the fantasy advantage—a grand intersection of education and play

Sometimes I'm asked what the children call me at school. The most common answer is, of course, Jesse. However I've been awarded other names too, the most recent of which was Master Splinter by three of my new little boys (I was beginning to worry that they didn't actually know my name but all is well).

We're playing an ongoing game of Ninja Turtles - the school oval is the city and the kids' fort is the sewers - and it's intense. But this is good, because intense games are what we do. 

We (all of us!) go home exhausted from the physical and mental challenges that our imaginary games present.*

Scientific American Mind featured an article in the March/April 2016 edition about the positive impact engagement that fantasy can have on a child’s learning (there's a low-cost paywall).

Three of the main conclusions drawn from a number of research projects were that:

“Fantasy helps children to learn because it engages their full focus and attention in a way that reality does not.”

“Surprising and unrealistic scenarios may require us to try to make sense of what has just happened.” 

“Thinking about unrealistic possibilities can help create informative contrasts with how reality does and does not work, bring to light the structure of the real world.”

This is learning that I see daily in the group that I teach. I see how fantasy play encourages literacy, innovation and s.t.e.m. as new words and scenarios are created to explain and fit situations they've never seen before. For example, character names: Princess Saraphinea is a much better fit than Princess Margaret for a magic castle with mermaids as neighbours.

Storytelling and recall skills are increased as games are explained in detail to new playmates. Communication skills are honed as intricate and crucial details are negotiated right throughout as they play.

When our play mimics the real world, we tend to rely on well-established genres to support the game...

but when we enter the world of fantasy we only have ourselves to rely upon - anything is possible - so we must be ready for any situation.

Even baby lions hatching from eggs! 

P.S. For some beautiful stimulatory picture books you might like to check out our imagination section.

* Sometimes we mirror real-world experiences (doctors and post offices are popular scenarios) but mostly we play in the fantasy world.

(image via