Through the Fairy Door

Our fantasy characters became our confidants. We would talk and listen to them and tell their stories at will. They did not mask reality; they helped us interpret and explain our feelings about reality.
—Vivian Gussin Paley, A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play


Fiona is our classroom fairy. She visits every so often, leaving us notes and surprises. Fiona made herself known one fall day when the kids in the class noticed our fairy door on the wall. The next day there was a letter waiting. The kids write her notes, leave her presents and celebrate the magic that is Fiona. Every single kid buys in to the fantasy play that our fairy brings. She begins her visits each year once the kids notice the fairy door, and classes talk about her from years past. I love it.

Today when the kids arrived, Fiona had made our play stand into a magical fairy garden. There was an invitation to play with the fairy stones, the glitter, the natural objects and the books and writing paper that Fiona left us. It’s another space in our classroom where kids can go and play and imagine that Fiona is real. She becomes their confidant, their friend, their imaginary player in our kindergarten classroom. She provides another path to creating narratives, solving problems, inventing situations and seeking meaning in a five year old’s world. The play is filled with talk and imagination, literacy, wonder and joy. It’s truly as magical as Fiona.

“Let me end with what for me may be the most important aspect of play we learn from the children: it is in play where we learn best to be kind to others. In play we learn to recognize another person’s pain, for we can identify with all the feelings and issues presented by our make-believe characters.”

– Vivian Gussin Paley, from The Importance of Fantasy, Fairness, and Friendship in Children’s Play – An Interview with Vivian Gussin Paley


Screenshot 2018-03-01 22.18.35

Day 5

Be the Character

One thing I do during an interactive read aloud is have kids “be the character”.  I stop at a point in the text where the character is feeling an emotion or anticipating an upcoming event. I ask the kids to “pull out their masks” (I model pulling out an imaginary mask from my sock.) and put on their mask to be the character. I look to see them show what the character is feeling on their faces. Then I invite children who want to “be the character” to say what they are thinking or feeling (as the character). After we’ve shared briefly, I tell them to put their masks away (they put them back in their sock as a signal to come back to focus on the book) and we continue reading the book.

I’ve always thought this was a great way for me to teach inferring, engage children with the characters and events in the book, to predict and to show how readers read beyond the text. After reading Peter Johnston’s, Opening Minds (Chapter 6), I now see that having children imagine that they are experiencing another’s feelings or emotions is much bigger than all of that. It is also a key component in building social imagination.

Much of what happens in texts, personal interactions, academics and the “real world” happens inside our heads. Teaching children to imagine what is going on “behind the scenes”, in essence, is a highly important task. And how can we neglect this? As Johnston says, “social imagination is the foundation of civil society.” Children (and adults) need to be able to understand what others are feeling, to read people’s faces and expressions,  to imagine different perspectives, to make sense of abstract ideas, and to reason through this. While social imagination may not show up in a list of state standards, it’s a critical piece of education that we cannot leave out.

I’m looking forward to exploring this more in the upcoming school year. I see possibility in using this as we role-play problems that may arise in the classroom, as we read a variety of texts and as we interact with each other in the classroom. Kindergarten isn’t too early to start teaching children to look at multiple perspectives, to imagine alternate possibilities and to develop empathy. If we start there and continue building on throughout the school years imagine what kind of future we might have.

How do you build social imagination & social reasoning in your classroom?