Themen dieses Kurses

  • Introduction

    Working on the topic of media characters proves to be particularly useful with regard to strengthening media literacy in ECEC. Since media heroes are very important for children in their learning process, they can be used as a point of reference to work on important points of media literacy.

    These aspects of media literacy acquisition include, for example, that

    Since media characters dominate children’s everyday life, it is clear that pedagogical intervention is needed.

    Continuous support and monitoring of processing and understanding children’s media experiences are important tasks for ECEC professionals and parents alike. The first decisive foundations can be laid for a reflective and responsible use of the media.

  • About this Module

    When studying this course you will…

    • Gain knowledge about the role of media heroes of children between 3 and 6 years
    • Receive information how media heroes guide and influence preschool children
    • Learn more about media characters and their role as children‘s companions
    • Understand how media heroes are used as projection screens and identification characters

    In this module…

    • Practical advice will be given
    • Activities will support you to better understand the content and to prepare for the assessment
    • Further links will guide you to more information
  • Media Characters

    For children, characters are very important when evaluating stories. Therefore, characters from films , books, audio plays , apps, and advertisements represent an essential media reference for children. In general, there are heroes and antiheroes whom children admire or reject.

    Across all media, a multitude of different types of characters can be identified in terms of appearance, personality traits or behaviour. Due to the different possibilities of animation and representation, various (anti)heroes have been created.

    Media characters not only convey the story but also provide knowledge about social roles and behavioural patterns. Regardless of their diversity, all imaginary characters created for children have one thing in common: in comparison with real people, their complexity is greatly weakened.

    Therefore, fictional characters for children can be usually assigned to a certain category, such as good or evil. In addition, they persistently hold the same opinion and rarely deviate from their roles or patterns of behaviour. This clear line in the representation of the characters is a key factor.

    Only through very clear actions and characteristics can children understand the characters, use them for the evaluation of real persons or understand them as a guideline for their own actions. Both courageous and strong figures, as well as inferior, malicious or violent figures, exert fascination on children.

    The current media offer for children is constantly growing with new content and characters. In addition, there is comprehensive advertising and merchandising offer. There are also characters that have accompanied several generations and are still on the market.

    It is advisable for ECEC professionals to deal not only with current media offers for children but also with the child's perspective.

    In order to understand why children are interested in media characters and which traits of the characters are particularly interesting, a detailed and differentiated examination is worthwhile.

    Media characters offer children excellent opportunities to play and talk in everyday life. ECEC professionals can see the most varied forms of processing media experiences. Above all, media characters are used by children of these ages to draw, paint, and play together as a play idea or in conversations.

    Due to the fact that media characters are of high importance to children of preschool age, it seems helpful to address the topic on "media heroes" during the various everyday children’s activities at ECEC centres.

    By paying special attention to the children's environment, the children receive special appreciation and can present themselves as experts for their favourite characters. In addition, this interest can also provide information on topics that currently concern the child .

  • Media Heroes as Companions

    Children aged 3-6 face some challenges in coping with various developmental tasks . Therefore, they look for support, guidance, and information in their living world. Here the support of ECEC professionals and the family is important . On the other hand, heroes from books, television and audio plays can also support and accompany children in coping with their personal development.

    Children are particularly fond of watching characters in activities that they have only recently learned themselves or where they still have difficulties. This way they can get confirmation or inspiration for their own actions. Media characters can provide orientation and inspiration for the developmental tasks (for example):

    Developmental process in children aged 0-7

    The age-related information should give orientation and should not be perceived as a rigid category.

    If media characters have very clichéd character traits, experimenting with basic critical thinking can help you work on the topic. This can be especially exciting for children between the ages of three and six. Ask children questions such as: What would the plot of the story look like if the brave and cool prince also had a sensitive side and the tender and vulnerable princess was very strong? Role play is also a good way to illustrate such ideas.

    In addition to the developmental tasks for children between the ages of three and six, children encounter different tasks and demands in the different areas of everyday life, such as in kindergarten, in a group of peers, or in the family. These include getting to know:

    • social structures, which can differ from situation to situation,
    • negative and positive reactions regarding one's own behaviour,
    • differences in experience and knowledge in relation to other children or adults,
    • different possibilities and forms of action for adults with a role model function (e.g. ECEC professionals or parents),
    • rules of social cooperation which children must follow or negotiate (e.g. in relation to their peers).

    Therefore, they use media heroes as a source of information about social behaviour, the development of gender roles and relationships with peers.

    The different roles and behavioural patterns that emerge through media heroes support the children’s ability to develop their own standards and values through rejection or approval.

    Comprehension Questions

    1. What role do heroes from books, television and audio programmes play in children’s life?

    2. At what age are the children able to recognise simple causality?

    3. At what age are the children able to make simple moral distinctions?

    4. At what age do the children develop self-awareness?

  • Orientation and Fascination

    Through the use of media children meet different media characters every day which influence them to some or great extent. This is due to the fact that the children's interests and needs are reflected in their individual world of experience and life and are closely associated with their growth and development.

    In this respect, media heroes influence their social behaviour and cooperation, as well as their acting and thinking.

    Through their favourite hero(es) one can see how they feel and what entertains them. Media heroes indirectly offer suggestions and may influence children’s orientation in their everyday life. Although there may be almost no long-term impact on the behaviour and character of a child, short-term effects, in connection with the empathetic role-play related to action and moods, can be detected more frequently. Children of preschool age are also often fascinated by the abilities and qualities of media heroes.

    For parents and teachers, stories in the media can be valuable tools to teach young children how to face and overcome challenges in the real world. Along with the obvious entertainment that these stories offer, parents and teachers can have conversations with the children about more profound meanings in each story thus engaging in useful interaction with them. This can help both parents and educators to find out about the children’s emotions, ideas, perception of the characters, evaluation of the characters’ actions and also about the strengths and weaknesses of these characters.

    ECEC teachers can use characters of heroic stories in books or in videos to instil values in children. Due to the fact that stories often depict the challenges that humans encounter in their life journey, media heroes can inspire children in many ways.

    Media Heroes for Children

    A simple way to understand how young children feel and think about various aspects of life during their development is to encourage them to draw their favourite heroes. Then parents and/or educators can use these drawings to generate a discussion with the children about the reasons why they like these characters, and what these characters’ strengths and weaknesses are.

    The Roles of Media Heroes

    Media heroes can be a projection screen for preschoolers. They can help children express feelings, concerns or needs. In addition, unconscious thoughts can be clearer and easier for children to deal with when inner problems are transferred to media characters. For instance, if a child is angry or sad, the feeling can also be projected onto a media character. If necessary, the child can identify the reason for his/her anger or sadness, but also understand and accept the feeling itself.

    Media heroes can be an identification character for children between the ages of three and six as their interest in media content increases when stories are related to their everyday lives. Particularly exciting are the characteristic and central themes of childhood, such as dealing with fears of loss or the feeling of self-efficacy, as well as the distinction between good and evil. Media heroes can help children follow the events of a story and understand its context. Especially the participation in actions and feelings are important: for example, if tomcat Findus from "Petterson and Findus" opposes a frightening situation with a lot of sense and humour or little witch "Bibi Blocksberg" uses her magical power to prevent herself from tidying up her room, children follow the actions of heroes with interest and feel addressed because of the reference to the world they live in.

    Evil and Good Characters

    The assumption that powerful and strong figures that fight against injustice are preferred by children is a myth. Also, the characters with evil traits or the vulnerable ones play a role for the children, which should not be underestimated.

    Evil characters, for example, offer children the opportunity to deal with feelings of revenge or every day taboo aggression. If characters are in need of protection, children can deal with the role of victims. In a form of unpunished problem-solving, the children, represented by the media character, recognise and experience possible reactions and consequences to behaviour from a safe distance and can compare these with their own needs and goals.

    In a conversation about children's favourite characters, you can collect together which traits of the characters children particularly like and which they do not. Together with you, children can collect the positive and negative characteristics of their media heroes in a collage. Experience has shown, however, that it is harder for children to name negative characteristics of their favourite character, but it is not so difficult for them to identify negative features in characters they dislike. Another idea is to make posters of well-known media characters with positive and negative traits (using different colour markers for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ traits) and display them in the classroom as visual stimuli. Look at this example:

    This way, individual character traits, external features and certain behaviours of a media character can offer children between three and six years of age suggestions and orientation for their own behaviour. This imitation should not be confused with the role play of media content. In role play, the children dress up as a media character and perform certain action scenes, or they make up new stories for the characters in order to process media experiences.

    Children between the ages of three and six often use role play to process their everyday experiences. It can be helpful if you let them play characters from children's media and question which characteristics of their favourite heroes would be useful and desirable in everyday life.

    Strengthening of Relationships

    If you take a closer look at children's favourite heroes, you can see that there are clear similarities in the popularity of certain types of characters. Most children are fascinated by superhuman abilities and magic (e.g. being especially strong, being able to change or fly). Such characters are portrayed as independent, responsible, successful and strong, and these traits are desirable for children.

    Their peers’ preferences and enthusiasm about certain characters often have an influence on their choice of favourite characters. Different opinions about different characters in the media trigger communication among them and provide impulse for exchange. Among friends, the favourite media heroes can strengthen internal ties within the group and offer chances of talking and playing. Shared knowledge about certain characters can also serve as a boundary between the group and the outside world, which again strengthens the internal group relationship.

    Media characters enable children to be experts in their field, which also has an impact on their social cooperation and interaction.

    It can encourage agreement and build respect from other children if a child is particularly well informed about certain media characters and media content. Games and conversations about favourite characters, in turn, increase a child's popularity among their peers.

    Comprehension Questions

    1. What general features define the children’s media heroes?

    2. What do the children learn from their favourite media heroes?

    3. How can you use the “hero” characters for day-to-day work with children at ECEC?

  • Media Heroes vs. Real Role Models

    Media Heroes

    Just as media content can influence children, so can media characters. However, media characters do not compete with real identification characters and role models, but complement them. They complete:

    • the range of social behaviours and actions
    • and can compensate for possible deficits in the children’s immediate social environment.

    Children aged 3-6 find it difficult to assess the characteristics of fictional characters. Above all, children have difficulty in recognising which features are imaginary or real when the plot of the story presents them so realistically. Even exaggerations in size, speed and strength are hardly recognizable as fictional by preschool children. This has also to do with the notion that, from the perspective of children, almost all people are faster, bigger and stronger than them.

    When you talk to children about media characters, it is important to give them clues so that they can better understand the different characteristics of the characters. For example, it can help you to compare known attributes: if a media character is unrealistically fast or superhumanly large, describing it as being as fast as a race car or as big as a house can help the children. These comparisons of features can also be very useful in crafting and painting. To make the oversize of a media character comprehensible and visible, you can paint the oversized media character next to a normal-sized person and a house, for example.

    Behavioural patterns and characteristics that are entirely made up can, in turn, be categorised by younger children as not real or imaginary. These include, for example, people with magical powers or animals who can speak.

    If ECEC professionals and parents monitor children’s media use, they can help children evaluate media characters and their characteristics as fictional or real.

    In order to protect children from unrealistic expectations of themselves as well as associated disappointment, it is particularly important to sensitise them towards exaggerations of supposedly desirable character traits (e.g. being excessively strong) that children might want to copy and making them aware that these are fictional.

    Role Models

    Due to their presence in the media, celebrities can also be important for children between the ages of three and six (e.g. football players or presenters of children's programmes).

    These people usually show a great deal of passion and enthusiasm for their work. In the sense of a role model function, this can have a motivating effect on children. They may be able to learn about a variety of hobbies and talents, or they may want to try out certain artistic or sporting activities for themselves. In addition, norms, values, physical appearance and qualities are communicated to the children through the prominent person.

    It is important to know that the character and often the appearance of celebrities are just as artificially created and marketed as the image of a cartoon character.

    The aim here is usually to achieve a one-dimensional character (e.g. "the strong", "the social", "the nice"), which, however, the respective prominent person can hardly identify with. The worlds of fictional characters are presented in a narrative way, while real people are not always one-dimensional, but more complex in their personality traits. This multidimensionality can make these characters difficult for children to handle, especially in the case of "taboo breaks" that are spread across the media.

    There is a multitude of media heroes who can enrich the children's everyday lives and give them good ideas. However, it is important to consider that, in addition to the media heroes, there are also tangible and real identification characters and role models in their environment, such as the humorous ECEC professional, the elder sister, the understanding father or the courageous friend. In order to promote this balance, it is advisable to deal with heroes from real life in connection with strengthening children's media literacy. There are hardly any limits to the accompanying and creative activities in everyday ECEC life.

    You can invite to the ECEC facility heroes from everyday life, such as police officers, nurses or your own grandpa, who then talk to the children about their lives and tell them about their own role models. Afterwards, with your support, children can, for example, create collages about what has been discussed or conduct interviews with the "everyday heroes" and record them.

    In order to make children aware that they can be heroes themselves, I recommend that you discuss with the children about events in which themselves or their friends have shown heroic behaviour. This may follow after great fears have been overcome, someone selflessly has helped someone else, or something very difficult has been accomplished. For the discussion I recommend conversations, but painting pictures or role plays are also suitable.

    For orientation in the world, positive and healthy development of children, a balanced coexistence of real and media heroes is essential.

    Design a family poster with family heroes. Collect pictures and think about why the person is so fascinating. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles – the list can be extended. A sample poster can be found here:

    Download: Sample poster of family heroes

    Comprehension Questions

    1. What features distinguish real people from media heroes?

    2. How can tangible and real characters and role models affect the children in their own environment?

    3. What do children learn from real people presented in the media, for example from a favourite sportsman?

    4. How can you make children realise that they can be heroes themselves?

  • Supporting Parents

    Media characters are of high importance for the everyday life of children and their personal development. For this reason, the topic should also be taken up in discussions between ECEC professionals and parents.

    If one deals with the topic of media characters in ECEC, this is a good opportunity to also exchange information with parents about the broad spectrum and relevance of media characters. For example, parents might be unsure about how to properly handle media characters. Here it can be helpful if the ECEC professionals provide materials or include information on the topic on parents’ days. There is also the opportunity to show parents concrete work results on the topic of media heroes. Conversations can be quite effective if you display relevant handicrafts, paintings, posters or collages made by children with the help of their teachers.

    It is essential that parents become aware of the role that media characters play in the search for orientation and in dealing with children's issues. It is also important to emphasise that, in addition to friends and siblings, parents also have a major influence on which media heroes are favoured by children.

    ECEC professionals also benefit from the exchange with parents, as the parents can provide interesting points for the media pedagogical work on the topic in the ECEC facility.

    Start right now and try out your knowledge in practice. Our practical examples may give you some initial ideas.

    Comprehension Questions

    1. How can you support your conversation about a child’s media heroes with their parents to exchange relevant information effectively?

    2. Why is it important to exchange information about media characters between ECEC professionals and parents?