Fairy tales offer children snap shots of life. Each character plays an important role. Within us we can find each character of a fairy tale. Upon reflection we can think of times in our life when we played the wicked witch, the nurturing mother, the firm father figure. The child too has a choice of which “character” to be in any particular situation.
It is interesting that the characters in a fairytale are called characters to begin with. What character traits do you find yourself habitually playing out? The princess, the witch, the nurturing mother or the mean sister, are all just different facets of human character traits. In the fairy tale each character is dealt a consequence for their behavior. The princess overcomes the trial, the witch and mean sisters are punished and the nurturing mother is loved dearly.
This helps the child understand life. With the courage and strength of a prince, you can overcome any adversary. The vivid and sometimes gruesome events in a fairy tale help with driving a point home. It awakens a knowing within us that actions do matter. Not a single word, act or deed goes unnoticed, be it good or bad. We can sometimes lull ourselves into a kind of sleep, thinking all is just hunky dory, but are we really paying attention to how our words and actions are effecting others, are affecting us? The gruesome tales wake us up and say, “Pay attention and remember this!”
The first 7 years of a child’s life are so important. It is during this time that the child’s character is really malleable. A child during this time is so impressionable. Everything they hear is considered a truth and this settles into the subconscious mind of the child. This is why these lessons on character are so important. The nuggets of truth within each one of the fairy tales can help the child navigate the difficult twists and turns of life.
The fairy tales help sculpt the child’s awareness to the degree that the child is able to understand in an appropriate way. It is important to match the fairy tale to the child’s level of development. For the younger child stories of going out into the world and being greeted with kind, helpful characters is important. For the three year old, “Star Money” helps to teach a child to share and to trust that it is in the giving that we are rewarded. “Sweet Porridge” helps to teach a child to use his words. It is important to set boundaries and tell a friend, “Stop.” It also teaches that words are powerful, they can change our reality for the better, or worse.
The teacher or mother can use the fairy tales as tools. When telling a fairy tale, keep to just one and repeat it each day for at least a week. You will find that the child will have it memorized by the end of the week! The child will most likely act out the story with toys. This is wonderful. It is helping the child in so many ways, he is strengthening his mental powers of concentration, he is learning the different parts of a story, and most importantly he is remembering the different roles each character played and what happened to each one. You can help him connect the fairy tale in his own life by bringing up the fairy tale when the child is behaving in a less than favorable way. By simply calling to mind the character who played that role in the story, you can ask him if he too wants to be like that character? Do you remember what happened to that character? So without berating, scolding, or making a child become embarrassed, you point to the character and draw his attention to the character who made a mistake.
Character traits are just that, they are characters. They are not who the child really is, they are not who you really are, they are just passing figures. If we can learn to become aware of the passing character we are playing in trying moments of our life, we too can consciously choose the one we want to be.
The benefits to memorizing the story and telling the child vs. reading it from a book are many. As a storyteller, you are allowing the child to create images in his mind that illustrate the story. This is a great way to help children learn to imagine. The ability to imagine is not as easy as you may think! It is during these early formative years that the child can really learn to do this important skill. Whatever we create must be imagined first, from what we want to be when we grow up, to what we want to make for dinner. Since we are all creators, in one way or another, this skill helps all of us.
For a young child, using little wool puppets helps him to understand the story. This aides in language acquisition as well as helping a child learn to tell stories while playing. Play time can be so healing for a child when he is able to tell his own stories. When a child is reenacting different events in his life, he is then able to live into the different roles of the different characters in his life, processing it all so that he can let them go.