This post is going to directly come from an amazing workshop that I have been on over the last three mornings. Actually led by a Waldorfian rather than a Montessorian, and fascinating.
It strictly relates to the re-telling of fairy tales to children.
In my hazy recollection, there is some controversy as to whether or not Montessori was for or against the reading of fairy tales to children.
Those in the "against" court argue that they go against the grain of belief that life should be for real, not wrapped up in talking animals and good and evil.
Those in the "for" court argue that they convey a very real life message in their stories and that legend and folklore are all based on and wrapped up in fairy tales, our history is intrinsically linked.
Add to that, the fact that the true original fairy tales are not the ones we know today, are NOT those of Disney and adaptations on a theme of a theme AND that places like Barnes and Noble no longer stock Grimms tales in many shops as they are deemed "not politically correct" you may be easily of the opinion that perhaps they should be left alone, after all, what is the point?
Up to today, I was more of the vein that there was no real need for them, they seem cruel and stereotypical and send out the message that life is full of goodies and baddies and that girls are all princesses and boys either bad men or princes. This wasn't the message I wanted to give to the children, so have avoided them to a greater extent.
Today my mind has been entirely changed. Not only do I realise that I was incorrect in my own jaded adult and very literal interpretations of them, but I am doing my children a disservice by omitting them from their lives. Children do not take these stories as literal but much more archetypically which is exactly the way they are meant to be taken.
Read in their original form and appropriately aged (NOT censored!) they emit a very potent message, that life is a journey, that we encounter good and evil in a variety of forms and that when the right paths are chosen on our journies, good will overthrow evil and justice will prevail. Yes, the "baddies" meet their ends, gruesome or not, but in the case of most of these, the end comes around by self infliction. Take for example the wolf in the original version of Little Red Cap - She fills his belly with stones, but she doesn't kill him, the stones are too heavy so when he gets up, he falls down dead. The stones........getting whhhhaaaay deep now, actually represent the materialism in life that tempts us (or Little Red Cap in this instance) when we are on our journies through life. In LRC's case, the wolf opened her mind to be tempted by the flowers (greed) and he, himself, was overcome with greed to not just eat the grandmother but to also eat LRC. At the end, the wolf is destroyed by his very own materialistic greed - the stones, the densest natural material on the earth.
Of course, for a seven year old, this is not what they are thinking and nor should it be explained to them thus.
The guidelines we were left with was that
a.We should read them ourselves, and find our own fairy tale.
b.We should chose age appropriate ones; ie: the more challenges and conflicts, then the older the audience
c. We should not censor the end for something less gruesome. If you need to censor the end for your child, the fairy tale is not yet appropriate. Also look at it this way - if the wolf lives and runs off - where is he now? Is he hiding in the real world??
d. Read them during the day NOT before bed. Children process these stories better when they have just come from the spiritual state of sleep rather than before they go to it.
e. Learn them and read them unscripted, detail IS important to the stories however, so make sure you have read them and understand the significance of the detail.
It is hard to find a good book of Fairy Tales, I have just ordered the one at the top of this page which is published by The Pantheon Fairytale and Folklore Library and can be found at Bob and Nancy's Books I am thoroughly looking forward to reading, digesting, dissecting and then re-telling these tales to my boys!