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Storytelling - Embark on a captivating storytelling journey into the historical origins of fairy and folk tales, discovering their timeless influence on storytelling and sparking early years imagination. From the inception of the UK's first printed fairy tale, "Tom Thumb," to the ancient "The Smith and the Devil," these tales have left an indelible mark across diverse cultures. Are you ready to explore the educational significance of these enchanting narratives and understand their pivotal role as powerful tools for fostering creativity and imagination in children? Dive into the magic now! 

The Origins of Storytelling: Fairy Tale v Folk Tale

The term fairy tale grew out of folk tales which were an oral tradition across all cultures. folk tales are filled with characters that are generally animals that can talk and have human characteristics. The tales are rooted in human scenarios, not magic, to relay a moral and are not credited to an author.   

Fairy tales are written Folk Tales that include mythical creatures and magical  kingdoms. Fairy Tales unlike Folk Tales are rooted in magic and accredited to an author. 

There is so much evidence now that some Fairy Tales accredited to authors such as Johnson, Perrault and the Brothers Grimm go further back than classical mythology and have been told before English, French and Italian languages even existed.       

The earliest surviving printed fairy tale in the UK "Tom Thumb" was published by Richard Johnson in London in 1621. This makes it, according to Nottingham University, the first printed fairy tale native to the U.K. 

Storytelling Through Time: Exploring the History of our Fairy Tale and Folk Tales 

Research by anthropologist Dr Jamshid Tehrani and the New University of Lisbon social scientist, Sara Graça da Silva, has determined that "The Smith and the Devil" is the world’s oldest fairy tale. They believe that this tale spread throughout the Indo-European-speaking world from India to Scandinavia. They believe it was possibly first told 6,000 years ago during the Bronze Age. 

"Jack and the Beanstalk" also evolved from a group of stories and can be traced back to when the Eastern and Western Indo-European languages split, making this a tale from over 5,000 years ago. "Beauty and the Beast" and "Rumpelstiltskin" are thought to be about 4,000 years old.   

Dr Tehrani in his research also found that the tale "The Wolf and the Kids" originated in the 1st Century AD and "Little Red Riding Hood" appeared 1,000 years later. The best-known version of "Little Red Riding Hood" was published by the Brothers Grimm 200 years ago, based on the 17th-century story by Perrault. This story has two endings and fortunately, the version with the huntsman saving Red Riding Hood is the most popular. There are times when a happy ending is needed.   

"Little Red Riding Hood" teaches children not to trust strangers (even elderly wolves), give out personal information, learn that appearances can be deceiving (someone or something is not what it appears to be), and of course, care for the elderly. There is a subtle message in the fairy tale as well for parents - don’t let your child go into the deep dark woods as you never know who or what could be lurking! 

A variant of this "The Wolf and the Kids" is a story about a wolf impersonating a nanny goat and eating her kids, and is also popular in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.  When Perrault was writing about "Little Red Riding Hood" the Chinese poet Huang Zhing (1644-1912) was writing another variant "Tiger Grandmother" which is popular in China, Korea and Japan.   

The Benefits of Fairy and Folk Tales 

All these stories and beliefs help to lay the foundations for creative thinking and problem-solving. The stories show them the differences between good and evil right, and wrong, punishment and reward, moral and immoral, male and female, and birth and death. folk tales and fairy tales are valuable for cross-cultural comparison and human behaviour.  

Our use of mythical and indigenous fairy and folk tales can be a powerful tool that enables children to explore the world around them. The belief in mythical creatures and magical worlds provides children with so much exciting and engaging context for imaginative play, ranging from small world play to adventures in Forest School.    

These tales spark a curiosity that can offer strong moral lessons through the mistakes of the characters they are introduced to including modelling behaviour.  For example, a ‘wicked witch’ probably doesn’t have many friends but the character that is kind and thinks of others has many. This helps to provide children with a context to evaluate their own and other’s behaviour and decision-making and facilitate emotional and social development. When children immerse themselves in a magical world, they take on different roles and experiment with emotions. This helps them to understand their feelings and those of others better.    

When children are encouraged to imagine, they engage in processes that involve memory, problem-solving and abstract thinking. Their belief in mythical beings, and magical worlds opens a world of possibilities. This encourages them to ask questions, explore and create their narratives, which in turn helps to develop critical thinking skills and intellectual curiosity.   

The use of these tales creates a language-rich environment, enhancing their vocabulary and communication skills. Storytelling, no matter the genre, is a vital part of language development but fairy tales allow children to enter a magical world of possibilities that help them to express themselves and communicate with their peers and adults.   

Belief in fairies, mythical creatures, and magical kingdoms can instil a sense of wonder and curiosity in children. When they believe in their existence, they see the beauty and mystery of the world around them. This sense of wonder and curiosity will extend into other areas of learning and can help them think outside the box, developing their skills for innovation.   

A vital skill set for all our children in the 21st century.  

As educators in early childhood settings, it is so important that you nurture creative thinking and imagination. Let Storytelling fairy and folk tales be part of your creative toolkit and remember they don’t all have Happy Endings!  

Just think of all the fun the children can have by creating a magical small world. Making gooey messy magical potions together or ‘chilling out’ by forest bathing with mythical fantastical creatures and fairies? 

In conclusion, imagination and the belief in mythical creatures and magical kingdoms are invaluable tools in early years teaching and they have been part of our culture and oral history since the Bronze Age. Their use in education provides a way for children to express themselves within the confines of the story and resolve conflicting emotions.

Did you find this blog on storytelling useful? Take a look at some other blogs from Gina Bale here:

About the author:

Gina is a dynamic and accomplished educator with a rich background in movement and dance. Initially trained in ballet, she has dedicated the past 27 years to imparting her passion for movement and dance across various educational settings, ranging from mainstream to early years and SEND environments, as well as esteemed dance schools.

About the author:

Gina is a dynamic and accomplished educator with a rich background in movement and dance. Initially trained in ballet, she has dedicated the past 27 years to imparting her passion for movement and dance across various educational settings, ranging from mainstream to early years and SEND environments, as well as esteemed dance schools.

About the author:

Gina is a dynamic and accomplished educator with a rich background in movement and dance. Initially trained in ballet, she has dedicated the past 27 years to imparting her passion for movement and dance across various educational settings, ranging from mainstream to early years and SEND environments, as well as esteemed dance schools.

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