Fairy Tales, Books and Storytelling With The Little Ones

Some wonderful mamas have asked about storytelling with the little ones- how many stories, what kinds of stories  to bring in when, how often, so I thought I would quickly address this and then I have a writing deadline for something else to get to!

We look at building an oral basis of language first and primarily (this later extends into the grades because we first write what we know orally, and then we learn to read off of what we write.  The lectures in “Practical Advice to Teachers” by Rudolf Steiner elucidate this very well).

For one to three year olds, I would suggest mainly nursery rhymes, singing, singing, singing, little rhymes or short verses,blessing before meals, verses regarding animals and plants you might see on your nature walks.  For a three year old, some folks would start to add fairy tales, but I feel a little  bit differently about those tales for the three-year-old.  I often feel the “list” of fairy tales was designed for a mixed age Waldorf Kindergarten, and if your oldest is three, they are not going to have those older ages to really carry those tales.  So, you have to know your child well.  Sometimes introducing children to these fairy tales goes better in a song format, called a story circle, by many Waldorf Kindergarten teachers.  I tend to say for three year olds at home with no older siblings, how about using Juniper Tree’s “Around the World With Finger Puppet Animals” by Suzanne Down?  Also, simple stories you make up…  Then, at four, you could move into Suzanne Down’s nature stories, other nature tales, and other fairy tales and more complex stories you make up.

The fairy tales, whilst the hallmark of the Early Years and first grade, don’t have to go away completely!  We can always circle back around.  There is a book called “The Pancake” made up of repetitive fairy tales and such  that could be an effective reader for first or second grade.  Mrs. Marsha Johnson has a free “Russian Fairy Tales” block on her Yahoo!Group  that involves creating readers and such for second grade – this expands vocabulary quickly!  It also takes something the children know through the oral tradition, we write it, then we make readers and read it!  In Third Grade, that whole series collected by Andrew Lang (The Pink Fairy Tale Book, The Blue Fairy Book) could be readers or read-alouds.  There are collections of fairy tales and folk tales from all over the world.  This then later moves into mythology and finally into other great works of literature. 

The other place I differ is that all the stories have to be memorized.  This makes no sense for those of us who have small children, as the memory is part of the etheric body and that is being depleted when we have small children  as we share our life forces with them as they are still connected to us.  Donna Simmons always talks about using two beautiful watercolor paintings and making a beautiful, special book that the tales are written down in.  I have seen that work.  You can also try a bag of props to help you remember the story.

Yes, the stories in a Waldorf Kindergarten are usually brought for anywhere from two weeks to a whole month, the same story.  If you see the story coming out in their play, or they can chime in on the story and the story’s repetitive phrases, then you know it is sinking into them and doing good work!  Puppets, drama, music, props, all enliven the experience. 

As far as books, we know the first seven years are truly for the development and protection of the lower four of the twelve senses.  This is for interaction with people, and yes, reading to a child is interaction, but we would like to see even more in the way of singing and storytelling than books. 

For example, for children from birth to three, they don’t necessarily need books at this point.  A bedtime routine could be singing or storytelling and oral traditions.  I think many of us with multiple children admit to reading far more books to our first child as a baby than our subsequent children; we didn’t always know or have at our disposal the wonderful songs, nursery rhymes, etc that we build up over time.  There are some lovely books for babies, but is this an indispensible part of building literacy?  I don’t think it is; I actually think oral recitation,  singing and rhymes are.  Children who lack fluency in reading, children who have dysarthria (speech expression), etc actually  often need to go back to recitation of oral material in a rhythmic manner.

What babies need is human contact, being carried, being in a sling, being talked to and sung to and rhymes and learning to enjoy and play in silence as well, and to listen and hear the sounds of nature!  If you are going to read something, how about beautiful poems or things out of the Bible or the Koran or whatever fits your religious traditions?

For ages three to five, ideally, the books are kept up on a shelf and brought done with reverent care when it is reading time.   Perhaps you  have a  set reading time before quiet time and then  again at bedtime.  Rhyming, repeating books are wonderful for this age, such as the story of  Chicken Licken or Henny Penny or The Gingerbread Man. The other kind of book  is ones of  simple stories of every day life where not much happens. Books such as Ezra Jack Keats’ “The Snowy Day” and other by him.   You want the same books to be around for one whole season if possible, and then change them out with some new ones.  And yes, that means you read the same books over and over and over, but that is really what small children need to develop vocabulary and a sense of sequencing in the story line.

For ages five to seven, we can now add some weightier stories and books.  More complex fairy tales, more formal story times where we sit and light a candle and listen to this story.  This is where you look at that list of fairy tales by age and read them and see which story speaks to YOU and then you tell that.  If it doesn’t speak to you, pick a different one!  Here is the list:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/20/the-importance-of-fairy-tales/

Chapter books most likely are something that should wait, I think, until at least age six and more ideally, probably grade one and being seven years old.  Don’t rush this, there really is time.  Here are some back posts with books for the under-7 crowd:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/20/more-books-for-children-under-7/   

One thing that always baffles people about Waldorf is starting things a bit later. ( I actually don’t consider it later, I consider starting it at the normal, appropriate time) This is what  EVERY country almost around the world does except us and England at this point. Yes, the children go to school early, around age 3 or 4, but no academics are taught until the first grade.  There is no rush, and those children beat our children on every kind of standardized test and our educational system is particularly failing boys who often have trouble sitting still during those first seven years.  There are NO studies that back up introducing “academics” at an early age, and in fact, children are play-based programs for the first six years excel ahead of children introduced to academics early!    But I digress here, back to the main subject at hand….

Someone asked what I personally do with my under-7s.    My oldest, as I have repeatedly written about on this blog, pretty much taught herself to read around age  five and a half.  I have some posts on  here about doing Waldorf First Grade with an early reader.  The thing no one tells you about early readers, is that there are few things for them to read that are worthy!  The things they can read have themes that are way too mature, and the rest are series that are short and not beautiful – sorry,  Captain Underpants does not count to me.  🙂  So, her books were limited and that was a source of complaint, but I am glad we stuck to it.  Before the nine-year change, you really want more of the archetypal, life is beautiful and good and safe and orderly kind of books.   My second five-year-old is not yet reading, but likes to be read to and loves stories and can sing, sing, sing. She is picking out letters and letter sounds, and that is okay (and it would be okay if she were not).    My third little guy is just a wee baby, so he is enjoying songs and hearing passages of the Bible hear and there..:)

As far as storytelling within the Waldorf homeschool, I did stick to the same story for usually a month, unless there was a special story I really wanted to bring around for a festival.  I know many of the Waldorf schools stick to one story every two to four weeks, but bring in a separate  story for baking and/or gardening or nature walk day.  That may very well be way too much for a mother tending to multiple small children at home, so I think you must do what resonates with you.

Hope some of that helps; take what resonates with you.

Many blessings,


24 thoughts on “Fairy Tales, Books and Storytelling With The Little Ones

  1. tough one for us…we are a book house to be sure. My husband and I both have MA in English Literature and teach college along with our full time jobs.

    my MIL is a graphic artist and painter who loves childrens’ books.

    We have many…and Emerson has grown up looking at them while we read.

    I recently started story telling, and I’m suprised to say, it is goign really well. by well, I mean that I’m remember details and she is interested. My nanny is excellent at it.

    also, we sing constantly. My mother got emerson a subscription to baby bug. for the past 2 years, I’ve been making up melodies to the little rhymes and stories…even though the picture book itself is not ideal in the strict waldorf sense…it’s sort of the road we’ve gone down.

    Emerson has never seen TV (we moved our down to our finished basement), so I feel the picture books are for me too LOL

  2. What a great reminder to us about the importance of repeating the same story and spending quality time with each one, especially with younger children. I have been enjoying sharing fairy tales to the kids this year using my own words instead of reading from a book. Quite a challenge, but it’s getting easier! Thank you for such a wonderful post.

  3. Thank you for the input on how to help early readers- my 4 1/2 year old has taught herself how to read, and I’m a little unsure how to proceed but am letting her lead the way. Thus far she’s vastly content to read the beautiful picture books we’ve always enjoyed together, but I know she’ll want more soon enough.

    • Myrnie, I will write another post on this soon, there are quite a few back posts on this. Remember, even the first and second grade level the children in MOST educational models are expected to be reading Froad and Toad and the like, so if your child is WAY ahead it is hard to find things for them to read that don’t get into mature themes. That was where we were, way ahead of all of that…way, way ahead. I would suggest that until your daughter is seven, really think about other areas in which she needs development. Can she ride a bike with training wheels? A bike without training wheels? Can she swim independently? Do the monkey bars? Can she cook and bake and garden adn sing?
      How about ordering things? Things that contribute to numeral literacy…I would say moving ahead on math is actually better than moving ahead in reading!
      A few thoughts, Blessings,

  4. Thanks so much for this, Carrie. I’m also in the midst of reading Simplicity Parenting, so this is all really resonating for me. I’ve already cleared out about 95% of the kids’ books and put them away, with the intention of just cycling them out once a month or so. I like the idea even better of putting them in a high place and only bringing them down for a special reading time. I did the same with the baby’s room… only left about 6 books in there. Which is rather silly, now that I think about it. 1)We co-sleep, so he doesn’t actually ever go in that room. Only his clothes are stored in there. Even if he did, he’d never see the books. And 2)We don’t read to the baby. Ever. We read to our first, but not so much to our 2nd, and not at all to the 3rd. So now I’m really feeling confident that I can just go ahead and get rid of those books. It’s funny how much we’re encouraged to read to our babies. When we left the hospital with each baby, we were given a bag full of books and encouraged to start reading to them right away. Now I realize how silly that is. Why do I need a picture book full of objects to teach my baby what each object is, when they could simply experience those objects in real life? Okay, I’m off to put all of those baby books in the donation bag. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Waldorf In The Home With The Five-Year-Old « The Parenting Passageway

  6. Carrie-

    I’m coming back to this today, and realized I never subscribed to the replies, and never saw your thoughtful entry- thank you. You’ve exactly hit the nail on the head for our goals for this year- she is very orderly, but her gross motor skills and imaginative play have loads of room to grow. She’s just recently mastered her tricycle, we’ll be moving to a training wheel bike (or a balance bike) soon. She’s very interested in our garden, and we talk about that and poke around looking for flowers and fruits. (BUT, all that said, we’ve really enjoyed Cynthia Rylant’s books, especially the ones about Mr. Putter and Tabby. They’re both old, they’re both slow, they both like jazz, and they get into little scrapes together and are utterly charming.)

  7. help! my oldest daughter is a voracious reader at 7! she’s into chapter book series, and fast… unstoppable. i’m a bit worried that, though written for ‘younger kids,’ the book series she’s working through now does NOT stay within the realm of the ‘archetypal good,’ as you have recommended. can you, or anyone, please PLEASE recommend book series for the young advanced reader that still envelopes the child (reader) in the archetypal good? i’m desperate. thank you!

    • Hi JF – I have lists for first grade reading here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/11/great-read-alouds-for-waldorf-at-home-first-grade/
      Have you done the Tiptoes LIghtly series by Reg Down, the chapter are short though: http://www.waldorfbooks.com/family-reading/ages-3-and-up/stories-by-reg-down
      You can also browse the suggestions on the waldorfbooks website for the suggestions for age 7 and up.

      A Donsy of Gnomes is wonderful, but not a series: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2012/07/09/a-donsy-of-gnomes-7-gentle-gnome-stories/
      I like these fairy tale collections by Virginia Haviland as well: http://www.amazon.com/Favorite-Fairy-Tales-Told-Czechoslovakia/dp/068812593X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1347984816&sr=8-2&keywords=virginia+haviland

      One thing I would say gently though, is that this is a good time to look at the balance of your older daughter: is she getting out to play? Is she well coordinated? How does she do socially? What are other interests besides reading? In Waldorf Education, we are always looking at balance, at going deeper than rather than wider more more, it will not hurt her to re-read books, to put aside a book to knit or do a craft or ride her bike instead, and since honestly there are less appropriate books for her to read until she is nine or so(and I find this true for ALL children – public, private or homeschooled – having the voracious reader at an early age can be challenging to find appropriate material as you have written!) Sometimes blowing through so many books is not much different than wanting to watch TV all the time or whatever – it is wonderful to read, but at this early age she should be experiencing life, not just reading about it, you know? There needs to be a balance. ANd I say all this with love and with a gentle tone because my oldest daughter was a voracious early reader and was reading and writing in three languages by the time she was eight. Some children are just wired for language! But, they often need help setting limits on how they spend their time, help to develop interests and skills in other areas, if that makes sense.

      Just food for thought, take what resonates with you.

    • Carrie, you are an angel. Thank you for your thoughtful and warm reply. I agree in all you say, in fact! I have already contacted a local organic farm to see if we can help out with tending the sheep one weekend, and perhaps can go home with shorn wool. We’ll wash it, card it, and spin in. Then make our own knitting needles. Then knit a scarf to hang on to our church’s “mitten & scarf” Christmas tree, which will be given to the needy at yuletide. I’m taking a deep breath on this, as all these I’ve listed are new to me and I’ll be learning them alongside my daughters!

      My daughter is quite well-balanced: great coordination, climbing trees running monkey bars physical play, swimming, loving musical theatre songs, learning to play the guitar, etc… One more thing aside from handwork we can work on, though, is imaginative play. I have followed many of your posts (and other sites and authors they’ve led to), I will be getting into oral stories and story-telling-with-puppets (though at the amateur level!) to help guide her towards inner pictures and creative/imaginative play. I’m also taking your advice on being advanced in math preferable to advanced in reading at this stage.

      Thank you for your guidance and presence in this matter. But most of all, thank you for the wealth of wisdom and sharing it to all of us. Please continue your wonderful work, as you will touch many lives like you’ve touched mine.

      Warmest regards,

  8. Pingback: Pondering Portals: Part Two–Books | The Parenting Passageway

  9. This is immensely helpful, thank you for sharing this—the bit about memory using etheric forces and not expending them on memorizing stories is just what I needed to hear. I have a 4 yo and 1.5 yo. We do books before quiet and bed time, and I struggle with the right time and frequency to bring stories. These seem to be the times when the 4 yo is most receptive, so perhaps I might give a story before rest time on some days? How frequently and when in the day would you tell a story versus reading a book?

    Many thanks for your insights on this and always!

  10. I have a nearly-5-year-old who has long had an appetite for chapter books to be read to her, and we ran into the problem, too, of there being so little available where the content is appropriate. She was having a lot of reading time with Daddy (A.A. Milne, Paddignton Bear, Faraway Tree stories) during my 2nd pregnancy, and refused to have picture books, and was scaling the shelves to get at thing like my Chronicles of Narnia and pore over the pictures. She really seemed to be craving more involved stories, but although she was “ready” in terms of comprehension, she was certainly not emotionally ready at 3 for the kind of adventure stories she was asking for.

    What worked for us was switching to story telling, either made-up stories with more word-pictures than action, or very gentle or simplified fairy tales or saints stories. We do stories as a quiet time activity while I nurse the baby to sleep. Sometimes I use one picture that my daughter holds to look at, and it helps me remember the story.

    Now that she is older, she is beginning to be ready for more gentle adventure. We are really enjoying books by Muriel Newton-White. She wrote three chapter books about little people of the trees, which are lightly Christian in content, and 3 autobiographical novels about herself as a small child, living in a streetcar in a feild in northern Ontario. (I can’t paste the link!) There are aspects that are interesting to an adult reader, but the stories of Birdie and Brother’s little adventures and imaginative play really capture the happy, cozy world of a small child in a loving family, and while I think these will come into their own more around 7 years old, my nearly-5 can relate to much of it. Muriel was my godmother, a life-long naturalist and wonderfully gentle person.

    I’m looking forward to her being ready for some of George MacDonald’s short stories, like The Golden Key, The Wise Woman, The Light Princess. Has anyone else read these? I pilfered them off my mother’s bookcase as a child and was enchanted by them, but I can’t recall how old I was – over 10, I think.

    • MLE –
      Yes, storytelling, and most of all, real work and getting your child into her body outside playing, hiking, catching a ball, riding a bike, swimming…You can return and re-read these books when she is older. The George MacDonald stories I too would say for those ten and up.
      Many blessings,

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

  12. HI Carrie, trying to figure out what stories to tell when throughout the year for my soon to be three year old. Just would like to have your advice on festival stories – how does that fit into the story that I would of chosen for a month – do you tell it just on the festival day – is that ok for a three year old or just too much info for them to take in. Just to make myself clear just in case above is a little muddled – if in September I am telling a simple nature story when do I bring in a Michealmas story? Hope you are keeping well and start of your school is going well too. 🙂

    • Hi Fran,
      THree is really little and I don’t know as there are any hard and fast rules. In a Waldorf Kindergarten, because of the mixed ages, I think a three year old would be hearing a festival story for anywhere from a week to four weeks depending upon the teacher and how they did it, (and the six year olds would really get it and the three year olds would be more immersed in it but probably not sinking into it the same way!), but I often find at home three year olds have a simple nature story or nursery rhyme and the festival story is often the day of the festival. I think that is one way the home environment is different than the school. So, no hard and fast rules. Michaelmas, to me, and all the festivals for the little ones are more about the doing than the stories. THey will remember making dragon bread or dyeing capes year after year, for example.
      Hope that helps,

  13. I just want to thanks again for this post. I come back to it time and time again. I am really realizing how my only child who is three cannot connect to stories like the Mitten – not yet anyway. Perhaps it is me and how I try to tell them or my daughter is just not ready for them yet. I’m going back to poems and those I found in Suzanne Downs Around the World with Finger Puppet Animals – I can learn those by heart and feel much more comfortable with telling them to her. Longer story telling will have to wait a bit I think.

    • Fran,
      I would expect ages 2-4 and a half to really still be in the world of small verses and nursery rhymes. Many four to six year olds really enjoy Suzanne Downs longer stories found in her monthly newsletter, and yes, for now, those little finger puppet verses are right where you should be.

  14. I have a question about mixed age children – mine are 7,3 and nine months.I am at loss at story time/bedtime….my seven year old loves longer,more involved stories and chapter books and my three year old simple tales.I feel like I can’t give them both what they need witout either I possibly overwhelm my 3 year old with too complex stories and too strong images,or I my seven year old only gets “ boring“ stories for wee ones.I don’t often have the time for separate story times and they share a room to sleep…is it ok to have more then one story ?

    • Sandra,
      I think that sounds like your only option! I would have something for your 3 year old first and then they get to lie quietly whilst you have your time with your seven year old.

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