Summary: While some deem traditional fairy tales to be outdated or sexist, researchers say fairy stories play an important role in teaching young children about social justice, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking skills.
Source: University of South Australia
From Little Red Riding Hood to the Ugly Duckling, fairy tales have long been read to children across the ages. Yet despite criticisms of being outdated and sexist, new research shows that fairy tales still hold an important place in primary education.
In a new review from the University of South Australia, researchers found that fairy tales are a valid resource for teaching primary students about social justice and emotional intelligence.
Experienced teacher and UniSA Education Doctoral candidate, Glenn Saxby, says that when fairy tales are presented in a critical and inclusive manner, they can help explain complex issues to children.
“Once upon a time, fairy tales were the main way to teach children about the world and their place within it, but over time – and especially post early ‘Disneyfication’ – people have become more critical about them,” Saxby says.
“While there’s no denying that some fairy tales present unrealistic expectations or stereotypes, when fairy tales are used in a critical and inclusive manner, they can be an effective teaching resource in the contemporary classroom.
“Fairy tales offer many positive opportunities for children to learn about empathy, kindness, ethics, and cooperation. But also, when fairy tales portray outdated or gender-ignorant representations, teachers can use these instances to confront and discuss ideas with their students.”
The review outlines many benefits of fairy tales for modern learning – from understanding the structure of a compelling tale, to teaching literacy or even STEM, and understanding gender stereotypes. Image is in the public domain
The review outlines many benefits of fairy tales for modern learning – from understanding the structure of a compelling tale, to teaching literacy or even STEM, and understanding gender stereotypes. For example, questions such as ‘Could have Rapunzel built a zip line using her hair to escape her tower prison?” can frame discussions.
Saxby says while teachers should be encouraged to feel confident about using fairy tales in the classroom, they should do so with a creative and critical lens.
“Active discussion about the historical and sociocultural contexts of fairy tales can provide many teaching opportunities in the classroom, but there is still scope for teachers to extend beyond traditional boundaries,” Saxby says.
“Multicultural fairy tales have enormous potential to increase cultural equity and understanding among primary children, so finding fairy tales from different cultural backgrounds would be an excellent resource for teachers.
“We need to look beyond the ‘traditional tale’, and through teachers, we can start a new chapter.”
Searching for a happily ever after: using fairy tales in primary classrooms to explore gender, subjectivity and the life-worlds of young people
Fairy tales are ubiquitous in Australian primary schools. Drawing on a review of key literature, this paper aims to determine the implications of teaching fairy tales in the twenty-first-century primary classroom.
Research points to the benefits of including fairy tales as a tool to improve all subject areas of the curriculum. Fairy tales present opportunities to positively engage students through the teaching of social justice and the development of emotional intelligence.
The review of literature found that teachers need to be cautious and critical when teaching traditional fairy tales which often perpetrate an outdated, gender-ignorant representation of society, and allow students an opportunity to confront these ideas.
The book form of Disney fairy tales can be problematic, particularly the earlier versions, which are criticised for being domesticated, sentimental and overly simplistic.
The review has also found that multicultural fairy tales have enormous potential to increase cultural equity in the contemporary classroom, but unfortunately, they do not appear to be easily accessible in Australia.
The fairy tale is constantly being reinvented and reimagined to fit into modern society, which has led to the emergence of the fractured fairy tale genre, where a traditional fairy tale is subverted.
This review found that when used in a critical and inclusive manner, fairy tales have the potential to be an effective resource to teach primary school students in the contemporary classroom.