Posts tagged ‘fantasy’

July 30, 2013

The Secret Garden: Using Fiction to Increase Empathy in Children

by Melissa Harding

Summer Reruns: Just like your favorite television shows go on hiatus for the summer, so does the blog. We will be running eighteen summer camps in eight weeks, so we will be a little busy! In place of original posts, Tuesdays will now feature some of the blog’s most popular posts from the last year. Fridays will feature that week’s camps, with pictures, crafts and lesson ideas for parents and educators.

Phipps Science Education 25

“I am sure there is Magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to get hold of it and make it do things for us.”
–  The Secret Garden

The spring show at Phipps this season is themed after The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s story of two hurting children and the garden that heals them both. Mary Lennox, a troubled orphan, and Colin Craven, a boy so weak that he can hardly walk, learn compassion and joy through tending a secret garden. While this is a children’s story, it is still a riveting tale of transformation. It speaks of loss and loneliness, as well as love and hope. This book is a work of fiction, but it easy to get lost in its pages as if they were really happening before you. This is called emotional transportation, when readers become emotionally involved in a story; it is a convergent process, where all the reader’s mental systems become focused on events occurring in the narrative. People lose track of time, not realizing that they have been reading for hours. A recent research paper from Erasmus University Rotterdam explores this theory of emotional transportation and whether fiction has other effects on the human mind. Specifically, it asks the question: Does reading fiction influence empathy? The answer, like all good works of fiction, is complicated.

In two separate studies, researchers looked at fiction versus nonfiction and whether readers had an increase in empathy after reading; those readers who became emotionally transported into the story showed such an an increase. There are many theories on why this is so. Transported readers identify with characters in the story and even experience it as if the events in the narrative were happening to them. Fiction provides a safe place for readers to experience these emotions; the reader can allow himself to freely become emotionally involved  without actually transferring these feelings to real life. This emotional involvement causes readers to sympathize with the characters, consequently practicing empathy.

Another theory is that fictional narratives provoke personal insights, perhaps because the simulation of real life experiences in fiction can be associated with the processes that people use to navigate their daily lives. Readers learn about human psychology and social norms through character interaction. They also learn to predict social responses, inferring how characters are thinking, feeling and what they are intending to do. Additionally, fiction helps people to “make sense of the senseless”, helping them to put a face on human tragedy, and offers the chance to interact with characters from times and places that readers may not know in real life. All of this ultimately helps readers to understand the perspectives of others, increasing their empathic abilities.

Phipps Science Education 27

This is one of the reasons that it is so important to engage children in reading. Fiction helps them to understand the world that they are growing into; besides increasing their ability to empathize with others, it also helps them to better navigate the social waters and their interactions with peers. Children with good empathic skills are more pro-social and are kinder to others; this is linked to success in the workplace, school and social groups. Pro-social children are more well-liked and show greater creativity and productivity than their less empathetic peers. It doesn’t matter what kind of fiction a child is reading, as long as the narrative is so good that he becomes lost in the story. That is when fiction begins to work its magic.

While some children devour books unprompted, many others are reluctant readers. Some may be reluctant because of difficulty reading, disinterest, peer pressure, or any number of issues. Others may be avid readers during the elementary years and then taper off as they grow older. Whatever the reason, here are some ways to help all young readers gain the advantages of fiction reading in their development.

1. Figure out the root of reluctance: Until you know the reason for a child’s dislike of reading, it can be difficult to address the root of the problem. It may be that your child needs specialized reading services or more individualized reading instruction; it also could be that he just need to find a book that he actually likes.
2. Provide interesting reading material: If traditional novels are not appealing, try graphic novels, magazines, fantasy, or science fiction.
3. Model reading at home: Children with parents who love and value reading are much more likely to become avid readers.
4. Make reading fun: For young children, reading with voices, acting out scenes together and just generally being enthusiastic make reading more fun.
5. Read more: Analyzing a text can take all of the enjoyment out of it; while this can be unavoidable with school reading, try to encourage you child to read at home just for himself.
6. Promote good books: Share your favorite books and why you love them so much. Leave them lying around for your child to find.
7. Read outside: Reading outside is soothing and can help children better imagine what they are reading.

Reading fiction not only increases your child’s empathic skills, it also takes him to new worlds. Much like the Secret Garden transports the children in the novel away from their troubles, so too can falling into a book. “The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was. It seemed almost like being shut out of the world in some fairy place.” Encouraging fiction reading will help your child grow in wonderful ways; find a good book today and read it together. Even better, pick one up just for yourself as well.

For more strategies to increase your child’s love of reading, check out this article by Reading is Fundamental. To help engage your students, check out edrethink’s article on reading in the classroom.

To learn more about the effects of fiction on empathy, read the original article on PLOSone.

The above photos were taken by Christie Lawry.

July 23, 2013

Creating Successful Adults: Nurturing Imagination with Nature

by Melissa Harding

Summer Reruns: Just like your favorite television shows go on hiatus for the summer, so does the blog. We will be running eighteen summer camps in eight weeks, so we will be a little busy! In place of original posts, Tuesdays will now feature some of the blog’s most popular posts from the last year. Fridays will feature that week’s camps, with pictures, crafts and lesson ideas for parents and educators.

mud_girl

There is a certain way that young children think, in which they use logic to create conclusions without fully understanding all the evidence before them. Recently This American Life, the WBZZ Chicago weekly radio program, investigated this phenomenon in a program called “Kid LogicDr. Paul Harris, professor of Human Development and Psychology at Harvard, has been researching child logic for years. One such experiment involves wishing; up to about age 6 or 7, many young children believe that they can wish something into being. In this study, a researcher showed children an empty box and asked them to imagine either a puppy or a monster in the box. After which, the researcher asked the children if they really believed that there was a puppy or a monster in the box; the children, of course, said no. Soon after, the researcher left the room and watched the children from outside. Those children who were told to imagine a puppy went over to the box and peeked inside; those asked to imagine a monster edged away from the box. A child’s imagination is a powerful thing.

Harris has also found that children not only imagine and act out fanciful possibilities they have never experienced, like being a knight in battle, but they also utilize their imaginations to think about real events and things they’ve never seen, like death or germs. This is necessary for children to learn about people and events they don’t directly experience, such as history or events on the other side of the world; it also allows young children to ponder the future, such as what they want to do when they grow up. Children use imagination to figure out confusing and fearful situations, making sense of a complex world.

DSC_0004

According to Harris, human beings have a “gift for fantasy, which shows itself at a very early age and then continues to make substantial contributions to our intellectual and emotional development throughout our lives”. In other words, having a good imagination is an important quality in successful adults. Imagination allow us to think about alternative scenarios and avoid making the same mistake twice. It also helps in making moral judgements and in language comprehension. When adults listen to a narrative, they create a mental image of the situation being described; brains often retains this mental image rather than specific words. These adult abilities are learned in childhood during imaginative play.

One way to engage children in imaginative development is through nature play. In 2006 a Danish study found that outdoor kindergartens were better at stimulating creativity and imagination in children than indoor schools. In this study, 58 percent of children who were in nature invented new games; just 16 percent of the indoor children did so. One theory for this is “loose parts”, the idea that if there are more loose parts present, play is more creative. Loose parts are easily manipulated items, such as sticks, rocks, flowers, and leaves; in nature, these parts are unlimited in number. Children naturally know what to do with these items; making swords, having tea parties, building fairy houses, and constructing forts are intuitive activities. Simply put, the natural world is the ideal place for children to hone their imaginations and creative abilities.

DSC_0221

Nature play can happen anywhere outside – in a backyard or in a forest, alone or with others. While it is important for children to spend time outdoors with trusted adults, it also important for them to be unsupervised (or at least feel like they are).  Letting children guide themselves and play alone without the presence of adults is often called “free play”. Free play is rich in competency-building experiences and opportunities for discovery. It also stimulates imagination and creative social play. As Thoreau once wrote, “We need a tonic of wildness”; let your child be free outdoors and you may be surprised at how his creativity flourishes.

Need more? Here are some other ways that parents can encourage imaginative development:
1. Model imagination for your children: Play pretend, build forts and be silly! Your kids will love it.
2. Encourage fantasy characters: Santa, the Easter Bunny and imaginary friends are all figures that nurture the imagination.
3. Read works of fiction and fantasy: This exposes children to new worlds, characters, places, time periods and situations to which they might not otherwise be exposed.
4. Play dress-up and pretend:
Encourage your child to act out situations that they have not experienced through play.
5. Provide open-ended toys: Much like loose parts, toys like dolls, buckets and balls allow room for creative play.
6. Get messy: Cede a little chaos for the greater good!

To learn more about Dr. Paul Harris’s research, check out this article on children and imagination or this one about autism and imagination in the Harvard School of Education magazine. Also this piece from the Wall Street Journal.

To listen to the full episode of Kid Logic, check out the This American Life’s archives.

The above photos were taken by and copyrighted to Molly Steinwald.

March 12, 2013

The Secret Garden: Using Fiction to Increase Empathy in Children

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education 25

“I am sure there is Magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to get hold of it and make it do things for us.”
–  The Secret Garden

The spring show at Phipps this season is themed after The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s story of two hurting children and the garden that heals them both. Mary Lennox, a troubled orphan, and Colin Craven, a boy so weak that he can hardly walk, learn compassion and joy through tending a secret garden. While this is a children’s story, it is still a riveting tale of transformation. It speaks of loss and loneliness, as well as love and hope. This book is a work of fiction, but it easy to get lost in its pages as if they were really happening before you. This is called emotional transportation, when readers become emotionally involved in a story; it is a convergent process, where all the reader’s mental systems become focused on events occurring in the narrative. People lose track of time, not realizing that they have been reading for hours. A recent research paper from Erasmus University Rotterdam explores this theory of emotional transportation and whether fiction has other effects on the human mind. Specifically, it asks the question: Does reading fiction influence empathy? The answer, like all good works of fiction, is complicated.

In two separate studies, researchers looked at fiction versus nonfiction and whether readers had an increase in empathy after reading; those readers who became emotionally transported into the story showed such an an increase. There are many theories on why this is so. Transported readers identify with characters in the story and even experience it as if the events in the narrative were happening to them. Fiction provides a safe place for readers to experience these emotions; the reader can allow himself to freely become emotionally involved  without actually transferring these feelings to real life. This emotional involvement causes readers to sympathize with the characters, consequently practicing empathy.

Another theory is that fictional narratives provoke personal insights, perhaps because the simulation of real life experiences in fiction can be associated with the processes that people use to navigate their daily lives. Readers learn about human psychology and social norms through character interaction. They also learn to predict social responses, inferring how characters are thinking, feeling and what they are intending to do. Additionally, fiction helps people to “make sense of the senseless”, helping them to put a face on human tragedy, and offers the chance to interact with characters from times and places that readers may not know in real life. All of this ultimately helps readers to understand the perspectives of others, increasing their empathic abilities.

Phipps Science Education 27

This is one of the reasons that it is so important to engage children in reading. Fiction helps them to understand the world that they are growing into; besides increasing their ability to empathize with others, it also helps them to better navigate the social waters and their interactions with peers. Children with good empathic skills are more pro-social and are kinder to others; this is linked to success in the workplace, school and social groups. Pro-social children are more well-liked and show greater creativity and productivity than their less empathetic peers. It doesn’t matter what kind of fiction a child is reading, as long as the narrative is so good that he becomes lost in the story. That is when fiction begins to work its magic.

While some children devour books unprompted, many others are reluctant readers. Some may be reluctant because of difficulty reading, disinterest, peer pressure, or any number of issues. Others may be avid readers during the elementary years and then taper off as they grow older. Whatever the reason, here are some ways to help all young readers gain the advantages of fiction reading in their development.

1. Figure out the root of reluctance: Until you know the reason for a child’s dislike of reading, it can be difficult to address the root of the problem. It may be that your child needs specialized reading services or more individualized reading instruction; it also could be that he just need to find a book that he actually likes.
2. Provide interesting reading material: If traditional novels are not appealing, try graphic novels, magazines, fantasy, or science fiction.
3. Model reading at home: Children with parents who love and value reading are much more likely to become avid readers.
4. Make reading fun: For young children, reading with voices, acting out scenes together and just generally being enthusiastic make reading more fun.
5. Read more: Analyzing a text can take all of the enjoyment out of it; while this can be unavoidable with school reading, try to encourage you child to read at home just for himself.
6. Promote good books: Share your favorite books and why you love them so much. Leave them lying around for your child to find.
7. Read outside: Reading outside is soothing and can help children better imagine what they are reading.

Reading fiction not only increases your child’s empathic skills, it also takes him to new worlds. Much like the Secret Garden transports the children in the novel away from their troubles, so too can falling into a book. “The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was. It seemed almost like being shut out of the world in some fairy place.” Encouraging fiction reading will help your child grow in wonderful ways; find a good book today and read it together. Even better, pick one up just for yourself as well.

For more strategies to increase your child’s love of reading, check out this article by Reading is Fundamental. To help engage your students, check out edrethink’s article on reading in the classroom.

To learn more about the effects of fiction on empathy, read the original article on PLOSone.

The above photos were taken by Christie Lawry.

February 22, 2013

Creating Successful Adults: Nurturing Imagination with Nature

by Melissa Harding

mud_girl

There is a certain way that young children think, in which they use logic to create conclusions without fully understanding all the evidence before them. Recently This American Life, the WBZZ Chicago weekly radio program, investigated this phenomenon in a program called “Kid LogicDr. Paul Harris, professor of Human Development and Psychology at Harvard, has been researching child logic for years. One such experiment involves wishing; up to about age 6 or 7, many young children believe that they can wish something into being. In this study, a researcher showed children an empty box and asked them to imagine either a puppy or a monster in the box. After which, the researcher asked the children if they really believed that there was a puppy or a monster in the box; the children, of course, said no. Soon after, the researcher left the room and watched the children from outside. Those children who were told to imagine a puppy went over to the box and peeked inside; those asked to imagine a monster edged away from the box. A child’s imagination is a powerful thing.

Harris has also found that children not only imagine and act out fanciful possibilities they have never experienced, like being a knight in battle, but they also utilize their imaginations to think about real events and things they’ve never seen, like death or germs. This is necessary for children to learn about people and events they don’t directly experience, such as history or events on the other side of the world; it also allows young children to ponder the future, such as what they want to do when they grow up. Children use imagination to figure out confusing and fearful situations, making sense of a complex world.

DSC_0004

According to Harris, human beings have a “gift for fantasy, which shows itself at a very early age and then continues to make substantial contributions to our intellectual and emotional development throughout our lives”. In other words, having a good imagination is an important quality in successful adults. Imagination allow us to think about alternative scenarios and avoid making the same mistake twice. It also helps in making moral judgements and in language comprehension. When adults listen to a narrative, they create a mental image of the situation being described; brains often retains this mental image rather than specific words. These adult abilities are learned in childhood during imaginative play.

One way to engage children in imaginative development is through nature play. In 2006 a Danish study found that outdoor kindergartens were better at stimulating creativity and imagination in children than indoor schools. In this study, 58 percent of children who were in nature invented new games; just 16 percent of the indoor children did so. One theory for this is “loose parts”, the idea that if there are more loose parts present, play is more creative. Loose parts are easily manipulated items, such as sticks, rocks, flowers, and leaves; in nature, these parts are unlimited in number. Children naturally know what to do with these items; making swords, having tea parties, building fairy houses, and constructing forts are intuitive activities. Simply put, the natural world is the ideal place for children to hone their imaginations and creative abilities.

DSC_0221

Nature play can happen anywhere outside – in a backyard or in a forest, alone or with others. While it is important for children to spend time outdoors with trusted adults, it also important for them to be unsupervised (or at least feel like they are).  Letting children guide themselves and play alone without the presence of adults is often called “free play”. Free play is rich in competency-building experiences and opportunities for discovery. It also stimulates imagination and creative social play. As Thoreau once wrote, “We need a tonic of wildness”; let your child be free outdoors and you may be surprised at how his creativity flourishes.

Need more? Here are some other ways that parents can encourage imaginative development:
1. Model imagination for your children: Play pretend, build forts and be silly! Your kids will love it.
2. Encourage fantasy characters: Santa, the Easter Bunny and imaginary friends are all figures that nurture the imagination.
3. Read works of fiction and fantasy: This exposes children to new worlds, characters, places, time periods and situations to which they might not otherwise be exposed.
4. Play dress-up and pretend:
Encourage your child to act out situations that they have not experienced through play.
5. Provide open-ended toys: Much like loose parts, toys like dolls, buckets and balls allow room for creative play.
6. Get messy: Cede a little chaos for the greater good!

To learn more about Dr. Paul Harris’s research, check out this article on children and imagination or this one about autism and imagination in the Harvard School of Education magazine. Also this piece from the Wall Street Journal.

To listen to the full episode of Kid Logic, check out the This American Life’s archives.

The above photos were taken by and copyrighted to Molly Steinwald.

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