Pokemon cards are all the rage at the moment in our kindergarten class. They are often the topic of conversation outside at recess, indoors during free exploration (play) and show and tell. Earlier this week, L.G., a shy and quiet student expressed his interest in creating his very own set of Pokemon cards. Understanding this as an opportunity to engage his interests and connect them to our learning goals in the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten curriculum, I found a stack of cue cards and sat with him as he began to draw and explain some of the characters he was familiar with.
Pretty soon, M.A., joined L.G. They began to have a lively discussion about the ‘types’ of Pokemon, their abilities and favourite characters. Then H.W. joined in. So did A.M., and before we knew it, several more students expressed an interest in creating their own set of cards. This intrigued me. At the same time, I must confess, the idea of exploring Pokemon further was something I felt conflicted about. On the one hand, it was clear that Pokemon (and Mario) are extremely popular with the children in our classroom, but on the other, a Pokemon inquiry just didn’t sound sophisticated enough to be a topic of learning. I began to wonder, is there space for popular culture in early learning? If so, what does it look like?
I became aware of my own personal bias about popular culture toys as limiting children’s play in the classroom through statements such as “Those are home toys, you can bring them in for Show and Tell”, or glossing over conversations about Mario, Pokemon or Hello Kitty with “That’s nice”.
Recent research demonstrates that teachers’ personal experiences of play and their beliefs about popular culture strongly influence how popular culture is engaged with in the early childhood curriculum (Hedges, 2011; Marsh, Brooks, Hughes, Ritchie, Roberts, & Wright, 2005), with teachers often deflecting or diverting conversations and play relating to popular culture (Hedges, 2001; Sandberg & Vuornen, 2008). These beliefs are in contrast with the reality that television shows, movies, video games, advertising and toys are increasingly aimed at young children, and often, young children are immersed in popular culture, digital media and new technologies from birth (Marsh, et al., 2005). Hedges (2011) study of interests-based curriculum revealed that popular culture “appeared, in essence, to be undermined as a powerful source of co-constructing curriculum that reflected children’s interest in developing knowledge about human responsibilities and behaviours” (Hedges, 2011, p. 28); and suggests that popular culture provides a meaningful and authentic way for young children to transform participation in learning activities such as dramatic play, exploring gender identities, physical and emotional wellbeing and forming relationships.
As teachers, it is important for us to embrace children’s experiences of popular culture for several reasons: firstly, it serves as a rich source of learning, secondly, it helps us to recognize and value the identities and interests of young children outside of school, and thirdly, we become aware of the new understandings, skills and knowledge acquired through popular culture and are able to help young children develop them further in an educational environment (Hedges, 2011; Marsh, et al., 2005).
I’m curious to observe how our Pokemon Go learning will unfold. So far, it has been amazing to watch some of our most reluctant writers filled with enthusiasm and excitement as they create cards and posters to share their interests and understandings. Embracing popular culture as an authentic site for learning has challenged and changed my beliefs about curriculum co-construction. I see value in the “home toys” as I once called them, and realize now that they are not just suitable for Show and Tell, but also offer a meaningful glimpse into the interests of identities of young children.
What are some of your experiences of popular culture in the classroom? You can tweet me at @KaminiKamdar , I would love to hear from you!
Talk soon, xx
Hedges, H. (2011). Rethinking Sponge Bob and Ninja Turtles: Popular culture as funds of knowledge for curriculum co-construction. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 36(1), 25.
Marsh, J., Brooks, G., Hughes, J., Ritchie, L., Roberts, S., & Wright, K. (2005). Digital beginnings: Young children’s use of popular culture, media and new technologies. University of Sheffield: Literacy Research Centre.
Sandberg, A., & Vuorinen, T. (2008). Dimensions of childhood play and toys. Asia‐Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 36(2), 135-146.