Children learn at different speeds and with all types of methods. While raising my five kids, I quickly learned that what works well for one child might confuse or frustrate another. By playing with my kids and listening to them, we discovered new ways of learning together. By the time my fifth child came along, I had fooled myself into believing I was ready and capable of teaching any personality type. But what I realized was that I will never know everything about parenting. All I can do is pay attention to my children and be open to new ideas.

I worked earnestly with my kids when they were little, teaching them the alphabet, to count, add and subtract, write their names and how to tie their shoes. I wanted to be the mom with the kids that wowed their preschool teacher. When my oldest daughter, Netika, finally started school, I saw she was not the super genius I had been determined to create. All of the other kids knew how to do that stuff too. Netika was exactly at the level she was supposed to be.

I decided not to be disappointed in my efforts. As a single mother of five kids there was a chance maybe two or three of them might still wow their teacher. I thought those were pretty good odds. I soon learned that as a single mother of five, I should be proud of the fact that my kids were at their grade level, and that after working with them, I still had my sanity relatively intact.

Having five children means having to figure out how to get along with five very different people.

Teaching my five very different children meant learning how to deal with a lot of emotions. When Netika didn’t get a math problem right away, she cried. My third child taught herself to tie her shoes when she was two, but then refused to do it herself unless I wasn’t looking. My second child was so excited to go to school with his older sister that he learned everything in record time. When we dropped off his sister at school and he wasn’t allowed to stay I explained that he still had to wait until he was old enough. He reacted to this by throwing himself down onto the sidewalk and kicking his hands and legs while screaming as loud as he could. I ignored the people who walked by and stared, as I held his little sister and patiently waited for him to wear himself out.

Although my youngest, Tevin, picked up how to work with numbers quickly, my attempts to teach him the alphabet were met with resistance, disinterest or annoyance. My son had a hard time staying focused, especially if he didn’t find the activity interesting. He would sit and listen to me read if I did silly voices for the characters or for books by Dr. Seuss and others like them that were fun to read because of their wordplay. But trying to get Tevin to sit still while I taught him letters was like attempting to hold onto an angry cat that didn’t want anything to do with you, minus the scratches.Teaching Tevin the alphabet was going to take a lot more skill than I had.Teaching Tevin the alphabet was going to take a superhero.

How Comics Came to the Rescue

I have always loved comic books and most things comic book related. I shared that love with all my kids, and my two oldest developed their own comic book related interests. Netika fell in love with Spiderman and Harley Quinn. My son, Richie, shared my love for the X-Men and became a Deadpool fan long before the movies. By the time Tevin came along,comic book movies and memorabilia were becoming more popular and common. I bought Tevin all kinds of toys from the Marvel and DC world. Richie and I made it our job to teach Tevin about all the characters and their histories as he played with them. When Tevin was four-years-old, he didn’t know the letter A from the letter B, but by God he knew that the Juggernaut was Professor Xavier’s step-brother and had gained his powers from a magical ruby that he came across while trying to desert his post in the Korean war.  

I figured there had to be some way to use Tevin’s ability to remember comic book stuff to help him learn his alphabet, and on one of my trips to the comic book store, I found it. Sitting in a box by the register were a bunch of miniature pieces that looked like superhero characters. Each one had a round base on the bottom that enabled it to stand on its own. I had no idea what they were, only that they looked very cool. I bought a handful and showed them off to my kids. Richie googled them, and discovered they were pieces to a game called HeroClix. The game is played with the miniature collectibles that center around superhero comic books, most often Marvel and DC. The character pieces are set up in teams on a map, and played against each other. Richie taught Netika, Tevin and me how to play. Our HeroClix collection quickly grew.

On one occasion, while picking out my team and reading the character’s names that are printed on their base, I realized that there was at least one character for every letter of the alphabet. Tevin might not know his alphabet, but he knew the names of all the HeroClix we had. I held up a tiny Incredible Hulk in my hand and devised a plan.  

Most HeroClix are between one to two inches. I found a sample of letters online, upper and lower case, and printed them out on a sheet of paper that I cut out in 2×2 inch squares. I set out 26 HeroClix with names that began with letters A to Z, and placed each letter in front of its hero or villain. For example; A for Antman, B for Batman, D for Dr. Octopus and so on. I went over all of them with Tevin. I said the letter, then made the sound the letter made and then said the name of the character. Tevin sat quietly, listening closely to each one. He sat! Patiently. For all 26 characters. And then we went over them again. Only this time, I had him say each one with me. Yes, sometimes he got distracted and played with the HeroClix. He was four, so I let him take breaks and have his fun. What mattered was that he was interested, paying attention and learning.

Tevin learned to recognize all his letters, upper and lower case, and all the sounds they made much faster than I had expected. While teaching him to read, I had him read comic books as often as regular books. A lot of comic books are more sophisticated than most people assume. We occasionally ran into words that even I didn’t recognize. I would look up the definition and we both learned what the word meant.Years later I used the HeroClix method to teach the alphabet to one of my cousin’s children who I babysat. He picked it up as quickly as Tevin had. I would suggest it for all children who know their Marvel and DC heroes. With the popularity of the movies that are out now, a lot more kids are comic-book savvy. I still love comic books, and I like the idea that these tiny little superheroes were there for me when I needed a save.