The Hilliard Institute

The Hilliard Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation offering sensory education programing, experiential learning, and academic research and publishing while also supporting philanthropic initiatives through fundraising and educational training and activities—all under the umbrella of the concept of Educational Wellness

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Fairy Tales for Teaching and Learning

By Professor Jessa R. Sexton

An educator and author of ten years, I’ve spent the last year studying fairy tales as I worked on Stories of Enchantment: Twelve Sonnet Fairy Tales and Little Stories of Enchantment: Twelve Sonnet Fairy Tales for Children. Some believe this genre’s purpose is to teach lessons to children. In some cases, this theory makes perfect sense. What better way to explain the proper and improper decisions a child should make than to show wildly exaggerated examples? Obedience, humility and hard work, and goodness are three of the many qualities fairy tales promote through storytelling. 

1) One life lesson is to obey your parents. The story of “Red Riding Hood” is told in different fashions by various authors around the globe, but the general obedience message remains. When Red disobeys her mother, she is punished: usually being eaten by a wolf. In some instances she dies; in others she lives to repeat the moral to the reader. Children may or may not walk away from this tale with a fear of the woods and wolves, but they hopefully will see that respect must be given to authority.

2) In another example, Cinderella teaches us that humility and hard work will bring a great reward.  After her father marries a terrible stepmother, Cinderella is forced to work like a poorly-treated maid instead of the equal she is in her own household, but she doesn’t complain. In the end, she, and not the bossy stepsisters, steals the heart of the prince and is rescued from her horrible living situation: brought from actual rags to riches.

3) In a possibly confusing example, Snow-White shows children that goodness triumphs over evil. Though Snow-White doesn’t make the best decisions for her own safety—I mean, she trusts a strange women three times though harmed in each instance—she is portrayed as a symbol of goodness. The wicked queen, no matter how cunning, cannot conquer her virtuous foe. The queen is filled with a pride and murderous envy that leads her to her own destruction. 

In all of these stories, children are taught through the art of the written word. Children are drawn to storytelling: they live to hear and eventually create stories. Therefore, a story becomes a powerful instructional tool that should be used to help them think, grow, and learn to teach others.

When properly executed, fairy tale lessons become cloaked within the mystical and the magical. Children travel into faraway places and return from that journey with a better reverence for both reality and fantasy. When wisdom and whimsy marry in this manner, they live happily ever after.

A portion of this article is presented in Global Competency by Anastasia Morozova with Dr. Mark Hilliard. This book will be released this May 2016.