There seems to be a pattern with this addition of Zelda into the classroom vernacular: it seems to come out of nowhere, but there is always a reason for a student to bring up the game.
by Kevin Goodwin
All photos in this article were taken by the author.
“So you get these four things, and then you get a paraglider…” I overheard this conversation during a walk with my 1st-grade students. Anyone who is a fan of The Legend of Zelda--especially Breath of the Wild--will immediately recognize what is being talked about.
Whispers about Zelda and Link are often heard in my classroom. I have never outwardly stated that I am a fan of Zelda or even video games to my students; I find it much more interesting to hear them bring up the topic first. The kids always talk about Pokémon, Minecraft, and Harry Potter. There are several kids with Harry Potter backpacks and other kids in Pokémon and Minecraft shirts. There is the occasional Mario or Sonic gear, too, and kids seem to always talk about owning a Nintendo. Right now, the talk revolves around owning a Switch.
I love hearing about the things the kids are into, and I can typically make lots of connections with them through these different games, movies, and books. It's a joy talking about Harry Potter or Star Wars with a group of kids or navigating what to do when someone loses a Pokémon card that they brought from home. As a teacher, you need to accept the things that your students are interested in and embrace them and connect to them. I may not play Minecraft, but I can still talk about Creepers, Steve, and the endless things that are possible in Creative Mode. I can easily explain to kids why The Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite book, but when it comes to Zelda, it always seems to be much more nuanced. In a way, the game lives up to its name; it is often spoken of as more of a legend and an experience than as simply a game you play, book you read, or shirt your parents bought you.
There seems to be a pattern with this addition of Zelda into the classroom vernacular: it seems to come out of nowhere, but there is always a reason for a student to bring up the game. We will be reading an adventure book or exploring fairy tales that contain dragons, or we will discover something while out on a walk around campus. We tend to go on an adventure every day, whether it is nice out, pouring rain, or a blizzard. These things coupled with giving the kids some free time to have their own conversations and to build and play then seem to provide a space for someone to bring up Zelda. It’s usually as simple as a student saying, “Like in the game Zelda,” or “I played this game called Zelda, and that has dragons, too.” The flood gates then typically open. Once one kid brings up Zelda, then a couple more will join in the conversation, and it is at this point that I chime in with my love of the franchise.
Zelda can be a great connector. There is something so intriguing when you hear someone talking about shrines, the Triforce, Link and Zelda, Ganon, and the multitudes of the things that can be done in the games. Breath of the Wild is certainly the game talked about most in my classroom when it comes to the franchise, and the open endedness of that game lends itself to some truly magical conversations. Even kids who have no clue what is being talked about are immediately intrigued by the world of Zelda. Talk of wild beasts, ruins, dungeons, treasures, and mysteries over each and every hill are all things that get kids' imaginations going.
This intrigue with the mystery of Zelda may also just connect with this age group. I find that 1st and 2nd graders experience more about themselves and form true identities as they progress through those years. Every day is a new adventure, and every experience is something that truly shapes them. Much like Link, they grow and discover more and more abilities that they never knew they were capable of.
As teachers, we need to keep that sense of adventure alive. It is certainly fun to talk about Zelda: I love hearing kids tell me that there are older games (they are usually referring to Twilight Princess since that game seems ancient to them). They find it crazy to learn that the game series goes back much further than that. There is a sense of true history when it comes to the development of these games. More than just talking about the games, I find that kids simply live this life of adventure. We might not find Moblins on our walks, but we find all kinds of other creatures. Whether out of LEGOs, sand, or blocks, I find them constantly creating their own little worlds. There is constant world building happening in the classroom. Watching the kids do these things makes me think of the stories of Shigeru Miyamoto exploring his world as a kid and then using that as inspiration to create Zelda.
There’s just something magical about hearing your class speak about Zelda, and watching kids make friends because of Zelda is always amazing. Seeing a quiet student spend almost an hour explaining Breath of the Wild for a presentation and crafting a Zelda quiz for the class is one of my greatest memories from teaching.
Zelda might not be as “in your face” as things like Pokémon in the context of a classroom, but when the legend is brought up, I take notice and love seeing the worlds it begins to create.