Jessie Wilcox Smith
A friend of mine is an elementary school teacher, and she mentioned that when she taught second grade, they did a unit on fairy tales. Naturally my curiosity was piqued and I asked her more about how and what they taught. It seems the primary source of knowledge children have about fairy tales these days is Disney movies. Children may be exposed through books they have at home, and what they learn at school, but that's up to each parent and school district.
So a school curriculum that includes education on fairy tales can be a vital way of exposing children to fairy tales, but I wonder what kids are actually being taught. Which versions are teachers using? Which tales do they choose? And what are kids being told to take away from the lessons? Many versions are very didactic already and I would hope lessons on Little Red Riding Hood went beyond "and that's why it's important to listen to your parents, kids, otherwise something horrible might happen to you like it happened in the story!"
I did a simple google search to look into some of the fairy tale lesson plans that were out there. The good news is there's plenty of materials for anyone hoping to teach on fairy tales. I was pleasantly surprised to see some lists of resources recommending lesser known fairy tales, as well as alternate versions of tales. In addition to basic comprehension/reading skills, teachers can use fairy tales to help their kids notice patterns and then make predictions about what might happen in an unknown tale; they expose their students to fractured fairy tales, and they can compare and contrast different versions of tales, such as this chart from abcteach.com comparing Cinderella to Yeh Shen:
Some lesson plans I came across that I didn't like as much. They tended to reinforce stereotypical/not even accurate ideas of fairy tales. These are from Pinterest:
Fairy tales were not actually originally written for children...They were mainly told for other adults, often to pass the time as they worked in the fields and homes.
But, does an elementary teacher have to be an absolute expert in everything they teach? It's good that kids are being exposed to different kinds of fairy tales at all, right? And although some ideas about fairy tales may not always be true, like the happy endings, in general that is the case.
I'm curious to hear from you-do you remember being taught fairy tales in school? How were you taught? And any other teachers out there? Have you taught on the topic, and what resources and teaching tools did you use? As a music teacher I love teaching Prokofiev's "Cinderella" to kindergarteners or first graders and talking about how he uses an orchestra to make the sound of the clock striking midnight. I have them count each bell toll to see if it's too late for Cinderella to be at the ball, and they get really excited as they get close to twelve! I've also used ballet scores to Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and Nutcracker either in Russian music units, or to weave in the storytelling.