Teaching Fairy Tales
Why we should teach Fairy Tales
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
― Albert Einstein
Fairy tales are stories of magic, wonder, and enchantment. They’re stories that feature fantastic creatures, a faraway place, and dreamlike elements. They explore myth and take you to magical lands. They range from Robert Southey’s The Story of the Three Bears (aka Goldilocks and the Three Bears) to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (which just might be the first American fairy tale!) to Disney’s Tangled and Frozen.
Telling or reading fairy tales to children while they’re developing helps them grasp the meaning behind a story, and even relate to the message of the story. Among learning classic children’s tales, learning to recite stories themselves, and experiencing magical adventures, children are often able to emotionally connect to the stories’ messages in a big way. Sometimes a message in a particular fairy tale speaks to a child directly and resonates with them very deeply, without them even realizing it! It, perhaps, could be something they were feeling or dealing with they couldn’t even put into words.
The teaching of fairy tales should not be limited to younger children at Key Stage One. Children in Key Stage Two should also be taught fairy tales.
The English curriculum at Key Stage 2 states that:
Pupils should be taught to:
develop positive attitudes to reading and understanding of what they read by:
increasing their familiarity with a wide range of books, including fairy stories, myths and legends, and retelling some of these orally
Fairy Tales are part of our cultural heritage and have traditionally been passed from mother to child through the means of oral storytelling, story reading and more recently through film, in particular Disney. Numerous studies of Fairy tales have been undertaken which have identified a number of key reasons why they should be included in the school curriculum.
First of all in terms of supporting children’s development in language and literacy, fairy tales:
Provide us with a Common Language (Cultural Literacy & Canon)
Neil Gaiman writes, “We encounter fairy tales as kids, in retellings or panto. We breathe them. We know how they go.”
The importance of storytelling and narrative is undisputed in children’s early literacy development. During the early developmental stages, fairy tales teach children how to grasp the meaning and power behind storytelling. Hearing a favourite fairy tales over and over again will give children their own storytelling skills—like telling a story in correct chronological order and paying attention to detail. Fairy tales are particularly good in helping children understand the basics of story — setting, characters, and plot (rising action, climax, and resolution) as well as the difference between fiction and non-fiction. This is because the structure of fairy tales is usually easy to identify and can be applied from tale to another. Once a child understands story, it supports his ability to make predictions and comprehend other stories he’s reading. For older children, learning about the history behind how a fairy tale came to be illustrates how stories are told, passed down, recorded, and told again.
boost a child's imagination and cultural literacy
A child's imagination is a powerful and unique thing. It's not only used to make up stories and games, it's a key factor in their creative thoughts and can define the type of education, career and life they have. With this imagination comes a cultural literacy; fairy tales often include different cultures and ways of doing things. They teach children about cultural differences in the world outside their own giving them a curiosity to learn new things and experience new places.
Many cultures share common fairy tales like Cinderella, with their own cultural flavour. We read the versions and know we all share something important, the need to make sense of life with story, and the hope for good to triumph over evil.
“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”
― Albert Einstein
From a wider curriculum point of view the teaching of Fairy Tales:
Show Children How to Handle Problems
We learn from the characters in stories, even as adults. They help us because we connect to our own lives, dreams, anxieties, and consider what we would do in their shoes. Fairy tales help children learn how to navigate life. (Bettelheim, B. Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.)
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
― G.K. Chesterton
Build Emotional Resiliency
Not only do fairy tales prepare our kids for society and making moral decisions, they teach them how to deal with conflict within themselves. Child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, who specialised in the importance of fairy tales in childhood, believed that fairy tales can aid children in dealing with anxiety they are, as yet, unable to explain. In fairy tales children are often the main character and more often than not will win against the story's evil. Readers can relate to this and find a fairy tale hero in themselves. Watch any Pixar film for guidance on this one.
develop critical thinking skills
Richard Dawkins has pointed out that fairy tales teach children critical thinking. They see the consequences of characters decisions and learn that what will happen to them depends on the choices they make. Not all characters can be good role models, even 'the goodies' can be damsels in distress, or reckless princes. What the stories do teach though, is that when bad things happen, you have decisions to make. If you make the right ones, everything might just turn out OK.
teach us right from wrong
Standing strongly within fairy tales of magic horses and glass slippers is a moral backbone. It's in a fairy tale's DNA to have a strong moral lesson, a fight between good & evil, love and loss, and these lessons rub off on our children.
According to The Telegraph, Mrs Goddard Blythe, director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology in Chester, said: "Fairy tales help to teach children an understanding of right and wrong, not through direct teaching, but through implication."
Fairy tales teach children that good will always triumph and, while this may not be true in aspects of the real world, the lesson is simple and important. Be the hero, not the villain. Learn to hope for better.
And finally, fairy tales are great fun!
Alternative Fairy Tales
Alternative fairy tales show our traditional tales from a new point of view. They might include role reversals, plot twists, alternative settings, or funny fairy-tale combinations. All of which will make your pupils think about a well-known story in a new way and help them to see how story elements—like character, plot, setting—shape the stories we read and write.