New Research Backs True Stories

Not the most paradigm-shifting research, but one more for the “21st century researchers prove Montessori right” file.

Montessori Children’s House teachers have a bit of a bias against books for young children with talking animals, or as a friend of mine says, “a pig in an apron getting into trouble he never would have got in if he hadn’t had that apron on in the first place.” Now comes Frontiers in Psychology with a paper (Do cavies talk?: The effect of anthropomorphic books on children’s knowledge about animals) showing that, in 3-5 year old children,

anthropomorphized animals in books may … lead to less learning [and] influence children’s conceptual knowledge of animals.

The Montessori idea is that children in the first plane of development, characterized by the absorbent mind, are fashioning their reality out of their direct sensorial experiences, and stories about talking animals will just confuse them. And what do you know, validated by science!

The study itself is long and dense, but there’s a very readable summary in Pacific Standard, coming my way via Andrew Sullivan of all people.

About the study: Frontiers in Psychology is an open access web based peer reviewed journal, which means authors pay a publishing fee (sometimes paid by their institution), and if an article passes peer review, it is freely available under an open license. I don’t know enough about the academic publishing world to evaluate the journal’s or the article’s credibility, but there are some good indications. The authors come from recognized universities, and the article is 57 pages long and packed with citations and statistical analysis. It’s really worth the read if this is your kind of thing. It’s a thorough, thoughtful, and scientific treatment of cognition, learning, and epistemology in young children.

2 responses to “New Research Backs True Stories

  1. Sarah Werner Andrews

    And in a related study…

    “By 15 months of age, young children can apply something learned from a picture book to real life, and also transfer that information in the other direction (DeLoach & Ganea, 2009). For example, a toddler can learn the name for a robin in a picture book, and then identify a robin in the backyard, and vice versa. After learning the name of a real object, children were more successful transferring that name to a photograph than to a cartoon drawing of the object. “The fact that the iconic nature of pictures seems to have an important role in children’s ability to interact meaningfully with books has important educational implications; namely, that books with more realistic pictures are better for assisting young children’s learning” (Ganea, Bloom-Pickard, & DeLoach, 2008). In general, the more young children are exposed to anthropomorphized books, (animals or objects given human attributes) the more likely they are to confuse their beliefs about the properties of real animals or objects (DeLoach & Ganea, 2009).”

    – Excerpt from my 2010 paper, “An Overview of the Cognitive Processes Underlying Pretend Play and the Developing Imagination”


    • The Montessori Observer

      Thanks for the comment! Come to find out, Ganea (the lead author on the study in the post) is a big fan of Montessori and a former Montessori parent.


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