This is a subject that Dr. Montessori herself addressed, and one that particularly fascinates MNW's Director of Primary Training, Sarah Werner Andrews. In response to that article in Psychology Today, Sarah has contributed some fascinating perspectives within historical context to help Montessorians better understand the role of fantasy in storytelling.
Montessori acknowledged the controversy surrounding her views on fairy tales in 1919, when she spoke to the Child Study Society on the topic: Children’s Imagination by Means of Fairy Tales. Montessori joked with the crowd that this topic was dictated to her; she would not have dared to choose it herself and face the audience! To her criticism of fairy tales, she answered, “When I have been so bold as to express my opinion of the value of the fairy tale, people have jumped to the conclusion that I was fiercely opposed to it. I do not really feel any such intense antagonism.” Her point regarding fairy tales was simply, “Imagination really does not enter into the problem, because in telling fairy tales it is we (the adult) who do the imagining. The child only listens.”
During that speech Montessori told the listeners, “(The young child) cannot distinguish well between the real and the imaginary, between things that are possible and things that are merely ‘made up’.” During this speech in 1919, Montessori was attempting once again to clarify her position regarding education based on cultivating credulity, instead of on reality. (Times Education Supplement, 1919, reprinted in AMI communications, No. 2, 1975)
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).