Best Fairy Tales for Children – Studies show that fairy tales, folk tales, myths, and legends have countless benefits for kids. Fairy tales can aid child development and help children develop into creative, intelligent, and emotionally whole human beings. Read aloud fairy tales can also instill a love of reading, improve vocabulary, develop the imagination, increase intelligence, and more!
The Benefit of Fairy Tales for Children
Like many myths and folk tales, fairy tales were originally an oral tradition. They were passed down from generation to generation until people began to write these legends and tales down.
One of the primary reasons that fairy tales are important, is because they aid in child development. Of all the types of mythological literature, fairy tales offer vivid imagery, 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. You don’t need to have a doctorate in psychology or need to understand everything about archetypes and metaphors to have a basic working knowledge of how fairy tales can transform our children.
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 kids as seeds for many years until the strength that these unconscious images provide force themselves to bloom in the face of adversity.
How Fairy Tales Aid Child-Development
Unlike their name suggests, fairy tales are not really about fairies. Instead, fairy tales portray an exaggerated version of the struggle between right and wrong, that mirror the struggles that we face in day to day life.
Fairy tales can thus 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 depends upon the choices that they make.
As children listen to these stories about a crisis that leads toward a transformation, they too are transformed. When children act out the pieces of the story that help them develop into a whole human being, scary parts and all, they can reach a deeper understanding of themselves.
When children understand who they are, they learn what they are not. This leaves the space for intelligence to develop. When a child no longer has to learn who he is, he can begin to understand “the other.” This is how logical understanding develops.
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 aid child development based on Freudian psychoanalysis.
To “Know thyself,” is the goal of psychoanalysis. It is also the goal of the authors that first wrote down the stories that we have come to know as Fairy Tales today. Fairy tales are constructed to lead us to a greater sense of who we are as we transform alongside the characters within each story.
In his book, The Uses of Enchantment, Bettelheim does a remarkable job in driving these points home.
Analyzing a wide range of traditional stories, from the “Tales of Sinbad” to “The Three Little Pigs,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” Bettelheim shows how the fantastical, sometimes cruel, but always deeply significant narrative strands of the classic fairy tales can aid in our greatest human task, that of finding meaning for one’s life.
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 towards intelligence and intellectual growth.
Einstein believed creativity and the development of the imagination to be the most essential elements of intellectual development. He claimed that the equipment of the true scientist was a fully developed imagination. As such, Einstein thought that reading fairy tales aloud to children was the fastest way to develop a child’s intellect by way of the imagination.
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
Fairy Tales in Waldorf Education
Storytelling and rhyme form the backbone of early literacy in Waldorf education. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, believed that fairy tales could help our children develop into emotionally whole, intelligent, 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?
Instead of reading from books, early childhood Waldorf educators share these fairy tales, myths, legends, folk wisdom, and nature tales in the same way that they were passed down from generation to generation before they were ever written down by authors like the Grimm brothers. They are shared orally with story baskets, puppet shows, and short plays.
Steiner believed that oral storytelling strengthens a child’s inner picturing abilities and that this development of the minds’ eye was an essential skill for creative thinking. This is why Waldorf educators share most fairy tales and stories from memory as opposed to using picture books in early education, and why they introduce most subjects with storytelling in the upper grades.
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
It may seem that dark fairy tales are a bit horrific and unnecessary, but the watered-down overly illustrated Disney versions of these classic fairy tales will not serve our children’s capacity for imagining. Nor can they help children develop the roots of self-understanding as well as the original dark versions made familiar by the brothers Grimm.
Childhood fears that are typically associated with fairy tales often come from whitewashed versions in which the frightening characters are NOT properly overcome. The original oral versions of fairy tales, however, are constructed psychologically to help the child develop emotionally.
Why are fewer illustrations better?
Illustrations are wonderful, but they do not allow our children to form their own pictures. Creativity is developed when we allow our children the opportunity to form these pictures in their mind’s eye.
How can we expect our children to think creatively when we fill their minds with images? Children need to develop the habit of creating their own images and imaginings, so they can learn to solve problems, think for themselves, and uncover the mysteries of life.
Want the good news? A child will only imagine what they can handle. They will only create an image that they are ready to handle in their mind’s eye.
When we use books with illustrations we may be forcing an image that children are not ready for, or that 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.
Why is Reading Fairy Tales is Good for Children?
Fairy tales are filled with rich metaphors and archetypes that help children develop into intelligent human beings. The use of vivid imagery stirs a child’s imagination, while the conflict between dark and light can help children understand themselves.
The magic happens as children hear the story told aloud. As they listen, fairytales require children to fill in the gaps with their own creative imaginings.
They also have the opportunity to figure out what some of those strange big words mean within the context of the story. Since our children like to hear stories repeated over and over again, listening to fairy tales can help build a child vocabulary through repetition and context.
Each story, fable, legend, myth, and fairy tale can thus help children develop their vocabulary, creativity, critical thinking skills, and moral compass. When children understand right from wrong, they can begin to understand self versus other.
Once children develop the capacity to think creatively and acquire a greater emotional understanding of themselves, they can learn to understand everything else. Reading fairy tales can thus prepare a child for formal education.
Best Fairy Tales for Children: Choosing Age Appropriate Fairy Tales
In most fairy tales a child is faced with either a problem which must be solved or a confrontation with evil. Mild problems are more appropriate for younger children, while the dark and scary problems are more appropriate for older children.
Before the age of three, nursery rhymes, nature tales, meaningful picture books with simple illustrations, and short stories are all a young child needs. A simple story made up by mom or dad is perfectly fine. There is no need for any dark imagery at this age because the young child does not have an imagination that is developed enough to handle stories with complex imagery and scary themes.
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!
Age three or four is a good time to begin introducing myths, folk stories, and fairy tales with simple light-hearted themes and “happily ever after” endings. You can find our suggestions below.
When the child begins to lose their baby teeth at around age 6 or 7, they are ready to hear fairy tales with darker storylines and more difficult struggles, like the those found in the original Grimm fairy tales.
The Best Fairy Tales to Read Aloud to Children: Recommended Editions and Collections
Although many of these myths, fables, stories, and fairy tales can be found in individual books, we recommend purchasing complete collections for your home library. Many of the individual volumes and little golden books are nice for very young children, but they will not serve our children’s development over time.
Older children need to hear the original versions with minimal illustrations to stir their imaginations and encourage the development of the psyche. This will lead to a greater gain in both creativity and emotional intelligence. Both of which lead to the development of intelligence over time.
You can probably find these collections of fairy tales at your local library, but you will more than likely prefer your own copy to enjoy with your children for years to come. Ours have become so battered and beaten with wear we may have to invest in new copies soon!
Click on the title of each book to learn more. If you click to purchase I may earn a small commission with no extra cost to you.
1. The Real Mother Goose
The simple rhymes contained 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 rhythms and rhymes can still work their pre-literary magic on an infant’s brain… No comprehension needed!
Be prepared to read this one many many times for several months in a row. There will be a time when it is all your child wants to hear. 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 road trips. True story!
Mother Goose rhymes are a vital part of childhood. And this collection of essential rhymes have been reproduced exactly as they have been repeated from generation to generation.
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 as a child. It was important to him that his stories could be read like they were being told for the first time.
Later, Hans Christian Andersen adapted the fairy tale and the folktale into something that was his own, unlike the Grimm brothers, who were most known for collecting and retelling the stories that they had heard.
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 fairy tales by brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm that was first published in 1812. This collection of stories originally included 86 fairy tales that were 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 each of the fairy tales in their complete collection. Instead, they painstakingly collected each story so that it could be written down. Before they we compiled into 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 — both the translation that Waldorf educators prefer and the copy that we most recommend.
This complete 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.
5. Other Myth, Folk, and Fairy Tale Collections 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. 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 they have been translated by different authors, but we found it to be 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 of 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 tales, moving tales and enchanting fairy tales. Soar with the goshawk, dive with selkies and battle with the stoorworm — these are the creatures of Scottish folklore.
The Best Read Aloud Fairy Tales for Children
Read aloud fairy tales, folk tales, myths, and legends aloud to our children has many benefits. Read aloud fairy tales can aid child development and help kids develop into creative, intelligent, and emotionally whole human beings.
Fairy tales read aloud can also instill a love of reading, improve vocabulary, develop the imagination, increase intelligence, and more! You may also like this collection of Children’s books that teach important life lessons.
Learn more about Rhythms of Play HERE!
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Nell has over 20 years of experience working with children and is the founder of Rhythms of Play. She believes in the wonder of childhood, the power of the imagination, learning through play, and getting outside in all seasons! Learn more…