Welcome to Bannockburn Nursery School, a Bethesda tradition for over 60 years.
In Praise of Fairy Tales
Our music/movement classes have the wonderful opportunity to use the stage in the ballroom for our regular instruction as well as for our performances. We love using the stage. Since we stage our dramatic talents with stories we know (many of them being fairy tales), I was reminded of a unique book, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettleheim written in 1975.
Bettleheim is very pro-fairy tale for children, and he makes some interesting observations. In the introduction to the book, Bettleheim says fairy tales give children the chance to understand themselves, the turmoil of their feelings and how to cope with adversity. To Bettleheim the fairy tale simplifies life. The characters are clearly drawn as evil or good, beautiful or ugly, stupid, or clever. The reader can see that even being evil has its attractions; as becoming a mighty dragon, or being a witch with great powers.
Bettelheim believes that the message fairy tales communicate to the child is that there will be struggles against severe difficulties in life, but with persistence one meets hard and unjust difficulties and emerges the victor.
Bruno Bettelheim has included chapters in his book titled “Transcending Infancy with the Help of Fantasy,” “Fairy Tale vs. Myth: Optimism vs. Pessimism,” “The Child’s Need for Magic,” and “Fantasy, Recovery, Escape and Consolation.”
The three classes that have music class on Wednesdays will probably stage at least one of the “stories of three:” The Three Little Pigs; Goldilocks and the Three Bears; The Three Billy Goat’s Gruff, and The Three Little Kittens. The stories with three characters in them (especially the bears and the goats) allow a great opportunity for a child to choose the be one of the characters who can be described as: (1) large and powerful; (2) middle-sized and average; and (3) small and weak. It is interesting that the younger classes tend to choose to play a large or small character only. I usually end up being the middle-sized, average one! It often takes the maturity of the 5x4 class to find some volunteers to be middle sized. Bettleheim says Goldilocks and the Three Bears does not display the most important features of true fairy tales because the ending shows no recovery, consolation, or a real happy ending. Many times I create a happy ending and change the tale a little for age appropriate closure.
Bettleheim further writes that “modern” stories for children often avoid issues of aging, death, a wish for eternal life, or power. I think he was right when he wrote this, however, modern children’s literature has changed and has a very wide scope, often with true to life pictures and issues. He makes the point in his introduction that children’s literature often doesn’t let children know, as fairy tales do, that much that goes wrong in life is due to our own natures - our aggression, our selfishness, our anger and anxiety. “We want our children to believe that inherently, all men are good. But children know that they are not always good; and often even when they are, they would prefer not to be.” Again, I believe our “modern” children’s literature has done very well to tell it like it is. But fairy tales will always be a wonderful way to work out some of life’s problems in a most fanciful and vicarious way. After all, we at BNS love to encourage imagination and fairy tales come from great imaginations. Such stories allow us to learn to identify something as real life or fantasy.
I can’t do justice to this entire book of 310 pages but wanted to present part of the book. In 1977 The Uses of Enchantment won both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.