This year’s (2013) National Book Start week chose Fairy Tales as their theme.
At the beginning of Book Start week (24th June), the Book Trust released the results of a study done on how, why and if parents and children share fairy stories together.
You can find the article by clicking on the link, here.
It found that there is a definite gender divide when it comes to choosing which stories to read to children, and what both adults and children’s favourites are. Girls and women voted for stories like Cinderella as their favourites and the ones they would choose to read/have read to them. Boys preferred stories like Red Riding Hood, Three Billy Goats Gruff etc, and were more likely to pick ‘villains’ like the wolf as their favourite characters, while girls tended to stick with girls as their favourite characters.
I do not find these results surprising, frankly. Having children of both sexes, and having brought them up the same way, I have found that gender preferences are pretty ingrained much of the time, no matter how many Barbies you give a boy, and how many train sets you give a girl.
Nor was it surprising how few parents chose to read fairy stories with their children. The survey showed that 3 in 10 parents did not read fairy stories with their children. Reasons given ranged from; the child is too old for them, the child is too young for them; the child is not interested in them.
We have found, in the school where I work, that many children are entering Early Years without a general grounding in traditional tales and rhymes, that we once took for granted. Some of this may be down to the fact that we now live in a much more multi cultural society than ever, and our shared understanding and bank of traditional stories is no longer the same, and is much more diverse. It may also, sadly, be down to the fact that fewer parents choose to share stories at home with their children than ever, regardless of where they come from.
As a result, one of the topics that we have introduced in the last two years in Key Stage One learning is fairy stories. It can be varied in overall theme, from last term’s ‘Into the Woods’ to a topic in a previous term on the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, but the focus is the same, to introduce children to a number of core fairy stories that make up the basis of a great deal of children’s literature.
Without these foundation stories, much else can be missed or unappreciated as a child moves through the stages of literacy in school. Fairy stories, although they may seem naive and old fashioned, do teach the bones of how literature functions. They teach things like the quest narrative, for example, which is a cornerstone of literature. These foundations are easily taught and appreciated when a child is young, and they soak up knowledge unconsciously. They become less easy to teach and appreciate as a child gets older.
Fairy stories are also an important part our learning in other ways, teaching us about choice, morality, good and evil. They also allow us to share a heritage of story telling that goes back literally thousands of years.
It is important that we don’t lose the skills and ideas that these stories can help us explore and understand. It is also important that we don’t lose the stories themselves.
New technology, like interactive apps which allow children to participate in the experience of telling and being in a fairy story, such as the ones developed by Nosy Crow, independent children’s publisher, can help us bring fairy stories to life for a new generation, as can schools and parents making the time and effort to reintroduce fairy stories to children either in school or during story time at home.
You can find the article about Nosy Crow’s interactive apps, and the study that researcher, Sheila Frye has done on how they can bring fairy stories to life, by clicking on the link here.
It doesn’t matter how you choose to share fairy stories. It just matters that you do.