Montessori Monday: Reality vs Fantasy

For her birthday, Coco received this sweet book, by the author of our favorite, Goodnight Moon. My cousin, who is mommy to three little girls, gave it to us and said that they read it so many times and carried around in the diaper bag for so long, that it just fell apart one day! After reading it to Coco, I could see why. Big Red Barn follows a day in the life of a group of barn animals, from sun up to sun down, the things they do, where they go and how the act. At night, it shows how they sleep with the big moon in the sky. The book introduces loads of vocabulary for babies: big, small, animal names, colors. And for older children, there are infinite prompts for curiosity and discussion. For example, the line "...And under the hen was a quiet egg," is just the sort of thing to capture the intellect of a small child. Why is the egg quiet? What is inside the egg? And why is it under the hen? Big Red Barn is perfect because children, even little tiny babies, want and love books that portray the world in a realistic way. 

In my Montessori training course, we learned that the world is wonderfully exciting, interesting and satisfying to children just the way it is. We don't need to make it magical or interesting by adding fairies or wizards because it already is magical and interesting to them. Not only that, but until children gain a firm understanding of the world as it is (around age six), they aren't ready to integrate the dimension of fantasy into the mix. It's impossible for them to separate reality from fantasy and that leaves them confused and dissatisfied. As a Montessori guide, the favorite books in my classroom were always the ones deeply rooted in the reality of everyday life. Books like Little Mommy, A Day at the Seashore and Angus Lost would have the group of 26 children silent, mouths literally hanging open, listening to and adoring every. single. word. By contrast, the very cute and whimsical Olivia series never held their attention for long. Children want pigs to be pigs and children to be children because that is something they can relate back to their own lives and understand.

When reading good books to children, it's not necessary to try to facilitate discussion or learning; it happens naturally when books are written well. Simply read, read often, and the rest shall follow. The most frequently asked question I received as a Montessori teacher from parents was "What should we be doing at home?" My answer: Read together. How often do you read with your children? And what books are the favorites in your house?  


  1. We have a gorgeous little book called Little Cow, which has a finger puppet cow in the middle that is dissatisfied with his simple black and white. Ruben is enamoured by it! We read probably two times a day, when he has his quiet alert time.

    Wondering about your philosophy regarding Santa, the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny , considering your desire to keep fantasy separate... my Mum had a real problem with it, thinking she was lying to us, but I think it's fun :)

    1. I'm with you on this one, Johanna! True, that they're not real, but they're a really significant part of our culture and J and I want our children to experience those traditions along with their peers. :) We will check out Little Cow!

  2. P.S. That book sounds just gorgeous!

  3. oh, we LOVED 'Big Red Barn' growing up!
    whenever I babysit regularly for a family (or, when I take care of my cousins and I'm there for a few weeks), I like to get into a regular reading pattern. I take the kids to the library, show them some of my favorite books from when I was their age, and then tell them to roam around and pick out some books they want to read. my number one goal as a babysitter/nanny has always been to foster a love of reading.
    as a little girl (4+) I loved: angelina ballerina, george and martha, the frances series (bread and jam for frances, etc), madeline, babar, the bearenstein bears, arthur.

  4. so I just realized those are all non-people books. oops! but I guess I was a bit older than the age group you're talking about. I don't remember what I liked when I was very young...
    (however, they are much more old-fashioned style books than olivia. they mostly focus on family, friendships, school, right and wrong, and behaviors, rather than sassy personalities, which seems to be a common theme in modern children's books!)
    p.s. just remembered : frog and toad, richard scary's world.
    love this post!!

    1. Yes! Yes! Yes! Love what you're saying here. I loved the Frances series, too. And I am a huge Frog and Toad fan. I agree with what you point out - moral message and positive characters.
      Especially love that you say you don't remember what you liked when you were very young - super common not to remember much before 6, when the first plane of development ends and the second plane of development begins. :)
      And absolutely love that you pointed out the sassy personalities in children's literature these days. No wonder there are so many brats running around, right?! (Omgosh, did I just say that? ;) xo

    2. Hahaha I agree! I cannot believe the brattiness of some kids these days!
      And the fact that the behavior stems from or is reflected in children's books and t.v. shows is SO upsetting! Gah!!


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