Before I had small children, when I was studying in college, I remember the ideas being planted about the usefulness of fairy tales in introducing the world to children. I am speaking of the original fairy tales, the unsanitized versions; not the Disney versions. It is of vital importance that we not try to whitewash the fairy tales, because that slightly grim edge is what makes them useful.
The world is a scary place, but children are innocents. You don't want to terrify them, or rob them of that feeling of safety; however, you want them to be safe, and wise. Fairy tales are the perfect vehicle for this. They present a world that is much like our own, only it is just fantastical enough to not be personally threatening to the child. Rather than shelter children from life's evils, we can equip them with the tools needed to face them head-on with confidence.
We studied "Little Red Riding Hood" this past week. Of course the moral of the story is "listen to your mother and don't talk to strangers/wolves". Just yesterday there was a story on the news. At a park that we frequent with the kids, a man tried to abduct a little girl. We talked about this with the kids, and what was interesting is that they made the connection between the story of Little Red Riding Hood and child abduction.
Bettelheim, a famous autism researcher commented as follows on fairytales : "The prevalent parental belief is that a child must be diverted from what troubles him most: his formless, nameless anxieties, and his chaotic fantasies. Many parents believe that only conscious reality or pleasant and wish-fulfilling images should be presented to the child-that he should be exposed only to the sunny side of things. But such one-sided fare nourishes the mind only in a one-sided way, and real life is not all sunny."
The fairy tale, according to Bettelheim, confronts the child squarely with the most scary subjects in life: death, aging, loss of a parent, being trapped or lost, and other stresses. The fairy tale simplifies all situations, allowing the child to come to grips with the problem in its most essential form. The figures are clearly drawn and the details, unless very important, are eliminated. All characters are typical rather than unique.
Fairy tales, REAL fairy tales present the darker side of the world without scaring the begeepers out of kids. You cannot present the world as a perfect, wonderful place because it isn't and most kids already know that. Real life is much more like a fairy tale: deeply flawed at times, sometimes prejudiced, at times dangerous, but also wondrous, and magical with good things that could make you swoon. There is always room for a hero in an imperfect world, and isn't that what we are trying to inspire in our kids, heroism?
So to that end, before my children are too old, we decided to review some fairy tales. I will post here what resources we use if you want to follow along.