My Boy is interested in our history project on the Civil War, and is learning a lot by his (usually reluctant) participation in it. He can tell you, for instance, that the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free all slaves in the US, just those in the Confederate States (slave-holding border states loyal to the Union were exempt). He can tell you that Harriet Tubman led over 300 slaves to freedom and spied for the Union during the war. And as I mentioned previously, he wants to visit Gettysburg to see the monuments (this would require a cross-country trip that would take us very close to the grandparents, so there may be an ulterior motive here.)
So, yeah, some of this stuff is sinking in. The thing that really floats his boat, though, is anything having to do with comic book super-heroes. Mostly from the Marvel universe, though he’s not anti-DC. His favorites are the X-Men (Wolverine and Nightcrawler in particular) and Spiderman (and his various enemies). It’s easy to see and understand what he is learning when we study the Civil War, or do math worksheets, or watch Nova videos. How or what is he learning with his obsession?
He has been making origami versions of many, many heroes and villains. These are based on a pattern for Boba Fett he found online after reading the “Origami Yoda” series by Tom Angleberger. After making the basic figure (just a head and body), he draws different features appropriate to the character and colors them. They are adorable. Usually he uses recycled copy paper for these, but certain characters call for different materials. The Fantastic Four’s Sue Storm (Invisible Woman), for instance, looks great in tracing paper. The X-Men’s Colossus, who can turn his skin metal, works well made from aluminum foil. He’s also adapted a pattern for Star Wars’s four-armed General Grevious to make Spider-Man’s foe, Doctor Octopus. This is an ongoing art project that he is extremely invested in. He is learning problem solving, creative use of materials, and origami techniques.
(On the far left of the 2nd and 4th rows above are back and front views of Nightcrawler, who has a tail. )
Both kids will spend hours playing with these little paper people. They have discovered that there are more male characters than female; that the comic book boys are ridiculously over-muscled; and the girls are, as my kids delicately put it, “showy.” They’ve noticed, on their own, the way costumes and gender roles evolved over the decades. Sue Storm started out as the “Invisible Girl,” and the X-Men’s Jean Gray morphed from the sorta wimpy “Marvel Girl” to the powerful Dark Phoenix (of course, she had to go bonkers in the process – we haven’t talked about that yet.) We’ve had some mighty interesting discussions about fairness, societal expectations and the changing roles of women. This is modern history and sociology.
A mistake I made (letting them read a couple of X-Men Origins issues without previewing them –duh! Way too much violence and gore for my relatively sheltered kiddos) has resulted in conversations about whether a character (in this instance, Wolverine) can be good if he kills bad guys indiscriminately, and the power of redemption. I guess this one is more a “values” kind of lesson. We believe in the idea that people are “innocent until proven guilty,” not “an eye for an eye.” We also believe that people can change, and that doing the right thing might be hard, but it is worth it. They’ve also learning that Mommy can make mistakes (I’m sure they didn’t know that before….), and sometimes books get taken away before you’re finished with them.
The fascination with comics has also led to a lesson on the anatomy of the human arm (where do Wolverine’s claws go, anyway?), investigation of how cats retract their claws (completely unlike Wolverine…) and 2nd grade spelling lists like this (all taken from an X-Men comic book):
There will be writing, as well, since both Boy and Girl have a zillion ideas for comic book stories to write (thanks for the templates, Aunt Sally!), and they are in the process of creating new characters. One set of new characters are the Arctic X-Men (local nature study). Another is a family of super-heroes (Bro-Boy! Sis-Girl!), with equipment they are building, costumes they are making, and powers that fit them. Bro-Boy evades enemy fire by being in constant motion (could not be more accurate). Sis-Girl is a smart inventor, who shoots darts tipped with potions she has concocted, such as power-neutralizer, confusing potion or paralyzer. This is creative writing.
He hasn’t quite taken to heart that “with great power comes great responsibility,” but we’re working on it.
It is not a tidy way to learn, and it can be hard for me to value the eight million origami X-Men littering the living room. But this kid is fascinated, engaged, learning all the time.