Most of the children’s stories that have been passed down through time, such as The Three Little Pigs and Cinderella, are fictitious. They contain talking animals, elements of fantasy, and other characters, events, and settings that kids cannot experience in the real world. Despite the fact that so much of the stories aren’t real, they’re still important stories for kids. But are these stories really good for kids? Is it okay for kids to read fictitious stories?
Some people, such as many of those involved in the Montessori movement, would say no. Many suggested reading selections in the Montessori curriculum are non-fiction. Those who promote this line of thinking argue that introducing children to too much fantasy early on can confuse them and also cause them to fail to truly grasp the real world, to gain a true sensory experience of reality.
According to Maria Montessori, “Children are much more sensible to the true and beautiful than we. They must be shown complete pictures of reality, which vividly suggest fact and situation.”
Other movements opt not to read fiction to children because they only believe in sharing truth with their children. Since most fiction is made up, it’s not truth, and therefore is not acceptable to children.
Thankfully, the movements that eschew fiction in favor of non-fiction texts are not the norm. Most educators recognize that when choosing books for children, you don’t have to choose between fantasy vs. reality. Instead, you can have both. A balanced literacy program for children should include a mix of fiction and non-fiction texts for children.
The benefits of non-fiction for children are fairly obvious. Non-fiction books help kids learn about the real world, they load their brains with facts and information, and they represent the types of texts kids will spend most of their lives reading. But fiction comes with its own benefits too Some of the benefits of fiction include:
- It helps teach kids important lessons.
- It encourages kids to look at situations in a different light.
- It helps develop kids’ imaginations.
Fiction Teaches Kids Important Lessons
Even many religious texts, such as the Bible, use parables to help readers understand important points. Many fictitious stories contain parables or present morals at the end to help kids learn important lessons about life. Sometimes simply telling kids to do something isn’t effective, but presenting it in a story about an animal who learns the same lesson helps kids learn the lesson too.
One of the first things kids must learn in the Montessori movement is to distinguish between good and evil. What better way to learn to do that than to read a story such as Snow White, where kids clearly see an evil stepmother, or the Three Little Pigs, where kids are introduced to the big, bad wolf?
Fiction Encourages Kids to Look at Situations in a Different Light
The world isn’t black and white. It’s full of people who look different, speak differently, and have different ideas. Fiction introduces kids to those ideas and even more. It helps kids to see that things may not always be what they appear to be. While this is often done in the context of make-believe, parents and teachers can use discussion tools to connect the stories kids read to real-life scenarios.
For example, in the story Seeing Beyond the Obvious, kids learn through a story involving leopards, that things aren’t always as they seem to be.
Fiction Helps Kids’ Imaginations
As kids read fiction, they begin to ask the question, “What if?” What if butterflies could talk? What if the trees took over the world? What if a wolf blew down pigs’ houses? In the world of fiction, there’s nothing too crazy or too impossible. A line from the song “Impossible” in the musical Cinderella goes:
“Impossible, for a plain yellow pumpkin to become a golden carriage. Impossible, for a plain country bumpkin and a prince to join in marriage. And four white mice will never be four white horses. Such fol-der-ol and fid-dle-dy dee of course is — Impossible.”
And then the song continues,
“But the world is full of zanies and fools, who don’t believe in sensible rules, and won’t believe what sensible people say. And because these daft and dewey-eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes, impossible things are happening every day.”
By reading fiction, kids learn that the impossible is possible and they’re more likely to grow up to be the zanies and fools who dare to imagine the next smartphone, a flying car, or something more sensible, such as a cure for cancer.
Fiction, like non-fiction, can be a valuable learning tool for kids.