How Stories Can Prepare Children for Life

Image via Flickr  Mankind has always been obsessed with storytelling, since the most distant days of prehistory when our ancestors sat around roaring bonfires telling the tales of mythical figures and their deeds.  Nothing has changed in this regard today, and fictional entertainment is as popular as ever, whether in the form of books, or TV shows and films.  One of the areas where stories continue to have the most impact, however, is in delighting and educating our children. Fables and fairytales seem uniquely able to inspire and enlighten kids, where dry lectures would put them to sleep.  Why is that the case? Let’s take a look.   Stories exist in a world of adventure   The normal world is often reasonably boring for grownups, never mind for children who’re used to living in a world of adventure and make-believe, where heroes and villains and strange creatures lurk in every corner and great quests define the fate of the world.  Stories are able to place often mundane concepts and lessons into fantastic settings and so make them far more interesting and exciting. That, of course, means that a child is far more likely to absorb the fundamental messages.   Stories make things less frightening  Real-world concepts and their implications are often scary, or at least daunting. Trying to teach a child about the dynamics of heroes and villains by talking about contemporary terrorist atrocities is likely to give them nightmares.  When placed in a fantasy setting, however, many of these concepts stop being so frightening. They’re now removed from our day-to-day lives by a degree of separation, and there are always wise kings or bold heroes to step up and do battle when needed.   Stories can simplify complicated concepts  In day-to-day life, almost everything has layers of complexity which can be utterly baffling if we’re not prepared for them. Few adults could claim to have a good working knowledge of how the various financial institutions operate, even the activities of benign companies such as best.creditcard. So how can children be expected to unravel these arcane mysteries?  Addressing big concepts in a fantasy setting allows for these ideas to be boiled down and simplified to their core components, while also positioning them against a narrative backdrop which serves to enhance understanding, rather than diminish it.  There’s a reason why metaphors are such commonly used teaching mechanisms.  Stories stick in a child’s memory  A dry lecture about something complicated like budgeting or arithmetic is likely to interest a child about as much as watching paint dry, and will probably fly out of their head as soon as they’re free to run off and imagine themselves fighting a dragon or saving a princess.  Stories with engaging characters and plots can carry these same morals, but present them to a child in a coating of fun and adventure. This, of course, means that the child is more likely to remember the tale. Even if they’re not constantly reflecting on the lesson of the story, it’ll be working in the back of their mind. - giant storybook image

Image via Flickr

Mankind has always been obsessed with storytelling, since the most distant days of prehistory when our ancestors sat around roaring bonfires telling the tales of mythical figures and their deeds.

Nothing has changed in this regard today, and fictional entertainment is as popular as ever, whether in the form of books, or TV shows and films.

One of the areas where stories continue to have the most impact, however, is in delighting and educating our children. Fables and fairytales seem uniquely able to inspire and enlighten kids, where dry lectures would put them to sleep.

Why is that the case? Let’s take a look.

Stories exist in a world of adventure

The normal world is often reasonably boring for grownups, never mind for children who’re used to living in a world of adventure and make-believe, where heroes and villains and strange creatures lurk in every corner and great quests define the fate of the world.

Stories are able to place often mundane concepts and lessons into fantastic settings and so make them far more interesting and exciting. That, of course, means that a child is far more likely to absorb the fundamental messages.

Stories make things less frightening

Real-world concepts and their implications are often scary, or at least daunting. Trying to teach a child about the dynamics of heroes and villains by talking about contemporary terrorist atrocities is likely to give them nightmares.

When placed in a fantasy setting, however, many of these concepts stop being so frightening. They’re now removed from our day-to-day lives by a degree of separation, and there are always wise kings or bold heroes to step up and do battle when needed.

Stories can simplify complicated concepts

In day-to-day life, almost everything has layers of complexity which can be utterly baffling if we’re not prepared for them. Few adults could claim to have a good working knowledge of how the various financial institutions operate, even the activities of benign companies such as best.creditcard. So how can children be expected to unravel these arcane mysteries?

Addressing big concepts in a fantasy setting allows for these ideas to be boiled down and simplified to their core components, while also positioning them against a narrative backdrop which serves to enhance understanding, rather than diminish it.

There’s a reason why metaphors are such commonly used teaching mechanisms.

Stories stick in a child’s memory

A dry lecture about something complicated like budgeting or arithmetic is likely to interest a child about as much as watching paint dry, and will probably fly out of their head as soon as they’re free to run off and imagine themselves fighting a dragon or saving a princess.

Stories with engaging characters and plots can carry these same morals, but present them to a child in a coating of fun and adventure. This, of course, means that the child is more likely to remember the tale. Even if they’re not constantly reflecting on the lesson of the story, it’ll be working in the back of their mind.

Fairy Tales and Political Correctness

The famous fables and fairy tales that earlier generations of children grew up with are being re-written or are completely falling out of favor with those who aspire to “Political Correctness”. What people don’t realize is that many of these tales have been “sanitized” repeatedly over the years, having started as truly gruesome stories. In early versions of the “Cinderella” tale, the two cruel sisters mutilated themselves in order to fit into the slipper, and the two of them ended up as blind beggars when birds pecked out their eyes.

Most stories and lore evolve over time, and fairy tales are no different. Here are some examples of old stories that have come under the modern microscope.

  1. Rapunzel – This grim tale from the brothers Grimm is too dark, say many people today. They point out that this story contains violent imagery, blatant sexism, and criminal child abuse. Imagine, a little girl being given up for adoption by thieving parents, only to find that the poor child is then placed in solitary confinement, and only a man can save her.
  2. Cinderella – In a corrected version, Cinderella might not be burdened by cruel sisters and the sexist drudgery of menial housework. Instead, she might end up stuck in a dead-end office job, just like everyone else.
  3. Goldilocks and the Three Bears – Another potential “Amber Alert” situation, though there does not appear to be any great hue-and-cry over a missing girl’s whereabouts. Didn’t anyone in the olden days have any parents (historical note: when some of these tales were first written, life-expectancies were only in the 30s, so there probably were a lot of parent-less children)?
  4. Jack and the Beanstalk – Why is it never “Jane and the Beanstalk”? Well, it is probably just as well. Jack turns out to be a little thief who doesn’t follow his mother’s instructions very well. He steals from an ogre, and then kills the poor guy to boot. In today’s version, Jack might have just gone out to get a job so he could help his poor mom out, and he certainly wouldn’t have jeopardized his future by stooping to thievery and murder.
  5. Sleeping Beauty – Another motherless story, this one also involves probable nudity. When the king forbade the spinning of all materials in order to thwart a witches curse, the realm probably ran out of clothing for the citizenry. This is another one where it’s a guy rescuing a girl in trouble, instead of maybe the other way around.
  6. Hansel and Gretel – Wrong in so many ways, this tale involves child-abuse, spousal abuse, inhumane treatment of captives and poor nutrition. The modern version might have the cottage windows made of Splenda rather than clear sugar.
  7. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – The term “dwarf” has come under fire in recent years, but “Frozen Caucasian Water and the Seven Altitude Challenged People” isn’t a title the folks over in Marketing are looking for.
  8. Red Riding Hood – “Sam ‘The Sham’ and the Pharaohs” admonished Red, singing that she shouldn’t “. . .go walking in these spooky old woods alone”. Good advice for a small child who was sent, unattended by a parent, to visit an aging relative who was probably in need of 24-hour in-home care. Of course, there is also the wolf, a stalker and an abuser of the elderly.
  9. The Pied Piper – The Piper of the tale was obviously a cult-leader who had lured not only the rats, but also the children of the beleaguered township of Hamelin. The Pied Piper obviously had anger-management issues, which might have been addressed with classes and counseling in a modern version of the story.
  10. The Emperor’s New Clothes – This tale has a pair of swindling tailors hoodwinking a vain emperor into thinking that the “nothing” they have made for him is a fine suit of clothing. A little kid busts the scam wide open, but the emperor is held out as the selfish patriarch that he is.

Almost every story has elements that may not suit future generations. Who knows, in a few hundred years, Cinderella’s step-sisters may turn out to be kind and gentle care-givers.

Article courtesy of my friends at www.babysitters.net

The Fascinating Stories Behind Your Favorite Fairy Tales

It’s a little disconcerting to know that the real stories behind the fairy tales that made your eyes go all sparkly as a child were originally tales of dark deeds, self-injury and forced abandonment. But the inspiration behind these stories simply resonated more clearly and relevantly with audiences at the time they were created, and have since been adapted to please our morals and desire for happy endings today. Whether you’re a literature student or just interested in “real-life” accounts behind fictional tales, here are the fascinating histories behind your favorite fairy tales from MatchaCollege.com

The Brothers Grimm adapted existing — darker — folk tales: Many of our favorite fairy tales are actually adapted folk tales that the Brothers Grimm re-appropriated from their Germanic neighbors and surrounding communities. Most of us know now that the Grimm’s tales were much darker and more sinister than our versions today, but even their stories were lighter than many of the original tales that had been passed down before them.

Snow White: A German scholar named Eckhard Sander published in 1994 his theory that the Grimm’s tale of Snow White was based on the real-life story of a countess named Margarete von Waldeck, who lived in the early 16th century. Raised in a mining town run by her brother, Margarete would have been surrounded by children who worked in the mines — and who became stunted because of their hard work and malnutrition. People in the town at that time referred to the miners as “dwarves,” which, along with a real criminal who at that time was suspected of handing out poison apples to children, backs up Sander’s theory. And when Margarete was 16, she was sent away to Brussels, where she fell in love with the future Philip II of Spain, much to the fury of her stepmother. Sander and his fellow scholars believe her stepmother and Philip’s father hatched a plot to poison her.

Alice in Wonderland: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written by Charles Dodgson, who wrote under the name Lewis Carroll. Though it hasn’t been proven exactly, many scholars believe that Dodgson came up with the story after spending time with a friend’s three young daughters, Lorina, Edith and Alice Liddell. Supposedly Dodgson told the girls a story to keep them entertained, and afterward, Alice asked him to write it down for her. Once he started writing, Dodgson realized the story had potential and completed an entire manuscript called Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, and which he had published after giving the original to little Alice Liddell. Other scholars believe Alice’s father and other real-life people could be inspirations for the story’s main characters, including the White Rabbit.

The Frog Prince: Today’s version of “The Frog Prince” may make young children squirm when they hear about the princess puckering up for a kiss with a frog, but the real version is much bleaker. The story, included in the Grimm brothers’ first collection of fairy tales, instead tells of a princess who hurls the frog against a wall, a traditional act from old folk tales to inspire shapeshifting.

Cinderella: The Brothers Grimm published their version of Cinderella in 1884, and as upsetting as the poor girl’s slavery is even today, their version is much bloodier. During the party scene, Cinderella wishes to leave after dancing with the Prince, but the Prince won’t have it. He “had caused the whole staircase to be smeared with pitch, and there, when she ran down, had the maiden’s left slipper remained sticking.” The next day, the magician/prince goes to look for the slipper’s owner, and after Cinderella’s stepsister’s feet are proven too big, their mother — Cinderella’s wicked stepmother — forces her to slice off her heel with a knife. She does, and “forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the King’s son. He took her on his horse as his bride, and rode away with her,” until little pigeons adorably cooed that blood was filling up the shoe, staining the stepsister’s white stocking. After this graphic scene, the prince goes back and finds Cinderella.

Little Red Riding Hood: Called Little Red Cap by the Brothers Grimm and Little Red Hat in an Italian and Austrian fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood got the name we know her by today from the folk tale writer Charles Perrault. In his story, once Little Red Riding Hood figures out the wolf is hiding in her grandmother’s bed, the “wicked wolf fell upon Little Red Riding Hood, and ate her all up.” Not much of a Disney ending, there.

Sleeping Beauty: One of the more shocking histories behind fairy tales is Sleeping Beauty’s. The Charles Perrault-penned story — published in 1697 — involves a king’s daughter named Talia, who (despite a warning from wise men) pricks her finger with a poison splinter and dies. Her father left her body in the palace and moved away, but a prince found Talia one day, had sex with her dead body, and impregnated her. Somehow, Talia was able to develop the fetuses and give birth to twins, who were then cared for by fairies. And one magical day, her son sucked her poison-pricked finger, and she came back to life. Of course the prince — who was actually married to someone else — returned, but his wife learned of his affair, and ordered Talia’s twins captured and cooked for supper. The cook couldn’t bear to kill the children, and when the wife found out, she tried to burn Talia at the stake. The prince saved her in the end.

Hansel and Gretel: There are many different versions of Hansel and Gretel (originally called Little Brother and Little Sister,) but one of the most surprising real-life histories behind the tale is the reason the siblings’ parents abandoned them in the first place. Now, the story blames an evil stepmother for banishing the children to the woods, as audiences today can’t imagine a birth mother abandoning her children. But during the time when the original folk tale was created, parents apparently used to abandon their kids semi-frequently, most likely in the story’s case because of famine.