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When is the right age to explain the children when something is fiction or real (like unicorns πŸ¦„πŸ™„)?

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  • 1.  When is the right age to explain the children when something is fiction or real (like unicorns πŸ¦„πŸ™„)?

    Posted 03-05-2021 01:56 PM

    Hello there!

    I am a Pre-Kindergarten lead teacher and I would love to share this concern with my ECE community. After a parent called to administration complaining about why the teachers told to my daughter the unicorns are fake, I am feeling a little confused. Can someone please help me with this dilemma.

    Thank you!

    Angela.



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    Angela Martins
    Brambleton VA
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  • 2.  RE: When is the right age to explain the children when something is fiction or real (like unicorns πŸ¦„πŸ™„)?

    Posted 03-06-2021 08:54 AM
    Hi Angela,

    The short answer to your question is that if it is clear that a young child in your classroom has been taught at home that ideas and creatures from adult-made fantasies are true, then it is not typically appropriate to directly contradict the parents. I would have a conversation with the parents first, though, and ask how committed they are to that particular fantasy. ; You can always respond to a child with something like, "Oh, do you have a book about unicorns at home? Yes, you often find unicorns in stories."Β  What you promote in your classroom does not have to further confuse the child, however.

    My program's philosophy recognizes that young children have difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy. Combining adult-created ideas from a fantasy world with their real experiences can be quite confusing for them, not to mention sometimes scary. In our classrooms, we offer the children books with photos or illustrations of real people, animals, plants, and scenes from real life. We also offer them opportunities to engage in real work, such as child-size brooms and dusting wands, and they learn the skills to use them with practice. We also offer the opportunity to prepare their own food or help with preparing snacks for others, as another example. A child's imagination, which is different from fantasy, may lead him to "play family," or act out a scenario he observed in his home. A child may pretend to be a horse, which is just as exciting as the idea of a unicorn at this age. Everything in the real world holds fascination for a child under the age of six, because it is all new. Our observations of children tell us that they much prefer using real objects and engaging in purposeful activity over fantasy play. Once a child is around age six, they are cognitively ready to distinguish the real world from a made-up world. That is the appropriate time to begin introducing fantasy stories, fables, and fairy tales, while still being sure to offer plenty of non-fiction books as well. Hope this helps!


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    Lara Gembicki
    Sunrise Montessori Preschool
    Hutto TX
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  • 3.  RE: When is the right age to explain the children when something is fiction or real (like unicorns πŸ¦„πŸ™„)?

    Posted 03-06-2021 10:08 AM
    Lara, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, your comment helped me to understand a little bit more when it could be the appropriate age to introduce all this fairy tales and fiction characters, also I really appreciate the suggestion of not contradict the child instead Β highlight the source where this child found that information. πŸ˜ŠπŸ‘

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    Angela Martins
    Brambleton VA
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  • 4.  RE: When is the right age to explain the children when something is fiction or real (like unicorns πŸ¦„πŸ™„)?

    Posted 03-06-2021 10:12 AM
    There isnt a particular age - I knew a parent who still wanted their eight year old to believe in fairies and went to great lengths to convince her that they were real. I don't think teachers should bring this up at all unless the children do. If a child asks if unicorns, fairies, or Santa Claus are real I think the best response is to ask the child what they think. When a child keeps asking or when two children are arguing about it and appeal to the teacher I found the best response was "They are magic and make believe" which allows each child to hear what they want to hear and draw their own conclusions based on where they are in the process of believing.

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    Margery Heyl
    Chicago IL
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  • 5.  RE: When is the right age to explain the children when something is fiction or real (like unicorns πŸ¦„πŸ™„)?

    Posted 03-06-2021 11:00 AM

    Thank you for sharing, I understand every family is different, however from my perspective I think there is one point where the children should be able to understand and recognize what is fiction and non-fiction and I think is in our hands to help them during that process.

    Maybe I am wrong, but how the child who still believes in fairy characters during elementary school (like a child of 8 years old) will identify facts and fiction ideas from a book if this child still believes in something that is not real. Is not our job to redirect this thoughts?

    Thank you.



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    Angela Martins
    Brambleton VA
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  • 6.  RE: When is the right age to explain the children when something is fiction or real (like unicorns πŸ¦„πŸ™„)?
    Best Answer

    Posted 03-07-2021 09:38 AM
    As a media literacy specialist, this is one of those questions that comes up a lot, and it's complicated, so forgive this somewhat long answer.

    First, I absolutely echo those who have reminded us that we should take great care not to undermine family traditions.

    Beyond that, it's important for educators to understand that real/not real is tough for adults, not just kids. It's more complex than one might think.
    - Very young children often label as "real" what we might label "realistic." If Elmo is experiencing things that they are experiencing, then Elmo is "real." But Great Aunt Zelda, who sends birthday gifts but whom a child has never met, is much less "real" than the TV character they interact with every day. They learn more about themselves and the world from Elmo than from Aunt Zelda.
    - That leads to the whole issue of parasocial relationships, which are genuine and can be beneficial, but which aren't with real people or animals.
    - And there are plenty of completely confusing scenarios where, for example, an actor is confused with their character (Chadwick Boseman was real, but Black Panther is not, or even more confusing, Jerry Seinfeld is real but the character Jerry on Seinfeld is not) or where animated people are actually real (think: cameos on the Simpsons or Arthur, for example), and real people are fake (think: professional wrestling).
    - Santa Claus isn't real if you're talking about a specific physical human being who lives at the North Pole with elves making toys and sliding down chimneys at Christmas, but the spirit of giving and joy that Santa represents is certainly real. Same with fairy tales. The actual characters aren't real, but the lessons are real (which brings us back to "real" versus "realistic").
    Bottom line: Children need fantasy play for healthy development. The last thing we want to do is leave the impression that pretend play is somehow bad and that they should replace imagination with non-fiction.

    For all these reasons and more, I never recommend that early childhood educators teach specific lessons on real vs. pretend or fact vs. fiction. Here's what to do instead:

    1. Be clear about why you think this is important for children to know right now. Most children will grow out of beliefs in things like fairies on their own without our help. So unless you have a compelling goal, let it go.

    2. With young children teach them to differentiate between their world and the media or fictional world. Children learn at very young ages that some rules always apply and some change from place to place. There are things they can do at home that they aren't permitted to do in the car or at child care. Or things they can do at grandma's that they can't do at home. And we routinely ask children to keep the noise level down by using "inside" instead of "outside" voices so they know there are things they can outdoors but not indoors.
    We can use children's existing knowledge of these shifting expectations to contrast fictional worlds with other places. So, for example, if a child copies Cookie Monster's messy eating habits, rather than saying, "Cookie Monster isn't real. In the real world we use table manners." try saying, "Cookie Monster lives on TV and they can do different things on TV than we are allowed to do here. Here, we don't overstuff our mouths." Or acknowledge that the child is engaging in imaginary play. In that case, play along and hand them a pretend cookie. If they object, remind them that TV is a different place with different rules. Explain what they need to do in this place to get a real cookie. In other words, establish clear boundaries between worlds and then set clear rules for behavior in the real world.

    3. For older children, e.g., the 8-year-old that Angela mentions, the issue often comes up as "true/not true" rather than "fiction/pretend." Rather than specifically challenging a child's sense of fiction/non-fiction, teach them the clues they can use to examine the issue for themselves.
    What sorts of strategies does a scientist or journalist or historian use to determine whether something is true (factual) or not? For example, instead of teaching children that Easter bunnies aren't real, teach a science lesson on why/how animals rely on camouflage to survive. Then facilitate children using that lesson to look at why real bunnies are never florescent yellow or pink. When children and their families are ready, they'll make the link between the science of camouflage and the existence of Easter bunnies.
    If children already know how to use scientific inquiry methods then an analysis of a fairy tale can start with what children observe and what they already know that would help them determine which parts of a fairy tale are accurate, which are metaphorical, and which are total fantasy. And they can do that analysis without undermining the moral of the story or the enjoyment of reading fantasy stories, or thinking that fantasy has no value. So, for example, children who have been growing their own plants and/or have seen time lapse photography will be equipped to analyze the tale of "Jack and the Beanstalk" in a way that children who don't know that real plants don't grow quickly won't.

    4. Engage children in creating media, especially media like animation, drawing, book making – anything where they can invent a world. When children see what's possible when they create media, they begin to spot techniques that other storytellers use. And they understand that in the worlds they create, anything is possible, but in the real world, there are factors that mitigate for or against the existence of certain things.

    5. Look for teachable moments. Did a child receive a toy and it turned out not to be what they expected because a picture or ad made it look better than it actually was. Use that as a moment to teach children how they can analyze media by spotting specific techniques that media makers can use to make a toy or a food look better than the real-life version. Then help them make links to other things that they may have seen that seemed real but were actually media makers using special effects.

    In today's world, it is clear that learning to spot disinformation is going to be an essential life skill. We can't help children learn to do that by pitting fantasy against reality. In fact, the world's best scientists have often been those who combine imagination with inquiry. For me, that's the goal.

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    Dr. Faith Rogow
    InsightersEducation
    Ithaca NY
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  • 7.  RE: When is the right age to explain the children when something is fiction or real (like unicorns πŸ¦„πŸ™„)?

    Posted 03-07-2021 10:49 AM
    I want to say that this is a great conversation, with many aspects. I am sure most teachers of young children confront this dilemma at some point in their work, so thank you, Angela for bringing it up here.

    I completely agree with Dr. Rogow. I specifically work with children between the ages of 0-5 years old and we regularly use the phrase, "In this place we..." to help children understand the expectations in the classroom that may be different from other places in their lives. I would also never support making a child feel bad about imaginative play (or "fantasy play," if you prefer). Children do need imaginative play to process experiences and concepts they are learning. I would still recommend being choosy about the books and ideas that you bring into the classroom to introduce to very young children. Developing the child's observation skills of living and non-living things in the environment and modeling/fostering positive social skills, while giving them the language to communicate about these things, should be the focus at this stage. In this way we teach children to think critically and to share their ideas with others. It is not the goal to make adult-created fantasies seem wrong (I myself am a huge Tolkien fan, for example ;) ). But sometimes young children these days can be inundated with cartoon characters and fantastical make-believe animals, and so on, in a way that becomes unnecessarily distracting. What parents elect to offer at home can be different from an intentional teacher's choices for young children in her care, without pitting one against the other.

    I also love Dr. Rogow's suggestion to have older children create their own fantasy worlds through art or book-making.

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    Lara Gembicki
    Sunrise Montessori Preschool
    Hutto TX
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  • 8.  RE: When is the right age to explain the children when something is fiction or real (like unicorns πŸ¦„πŸ™„)?

    Posted 03-07-2021 08:42 PM
    Thank you Lara for your support,Β at the beginning I thought maybe this was a silly question. But I needed to know if I was right or maybe wrong regarding to this topic, and honestly I'm very happy with this discussion. Thank you! 😊 πŸ‘

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    Angela Martins
    Brambleton VA
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  • 9.  RE: When is the right age to explain the children when something is fiction or real (like unicorns πŸ¦„πŸ™„)?

    Posted 03-07-2021 08:31 PM

    I'm so pleased with your answer Dr. Rogow, I can't disagree with you, you have justified each point and I really liked the way how you Β explained Β the perspective or perception of the child regarding to his beliefs based in his very own experiences and his unique background from home.

    Thank you very much, I admit I have killed a couple unicorns, but never is too late to learn and correct some old ideas that I had about all this topic.

    Thank you! 😊



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    Angela Martins
    Brambleton VA
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  • 10.  RE: When is the right age to explain the children when something is fiction or real (like unicorns πŸ¦„πŸ™„)?

    Posted 03-07-2021 09:36 AM
    I have always sidestep this issue (with kindergartners and first graders) by describing such things (Santa, especially) as magic. Magic doesn't need to follow real world rules, can be a big place where lots of believes can be respected, and avoids the dichotomy of real vs. not real, by being other.

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    Ruth Valsing
    Kelly WY
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