Why I Created This Kit
What makes superheroes so appealing to youngsters? Is it their cool costumes? Funny sidekicks? Incredible superpowers? I’d like to think that it’s because it gives kids permission to dream, to imagine the unimaginable. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for an adult who cultivates a child’s love of superheroes. A child’s early interest in superheroes often leads to an immersion in comic books, an important genre that doesn’t get enough validation in schools and homes. Comic books are wonderful because the reader has to use multimodalities (text and images) to make meaning in ways that are different from just text alone. Who knew superheroes were gateways to such rich reading experiences?
General Information for Parents
It is a common perception that superhero books and shows are full of violence, causing parents to stay away from superheroes until their kids reach double digits. However, many publishers and producers have reimagined superheroes to reach a wider – and younger – audience. Now, instead of focusing on muscle power, superheroes often rely more on teamwork and brains to outwit their villains. Superheroes symbolize goodness, integrity, and bravery. We can learn a lot from studying superheroes. In fact, let’s encourage our children to seek their inner superhero by following these life lessons:
Always try your hardest especially when things get hard.
Be kind to others.
Do the right thing, even if no one is watching.
Help others without being asked.
Eat healthy foods and keep your body active.
Above all, believe in yourself.
General Information for Children
Superheroes are characters that have amazing powers not normally seen in humans. These special people want to help the world be a better place and battle with enemies who want to do harm. Most superheroes have a two “lives”: their every day lives, where they hide their superpowers, and their superhero lives, filled with heroic action. Some superheroes are born with superpowers (i.e. Superman) while others gain their unique abilities from some type of accident (i.e. Spiderman, who was bit by a poisonous insect).
Even though we usually see superheroes on television or in the movies, the reality is that superheroes started as characters in comic books. As superheroes became more and more popular, people began creating television shows and movies based on superheroes. In fact, the first Superman movie was shown in theaters in 1978.
To get your child thinking about superheroes, ask him/her some of the following questions:
What makes a superhero?
What kind of person is a superhero?
Why does a superhero do what s/he does?
If you could be a superhero, what would be your special powers?
If I gave you a piece of paper, could you draw what you look like as a superhero?
Ladybug Girl by David Soman
I’d like to believe that every child has a little bit of Ladybug Girl in his/her veins. Letting her imagination lead the way, Ladybug Girl makes her own fun by foraging through her backyard, building awesome forts, and having memorable adventures with her loyal canine sidekick, Bingo.
Superhero Joe by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman
Many young children are afraid of the dark. Even more are afraid of a dark basement. (Heck, I’m a grown adult and the basement still freaks me out!) Enter Superhero Joe, an ordinary boy who is ready to tackle his fear with his Cape of Confidence, Torch of Radiance, and Shield of Invincibility. I like this book because it has panels and text boxes, similar to actual comic books.
Batman! (DC Super Friends) (Little Golden Books Series) by Ralph Cosentino
The Little Golden Books Series have been around for decades, thanks to their deep knowledge of what kids like. Fortunately, they have DC Super Friends and Marvel collections perfect for 4-5-year-olds. These books are the perfect introduction to a variety of DC and Marvel superheroes such as Batman, Batgirl, Superman, The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, and more.
Superhero by Marc Tauss
My boys enjoy reading this title, which tells the tale of Maleek, comic book lover, who saves his city’s parks and playgrounds from disappearing. The author uses beautiful black and white photographs throughout this book, adding a very cool, retro aesthetic.
The Incredible Hulk: An Origin Story (Marvel Original Story Series) by Disney Book Group
Here’s another great series. The Origin Stories tell the back stories of well known Marvel superheroes, including The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Captain America, the X-Men, The Mighty Avengers, and Iron Man. They have colorful illustrations and are a step up from the cutesiness of the Little Golden Books series. That being said, they do contain some drama and a little bit of violence (i.e. bullying).
Wonder Woman: The Story of the Amazon Princess by Ralph Cosentino
The author, Ralph Cosentino, has done a fabulous job recreating stories of classic DC Comic superheroes with these age-appropriate and engaging books. Wonder Woman: The Story of the Amazon Princess is his third book so far, following those of Batman and Superman. In this picture book, Mr. Cosentino explains the backstory of Wonder Woman: where she came from, how she became a superhero, and the names of some of her foes. These books are great additions to a personal or local library.
The Superhero Starter Kit by Klutz
I love the DIYness of Klutz products. This kit helps transform kids into superheroes complete with a cape, mask, wrist guards, and stickers. What’s more, it contains advice on the Dos and Don’ts of superheroes and a section on how to move like a superhero.
What to Doodle? Superheroes! by Ted Rechlin
What to Doodle? activity books are another favorite in my house. In this superhero-centered paperback, children can add doodles to complete various superhero scenes, such as the background for an outer-space traveler or hair for a smashing superhero. This is a great way for children to tap into their creative skills while not feeling pressured to create scenes from scratch.
ClickySticky Superheroes by Merge Mobile (for iOS)
This fun app allows users to set up and animate a superhero scene using selected interactive stickers. Once finished, tap on a scene to make it come to life. My youngest son loved the scene where he got to create the superhero costume! This app is really easy to use.
SUPER WHY! by PBS Kids (for iOS and Android)
The four characters from SUPER WHY takes users on different literacy adventures to practice the alphabet, complete sentences, trace letters, identify letter sounds, and strengthen rhyming skills. My personal favorite is Alpha Pig’s Lickety Letter Hunt. That pig is just so darn cute!
Wubbzy The Superhero by Cupcake Digital (for iOS and Android)
Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! was a staple in my house when my boys were 4-5-years-old. The star of the show, Wubbzy, and his adorable sidekick, Daizy, take readers on a superhero adventure with this interactive story. As a reading specialist, I love that the story is narrated with highlighted text to reinforce word recognition and grows with the user through three reading modes (Read and Play, Read to Me, and Just a Book). The Grown-Up’s Corner makes me even happier, as it has embedded comprehension prompts to dive into and extend your child’s knowledge of the story.
To encourage your child to become an active viewer, ask some of these questions before or after watching the television program/movie listed below:
What do you already know about superheroes?
Based on the title, what do you think the show/movie will be about?
What lesson could be learned from the show/movie?
What was the problem in the show? How did the superhero solve that problem?
What part(s) did you like best? Why?
SUPER WHY! on PBS (Television Program)
When I first discovered SUPER WHY! on PBS, my heart did a loop-de-loop. I loved how the show was engaging and educational, focusing on early literacy skills for 3-5-year olds. The characters are all “Super Readers” from popular children’s stories who have special reading skills (Red of Little Red Riding Hood; Princess Pea from the Princess and the Pea; Whyatt Beanstalk, who is Jack’s little brother of Jack and the Beanstalk; and Littlest Pig of the Three Little Pigs). The Super Readers have to leap into book pages in order to solve problems that plague Storybook Village using their reading powers all along the way. Be still my heart!
Krypto the Superdog on Cartoon Network (Television Program)
Did you know that Superman had a dog named Krypto? Needless to say, Krypto must know a thing or two about saving Metropolis. I like that this show allows young viewers to get to know the superhero world through animals, an easily accessible medium. All of the problems involve animals of some kind, like cats trying to take over the Earth and a parrot pirate who tries to steal a boat full of crackers.
Word Girl (Television Program)
This show centers upon a young female superhero who uses vocabulary words to outsmart villains. Geared toward the 5+ age group, children will laugh out loud at the show’s funny antics while adults will feel confident that their children are being exposed to some pretty high-level vocabulary words.
Even though this movie is rated PG, it is appropriate for 5-year-olds. Bolt is a dog who thinks he has superpowers. What he doesn’t realize, however, is that he is a dog who acts on a TV show. When Bolt embarks (See what I did there?) on a mission to “save” his owner, Penny, he eventually comes to understand that sometimes love is the greatest power of all.
Do you know which superhero has X-ray vision? You guessed it: Superman! Do you know who else could have this same skill? YOU! Fill a paper bag with objects of various textures, like raw broccoli, pinecones, a mitten, and dice. Ask your child to place his/her hand into the bag and feel an object. Have him/her describe the object using as many adjectives as possible. Then pull out the object to see if his/her guess, er, I mean x-ray vision is accurate. This activity helps children heighten their sense of touch and utilize precise vocabulary words when speaking.
Every superhero needs to know his/her letters. How else would s/he know what letter to sew on the back of the cape? Help your little one practice letter recognition with a letter matching activity. First, print and cut out these fantastic superhero letter cards from B-inspired-mama. To play, have your child match each upper case superhero to its respective lower case letter burst. For extra practice, have your child say the name of the letter, a word that starts with that letter, and its sound (i.e. J, jump, /j/). For the vowels, encourage your child to say the long and short vowel sound.
Suggested Family Experiences
Superheroes are very unique …but so are everyday people. Lead your child into an inquiry into the world of fingerprints. The skin on your fingertip that has a special pattern on it that usually falls into one of three categories: loop, arch, or whorl. Sweat and oils get trapped in the ridges in your fingertips and, every time you touch something, the sweat and oil gets left behind to create a fingerprint. Explain to your child that no two fingerprints are exactly alike and that today, you will prove it.
This fingerprint record sheet
Magnifying glass (optional)
Roll your child’s finger into the inkpad, being sure to cover all sides. Roll the finger into the respective circle on the fingerprint template, so that you get the whole impression. Repeat for each finger until both hands are complete. Let you child grab the magnifying glass or look closely to investigate.
Which fingerprint patterns do you see (loops, arches, or whorls)? Write it under each circle or keep a tally chart off to the side.
What is the most frequent type of fingerprint on your hands? Least frequent?
Is there a pattern among the fingers? For instance, do both of your thumbs have whorls or are they different?
Repeat this inquiry for another family member then compare. What are the similarities? Differences?
A Masked Crusader
What’s a superhero without a mask? Top off your superhero activities with an easy to make mask like these from Vanilla Joy. You’ll need this template, colored felt, a light iron-on adhesive like Heat’n Bond, iron, scissors, needle, thread, and 3” elastic.
Using an iron, bond two layers of felt together following the directions on the adhesive package.
Trace the superhero mask template onto the felt and cut it out.
Cut the elastic to be about 12 inches long.
Stitch the perimeter of the mask as well as around the eyeholes, attaching the elastic to the sides of the mask.
- Don mask and become the ultimate superhero!
Superhero Sentence Story
Surely your child is ready to create his/her own superhero story by now, and what better way to do that than with a superhero sentence game? Gather at least two people and sit in a circle. Moving clockwise, have each person say a sentence that adds the next line of the superhero story. It may be helpful to start the story with, “Once upon a time…” or “One dark, mysterious night…” Be sure to guide each story into a problem and solution before ending. The sillier the better! It would be even more fun to audio record the story, play it back after the story is complete, and have your child draw a picture depicting a scene in the story. Your superhero story could even be emailed to family members for others to hear!
Connections to Other Subjects
An interdisciplinary approach to learning allows children to make connections between various subjects in order to increase learning and meaning making. Superheroes could easily be integrated into other subjects such as social studies (suburbs vs. cities vs. rural areas; community helpers), science (the five senses) physical education (integrating action words and body movements), and visual art (the artwork of comic books). Researchers state that interdisciplinary learning helps children study a topic deeply and understand the links between subjects.
About Sheila F.
Sheila is a Jersey girl (or should we say "mom"), with a passion for teaching and literacy. She is Jersey bred, currently living in Montclair. Sheila has 16+ years working as a teacher and reading specialist and recently completed her dissertation on children's literature and technology. We "met" Sheila through her blog, teachingliteracy.tumblr.com.