They tested the idea that children learn from stories about anthropomorphic animals.
Forget the morals that millennia of children have learned from the Hare and the Tortoise and the Fox and the Crow: Aesop would have had a greater effect with his fables if he’d put the stories into the mouths of human characters, at least according to new research from the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).
In the Canadian study, researchers read one of three stories to almost 100 children between four and six years old: Mary Packard’s Little Raccoon Learns to Share, in which anthropomorphic animals learn that sharing makes you feel good; a version of the story in which the animal illustrations were replaced with human characters; or a control book about seeds.
Guess what happened.
Ganea said that while “a growing body of research has shown that young children more readily apply what they’ve learned from stories that are realistic … this is the first time we found something similar for social behaviours”.
The trio of researchers presented 100 middle-class children, aged 3 through 6, with nine different scenarios. Would they rather pretend to bake cookies or really bake cookies? Would they rather pretend to go fishing or really go fishing? Would they like to pretend to feed a baby doll or really feed a baby?
“What we found was that children overwhelmingly chose the real option,” Taggart said. “They picked pretend for only one of nine activities.”
Why do they constantly pretend then?
I think one of the big questions is, if we have this attitude toward pretend play in the United States ─ that it is important, and children should be actively engaged in it ─ is it something they are actually motivated to do on their own? Or is it something we are showing them to do?
It’s worth noting that an entire room for children’s make-believe toys in a home is a cultural idiosyncrasy. Most people don’t do this. The USA does.
“In fact, the children told us that the reason they wanted to do things for real was because they wanted to accomplish things. And when they said they wanted to pretend, it was usually because they were afraid of doing the real thing – they felt they weren’t able to do the real.”
“…If we always relegate them to the pretend kitchen and the pretend things, we aren’t giving them the opportunity to experience doing things for real, and that might really do a lot for a child.