot webs out of his hands to trap the bad guys." Ethan watched, enthralled. Then we watched Batman. He saved Robin from drowning and they both stopped the bad guys from stealing the diamonds. Robin in his friend, Ethan. Cat Woman is bad. Batman drives a car called a Bat Car (Is that right? What do I know!). I limped along in my explanations like someone just barely familiar with a foreign language.

"Daddy, Batman saved Robin with his rope!" Ethan told Dan when he woke up. "And he almost got burned by the fire, and he got the bad guys."

Lesson one down. I have the feeling we both have a lot of learning to do.


SuzGriffin04 said...

It's a Bat Mobile Deb! ;) And I'm a self-proclaimed expert with three boys so if you need anything, just ask. hehe. Great post!

Floortime Lite Mama said...

Very smart concept"Preteaching"