In the "From Spider-Man to Smack-Down" chapter of her new book, Taking Back Childhood, Nancy Carlsson-Paige writes about a kindergarten teacher whose students "were consumed with Star Wars play" (the kind of whacking-with-light-sabers stuff that many of us know well). At story time the teacher started reading The Wizard of Oz to the class because she felt like it addressed some of "same themes of power and security" as the Star Wars movies. She also supplied the dramatic play area of her classroom with Wizard of Oz props: red shoes, a witch hat, and so on. (Aside: Dorothy's ruby slippers from the movie version are actually silver in the book, but who needs a fact-checker in the dress-up corner?)
[The teacher] said that the children gradually became immersed in the story of The Wizard of Oz—acting it out with elaborations, drawing it, making their own props—and their more rigid Star Wars play gradually dropped away.
A professor of early childhood education and conflict resolution, the author goes on to say the following, relevant to all of us who think about children's literature a lot:
Many children's books touch on themes of mastery, power, and security but contain no graphic violence, and reading these, especially over and over, can inspire play about mastery and power that comes closer to meeting children's real psychological needs.
I really liked that story of a teacher who knew how to channel her students' interests in a more creative direction. I liked the book, too; I found it informative rather than dire, despite its subtitle, "Helping Your Kids Thrive in a Fast-Paced, Media-Saturated, Violence-Filled World."
Kids' play fascinates me. In my house, a Lego alien now lives in a vegetable-steamer spaceship. ("Mom, if you cook anything in here, will you please take him out?") The alien seems to be involved in a lot of inter-planetary battles. A couple of days ago, though, a younger friend of my son's dropped by, and she and Junior pretended to be butterflies, wafting around the yard for a few minutes.
Updated to add: Nancy Carlsson-Paige is also the mother of actor Matt Damon. Whaddya know. I missed that somehow. Here is a recent profile of Carlsson-Paige from the Boston Globe.