Research Notes: Magical Thinking and Math Help Preschoolers Grow

Work often slows down around the holidays, but this year early education news keeps piling up, including today’s report on how imagination and magical thinking play critical roles in a child’s development.

It turns out a child’s belief in Santa Claus and other magical characters and creatures helps her understand history, news, the future and other ideas beyond her own world, The Wall Street Journal reports in “The Power of Magical Thinking.” And preschoolers with imaginary friends were more creative and had better social understanding, according to research cited in the article.

“For years, imagination was thought of as a way for children to escape from reality, and once they reached a certain age, it was believed they would push fantasy aside and deal with the real world. But, increasingly, child-development experts are recognizing the importance of imagination and the role it plays in understanding reality.” – Wall Street Journal, 12/22/09.

(The story and accompanying blog post at The Juggle are fascinating reads.)

If you are interested in the power of imagination in cognitive development check out the Web site of one of the primary researchers quoted in the article, University of Texas at Austin professor Jacqueline Woolley. The website has a list of links to her writings on child development and imagination.

More Reasons Math Matters: Meanwhile researchers offered even more evidence that preschoolers can and should learn math skills in “Studying Young Minds, and How to Teach Them.”

The story explores the growing link between brain research and early education, using examples of how preschoolers can grasp math concepts.

“This relationship is new and still awkward, experts say, and there is more hyperbole than evidence surrounding many “brain-based” commercial products on the market. But there are others, like an early math program taught in Buffalo schools, that have a track record. If these and similar efforts find traction in schools, experts say, they could transform teaching from the bottom up — giving the ancient craft a modern scientific compass.” – The New York Times, 12/21/09.

The story and research are worth reading.