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Is Fantasy Bad For Children?

fantasy teaching

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18 replies to this topic

#1
donjuancho

donjuancho
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I hope to raise a discussion here on the merits of reality vs. fantasy for young children.  I hope that readers at least question the effects of fantasy on kids. 
 
I have come to the conclusion that it can be harmful to children under the age of 8 to be taught fantasy.  This might raise a knee jerk reaction when you first read this.  It did for me.  After more research though it appears that young children cannot differentiate the between fantasy and reality.  If they see a movie with talking cars, the children believe that cars can talk and have emotions.  If they read a book about someone with superpowers they think that is real, and believe they may grow up and have super powers.  Introducing this to children then can be seeing as lying to them, since they do not understand the differences.
 
What is the point fantasy for children?  Instead of having them play around in wonderland, why not have them join you in reality?  Why give them a fake cooking set, when you could have them help you cook dinner?  Why show them a “Cars” movie when you can teach them how cars actually work.  Why work so hard to keep them from learning about reality, and instead have them join you in it?
 
In Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, Angeline Lillard writes: “Dr. Montessori… believed that the goal of childhood is being able to learn and perceive the real world… giving the child fantasies… thwarts their understanding of the real world…”
 
“So what if kids learn fantasy?  I did and I turned out fine.”  It is true that we can have fantasy as kids and be normal adults.  We are just a little behind.  Rosyln Ross explains it best:
 
It’s all math: children who live in the real world from birth spend 8 years practicing real life instead of pretending they’re a princess. That’s a lot more expertise in real life skills than the average American child gets.
The number one thing parents can do to facilitate the co-creation of a healthy relationship with their children is to welcome their children into their lives instead of trying to keep them out or trying to get them to do "children" things.
Parents can bring their children with them to life while they model a life-well-lived instead of going to great lengths to invent a world for children that doesn't actually exist. When parents do this, they are on the same team as their children and parenting becomes a lot easier and more fun.
 
I highly recommend listening to Roslyn Ross’s speech from Libertopia to learn more-
Part 1 is about relationships - http://www.youtube.c...h?v=dCmDUquKAUQ
Part 2 talks about fantasy for children (including its history) - http://www.youtube.c...h?v=XJG1rrjD3lQ
 
Studies and other resources:
 
 
Thinking About Fantasy: Are children fundamentally different thinkers and believers from adults? Child Development, 6, 991-1011

Making Sense of Pretence in C Lewis & P Mitchel Children's Early
Understanding of Mind: Origins and Development p, 211-34

British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 12, 417-27 Children's
ability to distinguish fantasy events from real-life events, Samuels A
and Taylor M 1994

DeLoache 1998 The Development of early symbolization: Educational
implications. Learning and Instruction, 8 325-39

Piaget 1970 Science of education and the psychology of the child

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#2
Wesley

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Children can differentiate between fantasy and reality much younger than 8 in my experience. By 3 - 4 they usually tell me that something in a movie is not real. 

 

If they cannot tell the difference, then as a caregiver, I would be guiding them to learn to differentiate effectively between fantasy and reality. 

 

 

 

Then again, some people never realize the difference between reality and fantasy... **cough**cough**religion**cough**

 

So maybe I am totally wrong and I would be open to what others have to say on the topic.


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#3
Josh F

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This was something I talked with a Waldorf teacher about, and she argues something similar.  She cautions against the morality present in most types of fantasy, and the intensity of the experience when it comes to children.  She does advocate spoken word stories based on empathy and moral lessons, though.

 

I think early childhood lessons should be focused on empathy and negotiations and reasoning and being happy.  }

 

For adults, however, I think that it takes on a completely different roll.  After around the age of 7 a child raised in a healthy environment should be sufficiently able to distinguish between reality and fantasy.   For example, in the 4th grade we studied a lot of things, but I only remember one to this day, which is the history of the gold rush (I grew up in CA).  And the reason I remember it was because the school hired this whole group of people to recreate a gold panning experience and we drank sarsaparilla soda (root beer) and did line dancing. 


Children can differentiate between fantasy and reality much younger than 8 in my experience. By 3 - 4 they usually tell me that something in a movie is not real. 

 

If they cannot tell the difference, then as a caregiver, I would be guiding them to learn to differentiate effectively between fantasy and reality. 

 

 

 

Then again, some people never realize the difference between reality and fantasy... **cough**cough**religion**cough**

 

So maybe I am totally wrong and I would be open to what others have to say on the topic.

Well I've seen the example of one kid who started getting very mischievous after he started watching Tom and Jerry cartoons.  He suddenly was going around tying people's shoelaces together and hiding things from them.


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#4
Rainbow Jamz

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I dunno, my neice knows that cup coasters are not really cookies and she pretends to take bites into them anyway. She's 2 years old. She knows there isn't really a monster after us when we hide under the kitchen table. I'm pretty sure most kids, even traumatized ones no the difference. It's an adulthood where the dependance on fantasy might run amuck, as it does seem more pleasurable than reality at times.


What is the point fantasy for children?  Instead of having them play around in wonderland, why not have them join you in reality?  Why give them a fake cooking set, when you could have them help you cook dinner?  Why show them a “Cars” movie when you can teach them how cars actually work.  Why work so hard to keep them from learning about reality, and instead have them join you in it?

 

The point of fantasy is to invigorate their imaginations because that's where a lot of creativity and insight can come from. Unless cars really appeal to a kid, they would much rather have a car be personified and feel connected to emotionally. I don't like the movie Cars and have no interest in seeing it, because talking vehicles? C'man! But that would be my guess. 

 

And again, nothing wrong with a fake cooking set, they're free to play with that or help with the real cooking. My neice in particular so far is only interested in play cooking soup (which is just a bunch of candy and cup coasters in a pot), but maybe when she gets older she'll be interested in actually cooking.

 

Fantasy is only dangerous if the kid thinks it's reality and the caregiver makes no effort to help them understand the difference.


I also think it is based on the caregiver's ability to connect with them in real time that affects their ability or inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. If a kid already has a good relationship with reality and are validated for being who they are, they wouldn't feel the need to emulate destructive behaviour found in some fantasy and cartoons.


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#5
aeonicentity

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Fantasy is actually a critical thinking skill. While its not good to get lost in fantasy worlds, children (and adults) utilize fantasy as a way to liberate yourself from preconcived restrictions and exercize critical thinking skills.

 

Often fantasy is a way for children to 'safely' internalize problems and solve them without being hurt by them. Think of this process like sandboxing a virus to see what it does. For example, children can pretend home relationships to understand them, and some times understand relationships that they aren't actually living (like children pretending to be mommy and daddy playing house). These are the beginnings of empathy.

 

Actually, fantasy is the foundation of empathy, since all fantastical behavior is inherently empathetic. Its just as hard if not harder to understand a fictional character as it is to understand a real person.


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#6
tasmlab

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I think you are selling the 8 and unders a little short on their ability to understand fantasy vs. reality.  Even at 2 they can play cooking and know pretty well it's not real, as in mysterion's example (my 2 year old will also serve fake cookies for us to eat).

 

I think the danger more lies in not dispelling fantasy, like the reinforcement of religion.  Then you've got ideas that look like fantasy but are claimed not to be.  I could see confusion setting in there.   But we know that here already.


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#7
LanceD

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Speaking from experience as a parent I have to say that the entire premise you're basing these opinions on is nonsense.

My son is 7 and he has watched and heard a lot of fantasy and real stuff. When he was younger he would ask things or make comments that would start conversations about these stories and we would discuss what was real and what was not. These discussions along with many other chats we've had and questions we've answered have given him the ability to distinguish the difference, or at least be unsure enough to ask one of us to confirm ot deny his doubts.

He is well aware cars, fish, lions, zebras and hippos don't really talk or dance. He knows when I show him CG models of the solar system on the pc that the things it's showing really exist, but the "pictures" aren't real.

None of this is harmful, and while my evidence is purely anecdotal, I believe it's beneficial in at least two ways. One, being exposed to fantasy spurs his imagination! He knows Captain America isn't real but he gets hours of entertainment out of putting on his costume and doing "battle" with the dogs. He spends countless hours just playing with a few toys and a deep imagination that's fueled by all these fantasies he then turns into things completely his own. Creativity is a good and wonderful thing, and everything humans have ever created has come from the imagination why the hell would you not want to feed and nurture it?!

The second benefit is critical thinking. Drake, my son, is learning to decide for himself what is real and what is not. He knows not to believe everything he sees and heard and instead considers whether or not he thinks it may be true, he even does this to things me and his mother tell him! I think this is wonderful, when his friends tell him about God he figured out on his own it was bunk.

I think this logic would lead to a very dull and dry childhood that sucks the fun and creativity out of your children.
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#8
Nathan Diehl

Nathan Diehl

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Anybody ever play the game "the floor is lava! Don't step on the floor!" ??

 

 

to this day, i have PTSD when i walk on floors

 

 

 

Fantasy is like everything else. Moderation. Does candy kill? Sure, if you eat enough of it. Does candy delight? Sure, if you eat only some of it. Same with fantasy. Fantasy allows the mind to become unrestricted by the confines of immediate reality. It is the birthing ground of future invention. 


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#9
tasmlab

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He knows Captain America isn't real but he gets hours of entertainment out of putting on his costume and doing "battle" with the dogs. 

 

As a card-carrying anti-statist, I'm going to beg you to get rid of the Captain America costume in favor of, say, Spider-man or maybe Ironman ;-)


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#10
LanceD

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As a card-carrying anti-statist, I'm going to beg you to get rid of the Captain America costume in favor of, say, Spider-man or maybe Ironman ;-)


I get what you're saying, but I'm not gonna make those decisions for him. I don't let him get programmed by the government, but a super hero he knows is a complete fairy take doesn't bother me.

Now when boy scours tried to get him to do the pledge of allegiance, that was a totally different matter!
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#12
tasmlab

tasmlab

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I get what you're saying, but I'm not gonna make those decisions for him. I don't let him get programmed by the government, but a super hero he knows is a complete fairy take doesn't bother me.

Now when boy scours tried to get him to do the pledge of allegiance, that was a totally different matter!

 

Ha!  My boy has a version of Cap's shield and two Captain America action figures.  I'm worried about Boy Scouts as it is a quasi-military Christian organization that holds obedience and reverence as key statutes, but then my son will probably want to join.  I had a blast as a boy scout myself.


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#13
cherapple

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Is the fantasy intrinsically motivated play, used as a tool for learning about reality? Are there reality-grounded adults who engage the child in exploration and discussion about this play? Or is the fantasy imposed upon the child by an adult who wants him to accept it as truth? 


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#14
LanceD

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Ha! My boy has a version of Cap's shield and two Captain America action figures. I'm worried about Boy Scouts as it is a quasi-military Christian organization that holds obedience and reverence as key statutes, but then my son will probably want to join. I had a blast as a boy scout myself.

Your concerns are well founded, even more so if you live in a southern state like I do where Christisnity is everywhere and an accepted part of all things

However for a child whose parents are deeply involved in their lives, and I assume this applies to you, I think it can be a good thing. I don't want to propagandize my child into my atheism, I want to teach him to think and consider the possibilities and decide for himself. So allowing him exposure to believers has created many opportunities for very fruitful discussions on all things religion, and also chances to teach him tolerance.

This added on to the really cool things Scouts get to do has in my eyes made it a completely positive experience. After all when you're teaching how to think and not what to think you should have no need to hide things from your children. It's only those parents who are filling their children's heads with ignorance and superstition who need to shield them from reality.
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We're not responsible for how we're born, but we are responsible for how we die.


#15
tasmlab

tasmlab

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Your concerns are well founded, even more so if you live in a southern state like I do where Christisnity is everywhere and an accepted part of all things

However for a child whose parents are deeply involved in their lives, and I assume this applies to you, I think it can be a good thing. I don't want to propagandize my child into my atheism, I want to teach him to think and consider the possibilities and decide for himself. So allowing him exposure to believers has created many opportunities for very fruitful discussions on all things religion, and also chances to teach him tolerance.

This added on to the really cool things Scouts get to do has in my eyes made it a completely positive experience. After all when you're teaching how to think and not what to think you should have no need to hide things from your children. It's only those parents who are filling their children's heads with ignorance and superstition who need to shield them from reality.

 

I get a little worried about the delegation of authority i.e., if the scout master insists that reverence to god is virtuous and obedience to the state is right, I'll have to press on my son that the scout master's authority isn't flawed in a lot of places.  But even as I type this, it sounds like a healthy thing to do.

 

We go through a little bit with Karate lessons where they must shout mantras about loyalty and submission and stuff.

 

Next week, I'm moving from Massachusetts to South Carolina - I guess I'll get to see how Christian the South really is!


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#16
donjuancho

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Thank you everyone for all of the input.  I am sorry that I wasn't able to respond earlier.  It seems like it has raised some interesting ideas about fantasy. 

 

One myth that I want to address is the idea that you need fantasy for imagination.  This is not accurate.  When a child is taught fantasy the imagination is coming from the adult,  the child is just believing it.  Also, why does this have anything to do with fantasy?  Kids can learn so much from reality like: math, how gears work, learning to cook, working with others, reading maps, coding, etc.  They can let their imagination run rampant with ideas about these things, instead of fairies or talking pigs.

 

One example of this is the co-founders of Google Sergey Brin and Larry Page. They were both Montessori students where fantasy was not taught.

 

The main message, which others brought up, is- how is fantasy understood?  If kids can differentiate fantasy from reality, that is great.  But if a child doesn't understand the difference between reality and fantasy, they will have a hard time understanding the nature of reality.

 

I like the comparison of candy and fantasy.  Having a little at appropriate times can be ok, but if it becomes habitual there may be an underlying problem.


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#17
Rainbow Jamz

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Yeah exactly, without imagination, new stuff cannot be created. I think you also have to discern the difference between imagination and fantasy. Fantasy is in the realm of complete nonsense and illogical fallacies (which can be fun of course) and can be taken with a grain of salt. While imagination is the creative aspect of fantasy, but not entirely dependant on fantasy.

 

Fantasy requires imagination because without an imagination, fun things cannot be made up like adventures to the grocery store and pretending that some of the tiles are hot lava. A kid knows what they see, but their mind likes to believe otherwise all for the sake of play.

 

Imagination however does not always result in fantasy. It can also result in innovation. Maybe the car was a fantasy at first with the first blue prints ever drawn, but it was something that can be created. Fantasy is only belief without impericism, but if it can abide by the laws of physics and biology, it can transcend the stage of fantasy and become something tangible in the real world. It's a fantasy that humans on their own will one day fly on their own (unless we evolve somehow to develop wings), but the best imagination can offer us is the passage of air travel in the form of a plane.


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Nothing is permanent, only short term or long term.


#18
FriendlyHacker

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Maybe watching cartoons about mouses that can talk and people who are immune to death, pain and injury has made dumber, but I will never know. Certainly dealing with religious people has made me dumber, not because I was ever religious, but because having to deal with them slows you down.


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#19
DaVinci

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I think that children indulging in fantasy worlds might actually hep lead them into being better at divergent thinking.

 

http://en.wikipedia....ergent_thinking


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