Why Books Based in Reality are Best for Kids 0-6

In acquainting myself with the books authored by Maria Montessori, I took away that literature grounded in reality is best for kids 0-6. Recently, I went back to find some of the direct quotes that lead me to this conclusion.

Maria Montessori developed her insights into how children learn and grow through direct observation. She would introduce them to activities and observe their reactions. She did the same with books. She introduced them to many kinds of books. She wrote in “The Advanced Montessori Method” that “The readings we used were numerous and of great variety: fairy tales, short stories, anecdotes, novels, historical episodes. Specifically there were the tales of Andersen, some of the short stories of Capuana, the Cuore of De Amicis, episodes of the life of Jesus, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Betrothed, Fabiola, stories from the Italian wars for independence, Itard’s Education of the Young Savage of Aveyron.”

She tested a wide range of literature and found that children get the most out of literature grounded in reality. She wrote that “In general the child will listen to anything that is really interesting. But certainly some surprise will be occasioned by our discovery that the children liked above everything else the readings on Italian history and the Education of the Savage of Aveyron. The phenomenon is sufficiently curious to merit further consideration.”

Maria Montessori encouraged the teachers she trained to use the time when children were drawing to read great literature to them. She wrote, “The children work many, many hours on drawing. This is the time we seize for reading to them and almost all their history is learned during this quiet period of copy and simple decoration which is so conducive to concentration of thought.”

Maria Montessori concluded that reality is better than fantasy. Here are just a few of her quotes on this:

“The results here witnessed led us to many a reflection. We succeeded in teaching history and even pedagogy by means of ‘reading.’ And, in truth, does not reading embrace everything? Travel stories teach geography; insect stories lead the child into natural science; and so on. The teacher, in short, can use reading to introduce her pupils to the most varied subjects; and the moment they have been thus started, they can go on to any limit guided by the single passion for reading.”

“Children are much more sensible to the true and beautiful than we. They must be shown complete pictures of reality, which vividly suggest fact and situation.”

“The beautiful and the true have for them [children] an intense fascination, into which they plunge as into something actually necessary for their existence.”

“This creative imagination, which is ever returning to reality to gain inspiration and to acquire new energies, will not be a vain, exhaustible, and fickle thing, like the so-called imagination which our ordinary schools are trying to develop.”

“…and every child should be able to experiment at first hand, to observe, and to put himself in contact with reality. Thus the flights of the imagination will start from a higher plane…”

“…every lofty writer and every great orator perpetually links the fruits of the imagination with the observation of fact…”

“…it may be said that in order to develop the imagination it is necessary for everyone first of all to put himself in contact with reality.”

“…we should no more force it [imagination] with a fiction than we would put a false mustache on a child because otherwise he will not have one till he is twenty.”

What all of these quotes suggest is that perhaps non-fiction, historical fiction, and reality-based fiction genres are better than fantasy, myth, fables and fairy tales for kids 0-6. I hypothesize that young children would indeed get more out of the first set of genres than the latter. I’m testing my hypothesis on my children with a robust list of books based in reality. I could not find a sufficient list, so I prepared my own book list here.

My list of books based in reality already includes 468 titles in the non-fiction, historical fiction, and reality-based fiction genres. It includes many selections from the non-fiction Let’s Read and Find Out About Science series, some absolutely stunning biographies like “Henri’s Scissors” by Jeanette Winter, and charming reality-based fiction like “How to Heal a Broken Wing” by Bob Graham. The list is geared toward my 5-year-old, but my 2 1/2-year old is enjoying many of the selections, too.

I’ve found so many amazing books based in reality that I’ll be focusing on these until my 5-year-old turns 6 in May 2016.


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