Getting the Most ‘Goodness’ out of Moral Stories for Kids
Lectures don’t get much mileage with little kids. And while we can live our values, and remind them to share, it’s also nice sometimes to let books reinforce the morals we want to see in our kids. But not all moral stories for kids are created equal. To get the most scruple for your buck, pick one with human characters, researchers say.
A study out of Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that 4- to 6-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic (human-like) animals.
This flies in the face of most of children’s media, which revolve around human-like animal characters. But since many children in this study did not see these characters as similar to themselves, researchers say kids may be less likely to translate social lessons from these stories into their everyday lives.
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“These findings add to a growing body of research showing that children find it easier to apply knowledge from stories that are realistic,” said study author Dr. Patricia Ganea, associate professor of early cognitive development at OISE, University of Toronto. “Overall, children were more likely to act on the moral of the story when it featured a human character.”
In the study, children first had a chance to share some of their 10 stickers with another child. They were then read one of three books: a book about sharing with human characters; the same book with anthropomorphic animal characters; or a book about seeds. This book was used to check how sharing changed when the story did not involve sharing. After the reading, children had another chance to give away new stickers. The number of stickers shared provided a measure of children’s altruistic giving.
Overall, preschoolers shared more after listening to the book with humans. Kids who were read the book with animal characters shared less after the reading. But of this second group of children, who read the animal book, those who attributed human characteristics to the anthropomorphic animals characters shared more after reading leading researchers to conclude that the reason some of the kids did not act generously may have been that they they interpreted the anthropomorphic animals as different from themselves.
Dr. Ganea said the results highlight that moral stories for kids can have an immediate impact on their social behaviour.
“Books that children can easily relate to increase their ability to apply the story’s lesson to their daily lives,” she said. “It is important for educators and parents to choose carefully when the goal is to teach real-world knowledge and social behaviours through storybooks.”
But stories with morals taught through animal characters can still have value for kids — parents help kids bridge the disassociation and help them take home the values lesson, said Nicole Larsen, who worked with Dr. Ganea on the study.
“Parents can play an important role in children’s learning by asking them to explain parts of the story and helping them see the similarity between the story and their own lives,” Larsen said.