Fairytales, Folktales and Fables, Oh, My!

There are a few phrases that can transport us to another place in time, a simpler time. “Once upon a time…” is one of those. We remember when snuggling up for a bedtime story made everything feel safe, cozy, and, oh, so sleepy. As grown-ups, we long for these feelings. What if I said you could have that again? It’s one of the perks of parenting! Snuggling up with our little ones gives us permission to relive that bliss, if only for a little while. Need another excuse? I have great news for you! Reading fairytales, folktales and fables provides invaluable educational experiences, too!

Since the dawn of time, children have begged their parents for “one more story.” And it’s not just a way to keep from falling asleep, either. While children are engaged in the magic of storytelling, they are also learning how to make sense of their world. Before Bloom’s Taxonomy, before we realized their impact on our child’s cognitive reasoning, countless generations have used stories as a teaching tool. Through fairytales, folktales, and fables, children experience important life lessons, from adversity to triumph. They identify with the protagonist and experience their triumph as their own. Storytelling is also a highly effective way to preserve culture, family history, and ways of life.

So, what’s the difference?

FAIRY TALES are usually short stories. The main characters may be human (often young people) who are influenced by fantastical creatures (fairies, gnomes, giants, etc.). There is often magic involved. The main character is a virtuous person who overcomes hardships by staying true to his/her virtue. The morals of the stories are virtue-based. Some examples include Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty.

FOLKTALES are stories that revolve around heroes, adventure, magic or romance. The protagonist is depicted as a hardworking, everyday person who faces a test (of character). Through problem-solving and making good choices, he or she is capable of amazing, seemingly impossible feats. The moral lessons vary, but one underlying theme is that good triumphs over evil. Although they are rooted in a specific culture, they all share common elements; three characters, three events, and three tests the main character must overcome. Settings are vague (“Once upon a time,” “In a land far away”), which promotes imaginative thinking, and magic is used to explain the unexplainable. Some examples include Ali Baba, Johnny Appleseed, Jack & the Beanstalk.

FABLES are very short stories that teach one specific truth (honesty, patience, perseverance, humility, etc.). Every culture has these, and they are often passed from one generation to another. The main characters are plants or animals given human qualities (although humans may appear, they’re not main characters). The events are unusual, but easy to relate to everyday dilemmas. These are specifically a moral tale. Some examples include Aesop’s fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

Are you still on the fence? Wondering why we should make time for something that feels so frivolous? Well, that is precisely why! Educators have always known that children learn best when they are having fun. Unfortunately, we do not always have the opportunity to create these moments in the classroom. Therefore, it is critical that we parents DO try this at home. Storytime provides a safe space where they learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills they can later apply in their own lives.

Fairytales, folktales, and fables entice children to deduce for themselves the benefits of making good choices and being virtuous. Honestly, there has never been a more enjoyable way to impart your parental wisdom than this, and without one single lecture or “I told you so!” So, give in and snuggle up with a good story—it’s good for us all!