The Emerging Identity of a K1 Student

Back in the 1950’s, Selma Fraiberg introduced the concept of Magical Thinking in childhood. Since then, several developmentalists, (including Berry T. Brazelton/Joshua Sparrow in Touchpoints 3-6) have explored the concept as it relates to early childhood education. Magical Thinking is actually a very practical tool for parents to have in understanding the emerging identity of the K-1 child. Magical Thinking in young children is a necessary developmental stage and it is very different than Magical Thinking in adults within the mental health field. On its most basic level Magical Thinking with young children often involves an intuitive sense in which the child perceives that there is some sort of correlation between their interior world (be it imagination, a thought, or even a spoken word) and an exterior outcome. This perception can be given or received by a young child in a way that may feel like a magical spell has been cast.

Although Magical Thinking can be exemplified in creative imagination, symbolic play play frames, fairy tale imagery, artistic creativity, and perceptive insights, or an imaginary playmate; Magical Thinking can also be exemplified in developmental tasks related to less positive aspects such as name calling, blaming someone else for their own actions, and taking things that may not belong to them.  Magical Thinking can often be experienced by a young child in ways in which he or she takes words or actions very literally or even very personally. There is a strong developmental component to both the positive and less positive facets of this important concept. A child who imagines her blocks have become castles and kingdoms is engaging in his/her Magical Thinking. A child who tells his mother that his little brother drew on the wall with a marker is “magically” creating a cognitive reality for himself where it was his brother’s artistic actions that painted a green wall black; rather than his own actions. When a little girl calls her younger sister a “turkey” and the little sister begins to cry, it might be, because the younger sister is afraid that her older sister has somehow “magically” used her words to shape a perception that has literally turned her into a turkey.

In K-1, we respect the full power of Magical Thinking and we support our students in communicating what they perceive in any given situation. While we are also supporting imagination/creativity, we are also coaching children to resolve conflicts and to find solutions for the social emotional, cognitive, or disciplinary misperceptions that can arise out of their developmental stage of
Magical Thinking. By using tools such as social coaching, mediation/Fussbusting, Cubhouse, and Witness Circles, we give students the opportunity to articulate their interior reality, to respect the interior reality/perception of others, and to find solutions when the developmentally appropriate “magical” world of their interior desires seems to collide with the exterior world or classroom reality.

By Mary Virginia Bunker

K-1 Newsletter 12.5.14