Are fairy tales and traditional tales just for the very young? Well, No. Fairy tales were first told by travelling story tellers as they moved from village to village. They are stories that have a message about doing the right thing. They are great stories for all ages.
“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
Traditional tales, of course, have been with us for a long time. Stories like Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella were more violent and more overtly sexual than the later versions. They were made more respectable, and added to by the Brothers Grimm in Germany and also by Charles Perrault in France in his Mother Goose Stories.
Some of these stories, like Cinderella, are truly universal, existing all over the world in all languages from Zulu to Swedish, with slight variations: the glass slipper may become a grass one, for example, but in them, surely, we find proof of our common humanity. You will be surprised how far back some of these stories go and just how violent they were.
But getting back to why they are important for our children.
Reading or telling traditional tales and fairy tales when children are very young allows them to begin to grasp the meaning behind a story. These are the stories we tell over and over again, like nursery rhymes. They become familiar and children then learn how to tell the stories themselves. They learn about the beginning of the story, the middle of the story and the end.
Knowing the story well gives them ownership and allows them to experience magical adventures. They are able to know what it feels like to fight a dragon and win.
Children are often able to emotionally connect to the stories' messages in a big way. Sometimes the message in the story allows them to cope with feelings that they are unable to put into words.
Fairy tales are filled with good and evil, and can be very frightening (children lost in woods and found by a witch who fattens them up to eat them in Hansel and Gretel, or wolves chopped open by hunters so that grandma can escape in Little Red Riding Hood). So should we continue to carry on telling our children these scary stories?
I think it is important that these very old stories should be repeated again and again. Yes, there is often violence in them, but it is contained and the outcome is a happy one with good beating evil.
Good and evil are very separate in fairy tales. When the villain shows up it allows children to freely project his own violent feelings onto these separate wicked beings. Unable to express anger or hatred directly themselves children can learn more about these feelings through the villain; the step mother; the wicked witch or the big bad wolf.
5 Reasons why fairy tales are good for children
1. They boost imagination and cultural literacy.
Imagination is a powerful thing. It allows us to invent and think of new ideas as well as making up stories and games. Fairy tales often include different cultures so children can see differences outside their own life.
2. They can teach us right from wrong.
There is a moral backbone within fairy tales. A fight between good and evil, love and loss.
"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.
3. They develop critical thinking skills
Fairy tales teach that when bad things happen a choice must be made. If you make the right choice then all will work out well.
4. They can help children deal with emotions themselves
They can help children deal with conflict that they might feel within themselves.
5. And finally, they are great fun!
Do you remember hearing or reading a fairy tale when you were younger. All those stories of dragons and giants.
The teaching of fairy tales should not be limited to younger children. Even as children get older, there is still a lot of enjoyment and learning that can be had from discovering or re-discovering fairy tales. This is why stories like Harry Potter are so popular with children, and adults. The Harry Potter stories are filled with magic, wonder, fantastic creatures, faraway places good and evil - just like hundreds of others 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.
Even if your not following the National Curriculum in your learning journey, this statement I believe is there for a very good reason.
So, go out and make some troll hovels at the bottom of the garden - or a place that the fairies would love to stay in.
Retell those old and familiar stories.
Encourage your child to tell you the story.
Watch fairy tale films
Talk about settings and where fairy tales happen.
Dress up and be a character (good or evil)
Paint or draw magical creatures
Make models of fairies and dragons
Search the beach for evidence of mermaids
Write a letter to a character to ask them about themselves
Talk about where the story takes place
Talk about how the story starts
Talk about how the story ends
Write a different ending to a familiar tale
And so much more
Don't forget to read, listen to and watch all different kinds of traditional tales.
“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