I’m a nice person most of the time and most of the children I teach are decent people. Our classroom is usually a haven of rest for the little people who occupy it but it can be a scary world outside the walls of our classroom. Wolves abound. How can I prepare my little fledglings to leave the safety of my wings and soar like eagles far above the wolves that roam the earth? How can I teach them to walk tall and confidently but at the same time to be watchful for the dangers that may lurk around the next corner? How can I prepare them to be neither predator nor prey? With enough encouragement, exhortation and coercion will they grow to be responsible and safe citizens in our society?
Little Ashley gave me food for thought one day. “You know what?” she asked the class. “My daddy is kind of like the first little pig who built his house out of straw because Daddy drives everywhere instead of walking. He wants to get there fast and he doesn’t think about the bad things that could happen, like the air getting dirty. That’s like the first little pig. It just wanted to build its house fast and it didn’t think about the bad things that could happen later on, like getting eaten by a wolf.” Wow! This nugget of wisdom was presented by a moppet who wasn’t as old as the sweater I was wearing at the time. From there a huge discussion erupted about the importance of being responsible and working hard and the necessity of caring for the environment even when it is inconvenient.
The lights came on for me that day. I suddenly realized what my grandparents and great-grandparents knew all along. Fairy tales are an irreplaceable medium for character education. Fairy tales are a key that unlocks the child’s imagination allowing him or her to ruminate on how to live with dignity. Who can better teach a child that with freedom comes responsibility than the three little pigs or Goldilocks? The ugly duckling awakens ones empathy for others and teaches one to hope rather than despair. Little Red Riding Hood teaches us that one needs to have a healthy skepticism. Even dear old grandmothers can be deceiving.
Children have proven over and over again that they are capable of constructing their own learning through active and reflective thought. Take a fairy tale, plant it in their brains, ask a few “I wonder...” questions and wait. One fine day your seed will germinate, take roots and sprout. Your children will have a nugget of wisdom that they can carry with them for the rest of their days.