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Does imaginative literature hinder a child’s knowledge?

by Marco Saveriano April 8, 2014
Does imaginative literature hinder a child’s knowledge?

Why childrens’ books should not affect future learning patterns

Growing up, I was obsessed with Marc Brown’s Arthur series. I owned every book, and read them religiously. I certainly didn’t grow up believing aardvarks could speak.

According to a recent study performed by four child psychology experts in Boston and Toronto, children who read books with human-like animal characters are less likely to absorb scientific facts.

Researchers created six stories, with illustrations, about three lesser-known species. They all contained scientific facts, but half of them had fantasy elements included as well. The study showed that the children who read the fantasy versions of the stories were more likely to believe false information about the animals, such as their ability to speak.

Researchers concluded in the summary that fantasy storybooks for children were “likely to be counter-productive for learning scientifically accurate information about the biological world.”

First of all, if your child likes reading, you’re doing something right. In today’s society, where kids are more likely to pick up a video game controller than a book, we shouldn’t be discouraging children from reading at all. Whether it’s books about talking dogs or non-fiction ones about the animals of the rainforest, they’re still expanding their minds.

Photo by Neeta-Lind

I was always encouraged to read as a child. For as long as I can remember, my parents would read

me a story before falling asleep. When I was four years old and able to read all by myself, I would get in to bed every night with a book. Sixteen years later, I still have that enthusiasm for reading.

Nicholas Oldland, author of Big Bear Hug, is one of many children’s authors who disagrees with this study, and believes that fantasy books are just harmless fun.

“A 4-year-old reading a book about a talking bear, or in my case a bear that hugs trees, it’s an innocent little fantasy,” Oldland told The Star, March 28. “If a child loves picking up that book every night, I think the positive outweighs the negative — if there is any negative. I’d strongly argue there isn’t.”

My parents may have fuelled my passion for literature, but they also taught me the ability to differentiate between what is real and what is fantasy. I started reading the Harry Potter series when I was seven, yet I never once believed that there was actually a wizarding world where magic was possible and dragons existed. That’s because I knew it was all fiction.

Our children need to be taught lessons. Reading and watching TV can help them learn about all sorts of things, don’t get me wrong, but they can’t replace education. It is not a book’s job to teach your child to know the difference between reality and fantasy — it’s yours. Read books with your kids, and make sure that they know that bears don’t talk or wear overalls like The Berenstain Bears.

Are we sending children mixed messages? From the moment we’re born, we’re told to use our imaginations. Our teachers and parents told us that we could use our minds to envision anything we could possibly dream of, but now we’re telling kids they shouldn’t read the stories that help them strengthen their creative thoughts. Is imagination not as important to some people as learning science?

Whether or not this study is accurate shouldn’t even be relevant. We need to encourage the younger generation to be both imaginative and open to learning about the world around them.

And not to be boastful, but I turned out to be fairly good at science — regardless of how many Arthur or Winnie The Poohbooks I read.

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