Children are sure to love this collection of the best Fairy tales for kids.
Reading fairy tales for kids is not only a great way to pass the time; Studies show that reading children’s fairy tales can benefit the developing child in several essential ways. Related: Kids Books That Teach Important Life Lessons
Fairy tale stories, folk tales, and other myths and legends have been shared orally to help children develop self-understanding and mature into whole human beings since the beginning of time. In modern times, read-aloud fairy tales can instill a love of reading, improve vocabulary, develop creative thinking, increase intelligence, and more!
Scroll down to learn how sharing oral stories and reading fairy tales aloud can benefit children. Recommended age-appropriate fairy tale books for preschoolers, kindergarteners, and elementary school-aged children are discussed and listed towards the bottom of this article.
Benefits of Fairy Tales for Children
Reading fairy tales aloud to children is researched to be an excellent aid to child development. Of all types of literature, fairy tales provide graphic imagery, creative symbolism, simple archetypes, and spiritual concepts that can help children develop into creative, intelligent, and whole human beings.
As a transpersonal psychologist, I became familiar with archetypes and the patterns of the human psyche when studying Jungian psychology. However, you don’t need to have a doctorate in psychology, or understand everything about archetypes and metaphors, to have a basic understanding of the ability that fairy tales have to help children grow and transform into imaginative, self-aware, and intelligent adults.
Not only can fairy tales help children develop their creativity and intelligence, but they can also help strengthen the moral lives of children. The symbols and archetypes found in fairy tales can live inside children as seeds until the strength that these unconscious images provide blooms in the face of adversity many years later.
How do fairy tales benefit psychological and intellectual development?
Unlike their name suggests, fairy tales are not really about fairies. Instead, fairy tales often portray an exaggerated version of the struggle between right and wrong. As such, they are filled with lessons and stories of triumph that mirror the struggles children face in day-to-day life, and, can thus help them conquer their fears and win battles through the main character, or Hero’s Journey.
Fairy tales can also help teach critical thinking skills and help kids learn about the power of consequences. As children listen to the story and follow each character, they begin to understand that what happens to them ultimately depends upon each choice they make–good or bad and right or wrong.
As children listen to these stories about a crisis that ultimately leads to a transformation, they too are psychologically transformed. As children continue to work out the pieces of the story through play, and within the deep reaches of their imagination, the moral of the story will help them develop into a psychologically whole human being, scary parts and all.
When children understand who they are, they learn what they are not. This opens the space for intelligence to develop. When a child no longer has to discover who he is, he can begin to understand or learn about “the other.” And, ultimately, these discoveries, can help them reach an even deeper understanding of themselves.
Bruno Bettelheim’s Fairy Tale Research
Like Plato before him, Bettelheim believed that the literary education of children should begin with the telling of myths. His book, “The Uses of Enchantment,” was the first study of how fairy tales benefit child development, based on Freudian psychoanalysis.
To “Know thyself” is the goal of psychoanalysis. It is also the goal of reading Fairy Tales aloud to children. Fairy tales can lead the reader or listener to a greater sense of who we are as we transform alongside the characters within each story.
If You Want Your Children to Be Intelligent, Read them Fairy Tales
Albert Einstein also understood the brilliance of reading fairy tales aloud to children. He believed that Fairy tales could pave the way toward intelligence and intellectual growth.
If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.
~ Albert Einstein
Einstein believed that creativity and the development of the imagination were essential to intellectual development. He claimed that the necessary equipment of any real scientist was a fully developed imagination. As such, Einstein believed that reading fairy tales aloud to children was the fastest way to develop a child’s intellect through creativity.
Fairy Tales in Waldorf Education
Storytelling and rhyme form the backbone of early literacy in Waldorf schools and homeschools around the world. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, used fairy tales to help our children develop into emotionally whole, intelligent, and creative human beings.
The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility–these are the very forces which are the very nerve of education.
Why are fairy tales shared orally in Waldorf education?
Like many myths and folk tales, fairy tales were originally an oral tradition. In other words, fairy tales were passed down orally from grandparent to grandchild, and teacher to student, for generation after generation until people began to write these legends and stories down.
Instead of reading from books, early childhood Waldorf educators are encouraged to share fairy tales, myths, legends, folk wisdom, and nature tales in the same way that our ancestors passed them down before they were ever printed onto paper by authors like the brothers Grimm. This is why the Waldorf kindergarten is filled with oral storytelling, story baskets, puppet shows, and short plays.
Steiner believed oral storytelling could strengthen a child’s inner picturing abilities. Convinced that imagination and the development of the mind’s inner eye is an essential skill for creative thinking and the development of intelligence, Steiner modeled many of his theories on education around it. This is why Waldorf educators share most fairy tales and stories orally from memory as opposed to reading from picture books in early education. It is also the reason that Waldorf teachers across the globe still use storytelling to introduce main lessons today.
Waldorf educators also encourage children to abstain from viewing television programs and fairy tales made into movies for the same reason. Watching pictures on TV and filling a child’s brain with adult images does nothing to help children develop the ability to imagine and create these images for themselves.
Read Aloud Fairy Tales, Illustrations, and the Dark versus Light Dilemma
You may think that dark fairy tales are a bit horrific and unnecessary and that it would be better to provide children with stories a little less scary. The truth is that the watered-down overly illustrated Disney versions of these classic fairy tales can not help children begin to imagine or create anything for themselves. Nor do they help children develop the roots of self-understanding in the same way that the original dark versions made familiar by the brothers Grimm can.
Believe it or not, many childhood fears typically associated with fairy tales often come from the whitewashed versions of these stories in which the frightening characters are NOT properly overcome. In other words, there is something lacking, usually dark and scary, from these lighted-up versions of children’s fairy tales. The original oral versions of most fairy tales are constructed psychologically to help the child develop socially and emotionally. When you take these parts out, you leave some of the learning behind too!
Want the good news? A child will only imagine what they can handle. Therefore, they will only create an image that they are ready to handle in their mind’s eye. So why not deliver these stories in the way that they were originally intended, just like grandma and grandpa did?
Why are fewer illustrations better?
Illustrations are lovely, but they do not allow children to form pictures that they invent in their mind’s eye. How can we expect our children to develop creativity when we fill their minds with the images we create?
Hearing fairy tales told aloud can help children develop the habit of creating pictures for themselves because it is the development of the imagination that can help children learn to solve problems, think for themselves, and uncover the mysteries of life.
When we use books with illustrations, we may be forcing an image that children are not ready for, or that actually is too scary. Even worse, we may never allow children to find their own version of Cinderella’s appearance when we force Disney’s version upon them.
If you have small children and have avoided reading fairy tales to them because you thought they were silly stories made up out of whole cloth, because they might scare your children, because you couldn’t answer their questions about the stories, you are cheating them from learning about what it is to be a human being. You are shielding them from the great mysteries of life which are preserved in fairy tales specifically to help us understand these mysteries as we mature. Take away fairy tales from your children and they will likely grow up into fine, rational adults living in a desolate world which contains no magic, no mysteries, just one bland thing after another.
How is Reading Fairy Tales is Good for Children?
Fairy tales are rich with vivid metaphors and archetypes that help children develop into intelligent human beings. Imagery can stir a child’s imagination, while the conflict between dark and light can help children learn to understand themselves.
The magic happens as children hear the story told aloud, again and again. Sound familiar? When children what to hear a story over and over again, they are working on understanding everything about it. Each time they listen, children strengthen their relationship with the hero of the story as they reconsider the choices they would make each time it is told. As they do so, they fill in the gaps with their own creative imaginings and start to develop mentally and emotionally.
They also have the opportunity to figure out what some of those strange big words mean within the context of the story. Are you starting to see why telling those stories over and over again is actually a good thing?
Ready for another? Listening to fairy tales and other myths, folk stories, and legends told repeatedly can also help build a child’s vocabulary through repetition and context.
Each time a story, fable, legend, myth, and fairy tale is told, is another opportunity for children to develop their vocabulary, creativity, critical thinking skills, and entire moral compass. This is why Einstein said what he said, and Steiner created an entire theory of education around it. All in all, reading fairy tales aloud to children is an amazing way to prepare children for formal education and life!
Choosing Age-Appropriate Fairy Tales for Kids
In many fairy tales, the main character follows the classic Hero’s Journey and is often faced with a problem that needs to be solved or confrontation with something dark or evil.
Lighter stories with mild problems are more appropriate for preschoolers and kindergarteners, while the dark and scary problems made famous by the Brothers Grimm are more appropriate for children elementary age and up. For this reason, it is best to stick with simple nursery rhymes, nature tales, meaningful picture books with simple illustrations, and short stories for children under three years of age.
A short story made up by mom or dad is perfectly fine. Toddlers and preschoolers do not yet have an imagination developed enough to handle fairy tales with complex imagery and scary themes. There is no need for dark imagery at this age because the young child is not mentally or emotionally mature enough to handle those types of imaginings. If you are not that fond of making up your own stories, try reading or memorizing a few of the wonderful stories found in Tell Me a Story, one of our family favorites!
Preschool and kindergarten-aged children between 3-6 years old can begin to be introduced to myths, folk stories, and fairy tales with simple light-hearted themes and “happily ever after” endings. You can find our suggestions below.
When children enter elementary school, at around age 6 or 7, they are ready to hear fairy tales with darker storylines and more difficult struggles, like those found in the original Grimm fairy tales.
Best Read-Aloud Fairy Tales for Children: Recommended Editions and Collections
Although many of these myths, fables, stories, and fairy tales come as individual books, we recommend complete collections for your home library. The single volumes and little golden books are sweet for young children, but they will not serve our children’s development over time.
Children that are elementary school-aged and up are better off hearing the original versions of fairy tales, with minimal illustrations, to stir their imaginations and encourage the development of the psyche. In other words, reading fairy tales aloud to children can lead to a higher gain in creativity and emotional intelligence. Both of which lead to the development of knowledge over time.
Click on the title of each book of fairy tales for kids to learn more about it. Then, if you click to purchase, Rhythms of Play may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
1. The Real Mother Goose
Mother Goose rhymes also form an essential piece of childhood. Choose the collection of rhymes written as told and passed down from generation to generation by grandmothers and grandfathers everywhere. The simple verses in the real mother goose can help prepare young children for the more complex characters and themes found in fairy tales.
We recommend starting with Mother Goose rhymes at birth. Your baby may not understand what you are saying, but the rhymes and rhythms can still work their pre-literacy magic on an infant’s brain; No comprehension is needed!
Be prepared to read this book many, many times for several months in a row. There may be a time when it is all your child wants to hear. But, don’t worry; it will not last forever. I promise this too shall pass, and your child will benefit immensely from it. I have read it so many times I know it by heart and can recite it page by page on a road trip. True story!
2. Aesop’s Fables
Recommended Aesop’s Fables Edition
The Classic Treasury of Aesop’s Fables – This edition of Aesop’s fables has 20 classic fables to share with your children.
Get in step with the colorful animals that race, waddle, and leap through these pages! From a fast-footed monkey to a two-timing fox, each creature has a story to tell and a moral to teach. These famous tales tickle the imagination and teach simple truths, ones that children and adults face every day.
3. Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales
Andersen’s initial attempts at writing fairy tales were revisions of stories that he heard orally as a child. Later, Hans Christian Andersen adapted his stories into something that was his own, unlike the Grimm brothers, who were most known for collecting and retelling the stories that they had heard as children.
Today, his stories surrounding the unconscious and the transformation of the true self have become roadmaps for our children on their path towards self-discovery. Some of Hans Christian Andersen’s most famous fairy tales include; The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Snow Queen, Thumbelina, The Princess, and the Pea, and many more!
Favorite Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tale Collections:
An Illustrated Treasury of Hans Christian Andersen– Recommended Limited Edition with Illustrations for Younger Children (Ages 4 or 5 and up)
Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tales of foolish emperors, lonely mermaids, icy queens and clever princesses have delighted children and adults alike for nearly two centuries. The stories’ unique magic and wonder make them essential reading for any childhood.
Hans Christian Andersen Complete Fairy Tales– Recommended Complete Edition for Older Children (Ages 6 or 7 and up)
A great book of bedtime stories or for rainy day reading, as there are both short and long anecdotes included. The attached bookmark ribbon ensures you’ll never lose your place as you wander through the imagination of one of the most popular children’s writers of all time. Curl up with this collection of classics and lose yourself in childhood memories.
4. Grimm Fairy Tales
Grimm’s Fairy Tales is a collection of orally shared tales and fables written down by brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. First published in 1812, this collection of stories originally included 86 fairy tales known as the Children’s and Household Tales. Today the complete Grimm’s fairy tales collection has a total of 216 stories.
The Grimm brothers were not the original authors of the fairy tales in their complete collection. Instead, they collected and wrote down each of the fantastic stories that they heard. Before being published as Grimm’s fairy tales, they were passed down orally from grandmother to grandchild, from generation to generation.
Although a few of the original titles have been changed to reflect the modernized versions of these classic fairy tales, some of the Grimm brothers’ most famous fairy tales include; Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Hänsel, and Gretel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel.
Recommended Edition of Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tale Collection:
Grimm’s complete collection of Fairy Tales – Pantheon Addition is the translation that Waldorf educators prefer and the copy that we most recommend. This comprehensive volume of the Grimm fairy tales contains all 216 stories collected and written by the Brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. This edition of the classic Grimm’s fairy tales is a treasure trove of engaging stories that you and your child can read and treasure long past childhood.
The stories of magic and myth gathered by the Brothers Grimm have become part of the way children—and adults—learn about the vagaries of the real world. Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow-White, Hänsel and Gretel, Little Red-Cap (Little Red Riding Hood), and Briar-Rose (Sleeping Beauty) are only a few of the more than two hundred enchanting characters included in this volume. The tales are presented just as Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm originally set them down: bold, primal, just frightening enough, and endlessly engaging.
Other Myth, Folk, and Tales Children LOVE!
There are so many collections of children’s literature of all kinds, including myths, folk, and fairy tales for children it’s hard to know which are best to read aloud to your children. However, we have collected a few versions over the last few years that we love and recommend.
A Treasury of Children’s Literature – This is a great starter version for young children. It contains a few rhymes, stories, legends, fables, and fairy tales from each of our recommendations listed above. The stories are NOT the same versions because different authors have translated them, but we found it a perfect starter collection with limited illustrations for our family. We began reading the stories in this book to our daughter when she was halfway through her third year.
Celtic Tales: Fairy Tales and Stories of Enchantment from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, and Wales – The traditional stories of Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, and Wales transport us to the fantastical world Celtic folklore.
An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales – Award-winning children’s author Theresa Breslin has collected the best-loved tales from all over Scotland. Retelling each in its own individual style, she presents funny and moving tales and enchanting stories.
The Best Read Aloud Fairy Tales for Children
Reading fairy tales, folk tales, myths, and legends aloud to our children has many benefits. First, they can aid child development by helping children develop into creative, intelligent, and emotionally whole human beings.
Fairy tales read aloud in the lap of a caring adult can instill a love of reading, improve vocabulary, develop imagination, increase intelligence, and more! You may also like this collection of children’s books that teach important life lessons.
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