Are They Real?

As I showed the picture of the Aylett family to my Mission Friends, Conner looked at the picture and asked, “Are they real?” I assured him that yes, the missionaries are real. We then talked about the Ayletts living in San Diego, and that there are people there who have never heard about Jesus.

Later I was still thinking about his question, “Are they real?” It seemed odd to me at the time because the picture is a photo, so it is obvious to me that these are real people. But at Conner’s four years, he still has difficulty discerning what is real and what is not real. In today’s world of photo editing programs, even photos can be manipulated so that what is not real appears to be real. As we think about preschoolers and their development, we know that preschoolers have difficulty discerning fantasy from reality. They have difficulty telling the difference between what is real and imaginary.

At church we want our preschoolers to know that God and Jesus are real. We want them to know what the Bible says is true. We want them to know that missionaries are real people. The reality of our world is that there are real people who have never heard about Jesus. How do we make sure preschoolers know these are real?

  • Avoid mixing fantasy with reality in preschool rooms at church. For example, I stepped into a preschool classroom in a church and on the wall was a poster about fairy tales. Beside the poster was a picture of the Nativity. Think about the message this gives to preschoolers. Will they think that Jesus’ birth is also a fairy tale?
  • Check the preschool books on your bookshelf at church. Are the books about imaginary or fantasy animated figures? There is a place for these books, but put these away in the church setting. Use books that depict real people or objects so preschoolers know what we talk about at church is real.
  • Look for preschool books in which people rather than animals do the talking. There is a fancy word, anthropomorphism, in which human characteristics or personalities are given to non-human things. Animals or vegetables that dress and talk like humans is not real, and can confuse preschoolers as to what is real at church.
  • Choose books and pictures in which drawings are realistic. Rather than fantasy or cartoon characters, illustrations need to be realistic.
  • In the Homeliving area, provide dress-up clothes in which preschoolers pretend to be real people rather than fantasy characters. Instead of the fantasy princess gown or superhero cape, provide clothes such as an elastic-waist skirt, cook’s apron, clip-on necktie, or scarves. Provide dress-up clothes to pretend to be real people such as biblical characters and community helpers. Mission Friends is a great place to introduce the dress of people of other cultures.
  • Provide dolls and stuffed animals that are realistic. TV-character dolls or stuffed animals can confuse preschoolers as to what is real or fictional.
  • Use murals or wallpaper that depict realism. The Teddy Bear Picnic wallpaper border is fun in the home. At church consider murals or wallpaper that show realism such as the natural world, which can be fun and beautiful, too.

Fantasy and fictional characters are fun in the right settings and situations. The church setting is different than a home or childcare setting. The truths that we teach preschoolers at church are real, and I do not want to risk confusing preschoolers in the short amount of time we have them at church. I want my Mission Friends to know that God and Jesus are real and the people in the Bible were real people. I want Conner to know that, yes, the missionaries are real.

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