Why kids can learn more from tales of fantasy than realism

Fairy Tales and fantasy have always captivated children. When they are outside of their own world, which is often a place of an uphill climb to learn and grow, then they can truly be immersed in the story at hand– and understand the characters. That means learning right and wrong, good and evil, and developing a moral compass. Plus, when the mind is open, all the words and vocabulary pour into the brain. The number of words a child hears is directly attributed to academic succes in school. Here’s to Fairy Tales!

M.C. Tuggle, Writer

Fantasy learning

Deena Weisberg is a senior fellow in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Her specialty is “imaginative cognition,” which studies how imagination boosts one’s ability to learn. Her research demonstrates that children absorb new material taught in the context of a fanciful scenario better than they do when it’s presented in more realistic terms. In a recent edition of Aeon, she challenges herself with a question she’s grappled with before: Why do fantastical stories stimulate learning?

What can be going on? Perhaps children are more engaged and attentive when they see events that challenge their understanding of how reality works. After all, the events in these fantastical stories aren’t things that children can see every day. So they might pay more attention, leading them to learn more.

A different, and richer, possibility is that there’s something about fantastical contexts that is particularly helpful for learning. From this perspective, fantastical fiction…

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About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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16 Responses to Why kids can learn more from tales of fantasy than realism

  1. I completely agree. I think the same goes for adults. Somehow that simple step outside the boundaries of reality makes the themes more accessible without preset ideas about “the way it is.” 🙂

  2. I too agree completely. Great post. Fantasy makes it possible to learn more about possibilities and the world. 🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, indeed! I wish you could have been a fly on the wall this week when the children did a play performance based on an old story. I will hang my hat on fairy tales and imagination for children’s learning.

  3. Pingback: Why kids can learn more from Tales of fantasy than Realism. | Pen and Paper

  4. eddieskastle says:

    i agree i agree i agree!! and so did Maurice Sendak, the legendary author of “Where the Wild Things Are.” He says “From their earliest years children live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety are an intrinsic part of their everyday lives, they continually cope with frustrations as best they can. And it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things.”

  5. reocochran says:

    We need to be able to escape, rise above situations and learn ways to create. Fantasies do these things for children “of all ages!” Nice share, Jennie. 🙂

  6. ❤ fairy tales! I especially like to compare all the different versions of the same basic tales from various cultures and time periods.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes! We just did our first play performance- the African version of “Caps For Sale” based on the book “The Hatseller”. Fairy Tales are grounded in imagination and learning.

  7. Pingback: Why kids can learn more from tales of fantasy than realism | Life By Shape

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