“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
So, why do Waldorf Educators read fairy tales to our early childhood and primary school students? Because fairy tales are imaginative stories with rich visual and contextual elements that bring forth visceral emotions in children. They engage children who believe the stories — many of them about children out in the world on their own — are relevant to their lives. Would they eat the porridge or stick to the suggested path? Might they talk to strangers or eat from a candy house when they know better? These are not silly questions. They are serious considerations about how to child will choose to be and act in the wider world.
In this way, fairy tales model behavior for children like problem solving or emotional intelligence. Bad things happen to good people in fairy tales, and then, in many cases those good people (often children) find their way in and around these difficulties. As G.K. Chesterton once said, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
Fairy tales also do an amazing job of teaching children about class and culture, in eras long ago, but the realities are still relevant in modern times. Many cultures share these stories as well because they represent common narratives and issues all of us face regardless of where we reside in the world. We all struggle to overcome poverty, injustice, family upheaval and our own personal dragons.
From an educational perspective, young future readers are learning the basics of story in a thematic and consistent way — setting, characters, and plot (rising action, climax, and resolution) occur predictably and help children orient their minds around the elements of writing. And, of course, understanding these elements will not only help children write, but also read. In Waldorf Education, development of the imagination is a key piece in helping to foster reading comprehension. To imagine these tales is to think abstractly and transform words into personal, internal meaning.
After all, as Hans Christian Andersen once said, “Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale.”