The Importance of Fairy Tales


Waldorf education considers fairy tales the foundation for children under the age of 7.  Typically these tales are told orally, not read.  So, this leads to several questions:  Why should we consider oral storytelling in our homes?  Shouldn’t we be reading books so our children can see the importance of books and want to read?  Why should we use fairy tales?  What about the violence in fairy tales?

Some of these quotes may get you thinking about this subject:

“The human soul has an inextinguishable need to have the substance of fairy tales flow through its veins, just as the body needs to have nourishing substances circulate through it.” -Rudolf Steiner

“We can interpret the fairy tales-to return to these-as answers to the ultimate questions about our outer and inner needs.” -An Overview of the Waldorf Kindergarten, page 48.


“Children who are ready for fairy tales instinctively know that these stories are not literally true on the physical plane, but are true pictures of inner events and circumstances, of inner challenges and forces which must be faced and overcome. Thus, they sense that beauty and ugliness refer to inner qualities, not external appearance.” -In A Nutshell: Dialogues with Parents At Acorn Hill, Nancy Foster, page 47.

“In regard to the issue of violence and evil, it is a reality that children, and all of us, do encounter challenges and bad or frightening experiences in life. The fairy tales, in which such experiences are redeemed in various ways according to the particular story, help to give children the trust that challenges can be overcome and that we are not powerless.” -In A Nutshell: Dialogues With Parents At Acorn Hill, Nancy Foster, page 48.

“That is the strength of fairy tales. They are filled with promise. The weak can be strong; evil can be turned to good; the ugly can become beautiful; Cinderella can become a princess, the frog a prince. Every human being can rise to his true stature. Even the smallest child can realize this and rejoice at future victories.” –An Overview of the Waldorf Kindergarten, page 54.

So, in short, we tell stories orally because once we, the parent,  pick a story and are with the story for three days before we tell it, we put ourselves into it when we tell it to our children. That warmth from us is there, and there is no book that can create that.   The children then create the pictures of these archtypal images in their heads.  They realize truth and beauty and goodness come from people and life, not just in books.  This sets the stage for the parent being an Authority in life, a Keeper of Knowledge, not just that knowledge comes from books.  The oral storytelling provides a rich context for language and rhyme that is important in later reading. 

The images within the fairy tale tell the story of all people, of all generations and of all times.  It fulfills essential qualities within the child’s soul.  Fairy tales are also a vital part of the moral education of a child.  For more interesting insights into fairy tales and the role they fulfill for all of us, please do read Bruno Bettelhem’s “The Uses of Enchantment:  The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.”

I love what Mr. Bettelham says on page 45 of his book: “Myths and fairy tales both answer the eternal questions:  What is the world really like?  How am I to live my life in it?  How can I truly be myself?  The answers given by myths are definite, while the fairy tale is suggestive.”  He goes on to say on page 47,” The child asks himself: “Who am I?  Where did I come from?  How did the world come into being?  Who created man and all the animals? What is the purpose of life?  True, he ponders these vital questions not in the abstract, but mainly as they pertain to him.  He worries not whether there is justice for individual man, but whether he will be treated justly.  He  wonders who or what projects him into adversity, and what can prevent this from happening to him.  Are there benevolent powers in addition to his parents?  Are his parents benevolent powers?  How should he form himself, and why?  ….Fairy tales provide answers to these pressing questions, many of which the child becomes aware of only as he follows these stories.”

Mr. Bettelhem also says in his book, “From an adult point of view and in terms of modern science, the answers which fairy tales offer are fantastic rather than true.  As a matter of fact, these solutions seem so incorrect to many adults – who have become estranged from the ways in which young people experience the world – that they object to  exposing children to such “false” information.  However, realistic explanations are usually incomprehensible to children, because they lack the abstract understanding required to make sense of them.  While giving a scientifically correct answer makes adults think they have clarified things for the child, such explanations leave the young child confused, overpowered and intellectually defeated.”

I hope I have at least put a brief thought in your head to consider telling your four, five, six and seven year olds some fairy tales!  If you would like to do this, please read on for some suggestions to assist you!

Some Points to Consider In Preparing Tales to Tell:

-It is important for the storyteller to be familiar with the story, and to enjoy it.

-It is important for the storyteller to tell it in a matter-of-fact, non-dramatized way so the child may digest it without the adult feelings and intellectualization added in.

-If you do not like a certain fairy tale or it makes you uncomfortable, then it will not be good for your child – work with the fairy tales that resonate with you!

-Choose authentic versions of the fairy tale – the most authentic versions of the Grimm’s fairy tales can be found in the Pantheon edition edited by Padraic Colum. The stories by Hans Christian Anderson, Oscar Wilde (single authors, not handed down stories) are more suitable for older children than the under 7 bunch. Folktales and fables are covered in Second Grade, so save those until then.

-Pick very simple and repetitive stories for children under 5. As your child heads toward 6, pick stories where there are more complex plots and the hero needs to overcome more.

How to Prepare:

-Read the same story to yourself for three nights in a row.  Marsha Johnson advocates this in her lesson planning notes (see Yahoo!Groups waldorfhomeeducators for her group).   (My note:  Yes, this is the three- day rhythm of the Waldorf grades as applied to adults. Waldorf uses sleep as an aid to learning!)

-Don’t be afraid to use props –props can really enliven the story. One of my favorite resources for this is to use puppetry.  Please do see Suzanne Down’s wonderful website Juniper Tree Puppets.  She has a seasonal newsletter you can sign up for that often has a story and a suggestion for a puppetry activity to go with the story.  My favorite book on this subject is “Making Magical  Fairy-Tale Puppets” by Christel Dhom, Rudolf Steiner College Press.

-Get into the rhythmic qualities of a fairy tale if it has those qualities – think of The Pancake or The Turnip.  Very rhythmical and repetitive and comforting to young ones!

Fairy Tales – Which Ones to Choose for Oral Storytelling?  These are just some suggestions.  These are tales I have seen  recommended for this age group in multiple Waldorf sources or ones we have personally done at that age.

Three and Four Year Olds –

Sweet Porridge (Grimm 103)

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Little Louse and Little Flea (Spindrift, Let Us Form A Ring)

The Giant Turnip (Russian)

The Mitten (Russian)

The Gingerbread Man

The Bun (cannot remember where The Bun originated for sure, I believe Russia)

The Johnny Cake (English)

The Hungry Cat (Plays for Puppets)

The Old Woman and Her Pig (English)

The Cat and the Mouse (English)

Little Red Hen

The City Mouse and The Country Mouse

Any fairy tale that has repetitive elements and a very simple story line would do!

Four and Five Year Olds:

The Three Billy Goats Gruff

The Three Little Pigs

The Pancake Mill (Let Us Form A Ring)

Mashenka and the Bear (Russian, Spindrift)

The Elves (Grimm 39)

Star Money (Grimm 153)  – I would say more for 5 year olds or even a six year old than a four year old, but that is just my own opinion.

Five and Six Year Olds:

The Frog Prince (Grimm 1)

Mother Holle (Grimm 24)

Little Red Cap (Grimm 25)

The Bremen Town Musicians (Grimm 27)

The Spindle, Shuttle and the Needle (Grimm 188)

The Hut in the Forest (Grimm 169)

The Queen Bee (Grimm 62)

The Seven Ravens (Grimm 25) – I didn’t tell this one until first grade

Snow White and Rose Red (Grimm 161) – we also used this one in first grade, but would be fine for a six year old in second year of Kindy.

The Princess in the Flaming Castle (Let Us Form A Ring)

Twiggy (Let Us Form A Ring)

The Donkey (Grimm 144)

Lazy Jack (English)

Tom-Tit-Tot (English)

Puss in Boots, sometimes also called The Master Cat

Necessary Resources:

The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales – I like the Pantheon version. Look for Hunt and Stern as the editors.

Wynstones, Sprindrift books

Let Us Form A Ring

Plays for Puppets

The Pancake and Other Tales – available from Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore

Autumn Tales and Spring Tales by Suzanne Down has many suitable tales you can pre-read

Hope that helps someone, just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

13 thoughts on “The Importance of Fairy Tales

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  5. Hello ~ we have just found your site and are very thankful for all your wonderful offerings!

    Within the Waldorf theory ~ what fairy tales / stories / activities do you suggest for 1 to 2 year old children ? Do you have pages within this site that are for this special age group?

    Do you know of any printed articles or books that are specifically geared for this early age group – –
    (please no 3-6 year olds referrals), w/ activities, stories etc. for 1-2 year olds

    Thank you for your time in answering my requests!

    Always maintain only a joyful mind, (Pema Chodrun)

    Emily, Trevor & Vanessa

  6. Do you know of any current authors of fairy tales? And do you think that story telling is a dying art?

    • Darrell, look for Christine Natale’s work. Storytelling is alive and well in Waldorf Education and at least where I live in the deep southern United States there are still storytellers about. You might enjoy the work of Nancy Mellon as well, and Susan Perrow.

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  8. Pingback: Waldorf In The Home With The Five-Year-Old | Applesong

  9. Hello! My daughter turned 5 yesterday and I am realizing she has been missing out of the benefits of oral storytelling. I am inspired to start this at home and “make up for lost time” and set a foundation going forward. All of this resonates very deeply with me. I am struggling with memorizing stories. I have been trying to tell the story in the monthly newsletter from Juniper Tree Puppetry and find if a huge challenge to get done. What am I missing? How do I practically accomplish this goal. I am not a teacher… but a tired mom 🙂

    • Andrea,
      I often find reading the story every night before bed for at least three nights plus props really helps.
      Props can often make the difference for me…another tired mom!
      Blessings, glad you are here,

    • Andrea
      The other thing to consider is making up your own story with elements from your own day and the little animals in your area. Sometimes those are simplest to remember.

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