Lisa column


February 01, 2002

Parents matter in sorting out fact from fiction

Teaching your Child - By Lisa Tedrick Prejean

"Have you ever seen a horse in a bathroom?"

My 3-year-old giggled at the question and shook her head.

"Where do you see horses?"

"Outside. In a fence."

We were reading a book about the things preschoolers learn to do by themselves. Sesame Street characters are shown tying their shoes, getting dressed, printing their names. One character brought her horse into the bathroom while she was brushing her teeth.

"So, is this book real or pretend?" I asked.


Good. That means she won't try sharing her toothbrush with a horse, and I won't have to worry about my linoleum.


Our storytime questions were prompted by recent discussions I had with some educators.

"It's hard for preschoolers to distinguish between real and fantasy," says Niki Queen, an early childhood resource teacher for Washington County Public Schools.

What they see on TV can be confusing and frightening.

Parents can help by asking children about what they see and hear, says Louise Corwin, executive director of Ready At Five Partnership, a statewide nonprofit organization committed to increasing school readiness in Maryland.

Take your child for a walk, point out things as you go, and explain that these are things you really see. Then tell your child that some things we see on TV are not real, Corwin suggests.

Watching television often hinders children from using their imaginations because they're viewing creative work as a finished product. Parents can help by turning off the TV and encouraging pretend play.

It's important for a child to be able to pretend because it helps develop language, imagination, creativity and logical reasoning, Queen says.

Children between the ages of 3 and 5 often enjoy role-playing, puppetry and telling a story - with or without props.

And you may not have to prompt much. Preschoolers often show a increased interest in pretend play. This is the age when symbolic thought is developing, Queen says.

Here are suggestions from Queen, Corwin and the Ready At Five Partnership publication, "Moving Young Children's Play Away From TV Violence:"

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Have a pretend character day with your child. Allow him to pick a character from a book and help him act out the story. Take a video and let him watch the show.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Use pantomime to rock a baby, have a snowball fight or go on a picnic - without using any props.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Dress up like a superhero. Tell your child to ask you questions about your life. Through your answers, the child will learn that a superhero is just a person in a costume called an actor. Then allow the child to take the role of a different superhero and answer your questions.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Gather pictures of cartoons and other things that aren't real. Mix them together with pictures of real things and photographs of family members. Show these to the child one at a time and ask, "Is this real or pretend?"

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Talk about TV shows the child watches. Make comments such as, "Maybe that's something that could happen, but is it really happening now?"

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Read both fiction (pretend) and non-fiction (real) books to your child. Ask him if he thinks the story actually happened. What are some of the clues? Are animals talking or wearing clothes? What told you it isn't real? What told you it is real?

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> n n

Ready At Five's "Parents Matter," is a packet of seven cards, addressing various areas of a child's development. The cards offer suggestions on how parents can help children be ready to succeed in school. The packet costs $1.25 and is available by calling 1-410-727-6290.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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