One ongoing study is finding that children learn new facts about animals better from fantastical stories than from realistic ones. … [meanwhile] infants are more prepared to accept new information when they are surprised, thus violating their assumptions about the physical world.
What can be going on? Perhaps children are more engaged and attentive when they see events that challenge their understanding of how reality works. After all, the events in these fantastical stories aren’t things that children can see every day. So they might pay more attention, leading them to learn more.
A different, and richer, possibility is that there’s something about fantastical contexts that is particularly helpful for learning. From this perspective, fantastical fiction might do something more than hold children’s interest better than realistic fiction. Rather, immersion in a scenario where they need to think about impossible events might engage children’s deeper processing, precisely because they can’t treat these scenarios as they would every other scenario that they encounter in reality.
“A different, and richer, possibility” is that academics forget the fantastical character that is our reality, period. None of this objectively “makes sense,” though we acclimate to the universe as it is, describe the laws that we understand appear to govern it, and more or less succeed in making life tolerable in our corner of the place.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Picasso’s speaking about retaining a child’s instinct for creativity. But the point is that children have talents adults lose. Christ, of course, challenged his disciples to make themselves “childlike” in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
There’s something there…