Magical Thinking and Alternative Facts


 The 3 and 4 year old children made up a game of 'powers' in which two children stand on a carpet square and then 'psh psh psh' their powers at each other. Other children sit to the side and often draw the action and cheer. After they had been playing this game for a while, we teachers began to wonder how to take the thinking further.

We came up with some questions; What color are your powers? What sound do they make? Could I borrow your powers? We encouraged each child to make a mask, cape and a pocket to hold their powers.


"Real animals don’t have any powers. Stories have powers. Yeah, in stories they have powers. Not any kind of real animals can’t do stuff. Can’t do stuff that powers can do, no. We play stuff but it’s not powers."
Anna Hart, you have powers, don’t you?
Hart "No. I have pretend powers. Just when I freeze stuff, and when it’s dark. It only comes out when I’m mad, or scared."

The back and forth between magical thinking and theory making is a big thread running through projects I'm working with right now. In the example above children talk about super

powers as something they really have and as something that occurs only in stories at virtually the same time. I always love the magic and metaphysical bits that come up in school, but given what's happening in the media right now, I've had a little uncharacteristic worry about 'letting' children form their own ideas. "Am I encouraging 'alternative facts'? Should I make sure that I tell everyone the correct answers?" I'm usually confident in my belief in social constructivism, but lately these questions have been popping up in my mind. My usual technique when I have doubts or fears is to look at the research. Going back to the theory reinforces the idea that time for questioning and experience are the most important thing I can give to the children I work with. Let's all get used to looking at the world through the eyes of others!

As Dewey, (who above all else committed himself to democracy) wrote; 
                  "education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction".

Reading Dewey and Bruner has reminded me that helping to raise people who feel that their voices matter is the way I can contribute to our social consciousness. I know in my heart that exploring power is a way children come to understand social dynamics, good and bad, and theory of mind. 

"Only he who has a different visual opening can see the world in another way and can pass on to his neighbour the information required to broaden his field of view...let us get used to looking at the world through the eyes of others." Bruno Munari


  1. "Let us get used to looking at the world through the eyes of others." Words to live by in these troubled times. Thanks for this beautiful and thought-provoking blog.

  2. Anna, don't doubt yourself! If you were thinking in sets of certainty then I would be worried, but your uncertainty gives you the possibility to think in a different way, to see other perspectives so hold onto your uncertainty as a good thing. In doing what we do, we are not teaching falsehoods but enabling children to think, to express what they know, to communicate with the world around them. As you say, they are sophisticated thinkers able to both hold fact and fantasy simultaneously. Creative, metaphorical and complex thinkers. It is just that it is not always so easy for us adults to tune in... we have to let go some of ourselves to truly listen.

    I too am working with theories of power at the moment. I'm a kind of pedagogista working in the UK but with a visual arts background myself. The group of children have been talking about how the sun comes out of the moon and that each of them have powers that, for example, keep them up in the sky so they don't fall down. They talk too of good and bad powers and like you think this is a relational way of viewing themselves in relations to others and working with ideas of bad/good etc. But I have been challenged recently by the writings of Nora Bateson in her book "Small Arcs of Larger Circles: Framing Through Other Patterns" - she challenges this binary way of thinking and instead sees the world through and in systems of thinking, relationships and interdependencies. It has made me think about how I was sometimes seeing the children's work through 'binary eyes'. Maybe it's more complex than how I was seeing it... I have always talked about lines of inquiry but she talks about spectrums of possibility! Just thought, if you didn't't know her or her fathers work, you might want to look them up. Although not an education book, it ticks many of my boxes about thinking, nature, learning together and from each other... Carry on the great work, don't doubt yourself but live in that world of uncertainty.

    1. wow, thank you! it's nice to hear about the project you're working with. i tend to think in terms of things being magic and the sun coming out of the moon is right up my alley. i will check out nora bateson- I've read some of her fathers work, but never her. thanks again for reading and for your reply! -anna

    2. p.s., I've read Nora Bateson now, and you were right! thanks so much!

  3. Thank you. The work you do is amazing and important. So glad my black mamba ninja is at Sabot.

  4. Anna, reading your blog about the pretend play that your students were involved in was inspiring. I am studying early childhood education and I have come across many instances where I am watching and observing young children get quite involved and adventurous in their dramatic play. When you decided to extend the pretend play into something more complex, where the children created and became their superpower/hero, it was such an important and changing moment for the young learners as they found out more about who they are in this world and their identity. Although you started questioning and doubting yourself on whether what you are allowing is right, I think it is vital for us teachers to continue to give time for children to create their own ideas and expressions and form their own view of the world (right or wrong). I also admired your last statement, we should all get used to viewing the world in others perspectives. Especially in today's society, it is so important to keep an open mind and welcome anyone and everyone and try our very best to put ourselves in the individuals shoes and see what they see. Thank you for sharing this moment.

    1. Thanks so much for reading, and for your comments here! This reflective practice of teaching lends itself to self doubt so easily, so it's to have a colleague (even one I don't know) who can confirm my direction, or the choices I've made. So again, thank you, anonymous!


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