A long, long time ago in faraway lands, people gathered around crackling fires, hands cupped around warm bowls of stew, snuggling against the freezing weather outside whilst listening to the elders telling stories rich with magical characters like fairies, elves and witches that lived in quaint little homes in deep, dark, secretive forests.
Time passed and these fairy tales, or folklore, were collected by traveling scribes and written down to be told and re-told to each new generation of children. Their origins are universal and were told in ancient languages no longer spoken and even in more modern native tongues like isiZulu and Afrikaans. Whether the slipper was made of glass or grass, these classic stories have withstood the test of time and today are made into mainstream movies by big Hollywood production companies with multi-million dollar budgets.
How? And why are these stories still relevant in modern times?
The virtues of enhancing a young child’s imagination cannot be stressed enough by modern psychologists and scientists. Not only does it help them to make up games and stories, it also becomes a key factor in creative thoughts and problem solving later in life. This imaginative world also bolsters cultural literacy, teaching them from a young age to be curious about different cultures: that there are people, places and customs different from their own reality.
“Fairy tales help to teach children an understanding of right and wrong, not through direct teaching, but through implication” – Mrs. Goddard Blythe, Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology (Chester)
Within the ‘recipe’ of every fairy tale’s embellished language and strong characters, the eternal struggle between good and evil, love and loss emerges, teaching children valuable life lessons by suggestion. Good will conquer bad, the virtuous hero or heroine will endure and while this might not be entirely true in real life, it helps children strive to do good, to be kind.
The heroes or heroines come before big decisions in the climax of these tales. Their actions have consequences and children learn that even the damsel in distress, or the vain prince ultimately must live with the decisions they make. These stories teach us that we always have a choice, no matter how difficult, and that if we make the right one, all might turn out for the good in the end.
Listening to fairy tales can help the young child or toddler deal with inner conflict they are incapable of verbalising. In many of these stories a child stands as the central character against the evil protagonist (think Snow White, or Rapunzel) conjuring strong emotions like fear or anxiety, jealousy or anger which they ultimately overcome by virtue of a pure heart, finding the hero within themselves. The real lesson here is that there is always hope no matter how dire the situation.
Dust off your old volumes of classic fairy tales and read them to your child as if you were a child yourself. Immerse yourself in the make-believe tales of old where good overcomes evil in a most spectacular display of beauty and bravery and know that you are simultaneously giving your child a tremendous gift.
“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