by Rita Goldner
Last night you had a bunch of kids knocking on your door dressed in costumes; today my post is about fantasy, as it relates to children. Inspiration came not only from Halloween and All Saints Day, but from a conversation I had weeks ago with my daughter, Suzy. She had just taken her 18-month-old child for a checkup, and her pediatrician asked if her daughter liked fantasy and silly role-playing. The doctor asked this at every examination, since he considered it an important part of development. I agree, and am a big fan of imagination for kids, but I also think that sometimes adults get in the way, overthink it, and spoil the fun. They do this by wanting their children to believe that a fantasy is real.
Google fantasy and you’ll find several definitions like:
- a supposition based on no solid foundation
- an illusion or imagination
- a whimsy or caprice, based on an unreal visionary idea
Nowhere does it mention that you have to believe it’s real.
My opinions here are just that, opinions. I researched no clinical studies, consulted no psychological experts. But I’ve been privileged to interact with hundreds of young kids, through a babysitting co-op decades ago, teaching early elementary school, recent author visits to schools, my grandkids, etc. I also had a business for 38 years making promotional costumes (mostly food-based, see picture) for advertising. I’ve had a close-up view of how much fun “let’s pretend” can be, even when all the participants know it’s pretend.
I was recently talking to an author who was writing a storybook about the day her son told her he no longer believed in Santa Claus. Her story was about a moment of growth for her son, and his coming to realize that giving is as much fun as receiving. But she was bogged down with apprehension, fearing that libraries and some teachers/parents would reject her book, saying it “ruined Christmas” while they missed the whole point of the story.
In my observation, all children age 3 or older would know and accept that people don’t squeeze down chimneys or fly through the air, if their parents didn’t insist that this was true. And those knowing children have just as much fun. They can have more fun, actually, because they aren’t burdened with the “gonna find out who’s naughty or nice” nonsense. The “late believers” are motivated to stay believers, or to at least say they are, because they sense that the volume of presents will shrink when they admit they know the truth.
When my kids were small, we went to see Santa every year, and had fun getting the requisite free lollypop and reciting a wildly extravagant list of wishes. Of course they knew it was just pretend, but still a lot of fun. They always wrapped a lost tooth in tinfoil and tucked it under their pillow, but reminded me it was there so I wouldn’t forget the dollar. The illusion about the Tooth Fairy is a lot more fun that just handing someone a dollar, even though we all knew it was make-believe. I also hid Easter eggs throughout the house even up to the time they were in college, and that was always good for a laugh.
The Jackson Adventure series I’m working on (see resource box) is packed with fantasy for Jackson. He time-travels through thousands of years of history, all over the globe, and imagines himself in lots of impossible scenarios. When I am reading the stories to kids, they have no problem distinguishing between reality and imagination. In one passage, my protagonist is sitting on the wing of a plane in flight, and in another he’s painting on the wall in King Tut’s tomb. I’ve had critiquers caution me that it’s not good to show kids doing dangerous aerial stunts or defacing national monuments. But I’m a firm believer that young kids have a delicious and well-developed sense of whimsy, a firm grasp of reality, and the ability to have a boatload of fun with both.
Comments and opposing views are very welcome.
Rita Goldner is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series. For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit OrangutanDay.com. Or by the Kindle version here. See her new work at Anthill Books. To view additional illustrations and other books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook.