Personal social and emotional development: Happily ever after

Hilary White
Thursday, January 31, 2019

Hilary White suggests ways to update traditional fairy tales, to make them relevant and meaningful in the context of the modern world, giving children the opportunity to explore characters and events.

For wolf and horse tabards (fits three years upwards) animals-fancy-dress-outfits/ wild-fancy-dress
for a black witch’s cape (fits three years upwards) www. costumes/cloaks-capes-fancy- dress/611034-black-cape-one- size-3-12-years
For wolf ears and tail – www.charliecrow. tail-set-one-size-3
For other dressing up items, try the following search terms on – ‘black witch’s hat’, ‘Rapunzel wig’, ‘wolf mask’, ‘horse’s ears and tail’.
Rapunzel by Bethan Woollvin (Two Hoots)
Hansel and Gretel by Bethan Woollvin (Two Hoots)
Very Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap (David Fickling)
Very Little Sleeping Beauty by Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap (Picture Corgi)
Sleeping Handsome and the Princess Engineer by Kay Woodward (Picture Window Books)

Key vocabulary
Once upon a time, long ago, and they all lived happily ever after, big bad wolf, wicked witch, tower, cloak, grandma, spectacles, rope, ladder

Key learning points
Exploring the behaviour and attitudes of updated fairy story characters
Listening and talking about picture book story events and characters.
Developing fairy stories and characters through dressing up and role-play

Fairy tales are a staple part of the young child’s literary experience – and they also contain some clear-cut messages about a variety of personal, social and emotional scenarios. From persistence in the face of adversity (The Elves and the Shoemaker) to the importance of valuing others (Cinderella), the traditional tale has much to teach both adults and children.
Here in the 21st century the fairy story does, however, present us with a dilemma. Although traditional tales are an important part of each child’s cultural heritage, changing attitudes make them a difficult 'fit’ within our PSED provision. Old fashioned and simplistic, fairy tale characters do not always represent the behaviours or attitudes we wish to present to young children. One compromise is to explore the contemporary picture book re-telling – of which there are many excellent examples. The following activities are based on fun, inspiring and modern versions of Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel, designed especially for children of today.

  • Playing and exploring
    Practitioners introduce fairy tale stories with a modern twist
    Children enjoy exploring fairy tale characters through role-play and art
    They take the central role in a themed fairy tale hunt

Share Teresa Heapy’s Very Little Red Riding Hood and Bethan Woollvin’s Rapunzel with the children. Through conversation, focus on how the two main characters take charge of their respective situations. Look at how they deal con dently and fearlessly with the wolf and the wicked witch, and disempower them in the process. Encourage the children to explore the characters with the following mix of child and adult-directed activities:

Dressing up and role play: provide dressing up clothes and props for the characters in the two stories (see Enabling Environments and Resources). Encourage free exploration of the characters, based on the narrative framework for each picture book.

Character posters: record children’s comments about Rapunzel and Red Riding Hood, focusing on their con dence, personality and independence. Make poster-size drawings of the characters and decorate them with paint and collage. Turn the comments into labels to stick on the posters.

Fairy tale hunt: hide pictures of a wicked witch or grandma’s house. Make photo/word cards of items in the setting and hide them to create a fairy tale hunt, with each clue card leading to the next. Let the ‘hunters’ dress up as corresponding characters. Note the children’s response to discussion about how Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel take charge of their respective situations. What aspects of the characters’ personalities do they explore through their dressing up and role-play?

  • Active learning
    Children lead conversation about the fairy tale characters
    They link their own feelings and behaviours to those of the characters
    Children persevere in following the fairy tale hunt clues to achieve success

When sharing the picture books, keep story groups small and re-read the stories several times. Children often clam up when questioned about a story; let them lead the conversation with spontaneous comments and questions, and allow conversations to run their natural course. Encourage children to explore the ways in which Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood manage the events in their stories; look at Rapunzel’s laid back nonchalance, in spite of her predicament, and how Red Riding Hood brings the wolf down to size by bossing him about. Build on events that spark the children’s interest by introducing some ‘what would you do?’ or ‘how would you feel? scenarios. For example: ‘What would you do/how would you feel if you met a wolf on the way to grandma’s house?’

In both stories, a hunt or journey is key to representing the two characters as powerful protagonists in their stories. During the fairy tale hunt, help the children to celebrate the discovery of each clue and see themselves as successful in achieving their purpose. Support the three-and-a-half plus age group in creating their own hunts.

Are children able to talk about the fairy tale characters’ behaviour in the context of their own self-knowledge and experience? Can they persist in working out the fairy tale hunt clues, and do they show pride in achieving the end result?

  • Creating and thinking critically
    Children plan, take charge of and review their role-play activities.
    Practitioners give children the choice of putting on a role-play performance
    Children make creative decisions about their character poster artwork

Within the context of free exploration, encourage children to plan and review their role-play, and explore different ways of acting out story events. Although the two fairy
tale characters are female, focus on their power and resourcefulness rather than their gender. If necessary, support children in
nding ways for both girls and boys to play the lead. Give the group open-ended space and time for the role-play activities, and the freedom to choose additional props. Once they know the resources well, offer a group the option of putting on a performance and help them to nd ways of meeting this challenge.

During the adult-directed activity of making character posters, help children to understand that Red Riding Hood’s key feature is her red coat and Rapunzel’s her long hair. Encourage them to make creative decisions about how best to apply the paint and which collage items are the most effective. Look out for opportunities to introduce diversity to fairy tale exploration. For example, although Rapunzel’s hair is golden in the story, the poster could feature a black, brown or ginger-haired Rapunzel.

Role-play area
Provide appropriate dressing up clothes and props – for Rapunzel, a horse and witch’s costume, Rapunzel wig and apron, leaves, children’s rope ladder and Rapunzel’s toys; for Very Little Red Riding Hood, a red cloak, bag and teddy, bunch of red flowers, tea set, wolf costume and scarf, and grandma’s specs and wig. Sew large loops to the dressing up clothes and hang the outfit for each character on hooks. Attach a picture of the character to the wall above the hook so children can easily see where to access and replace the clothes. Near the role- play props, display portable laminated cards showing key scenes from the stories for prompts and inspiration. Create Grandma’s house in the home corner and Rapunzel’s tower room in a tree house or platform play area. Put a selection of contemporary fairy tale books in the book corner (see Resources), along with blank booklets and pencils for fairy tale-inspired mark making and drawing.

EYFS Early Learning Goals
Exploring the behaviour and values of modernised fairy tale characters covers many areas of learning, apart from Personal, Social and Emotional Development. Talking about picture books and exploring the story through role-play meets the Literacy objectives: Describes main story settings, events and principal characters and shows interest in illustrations and print in books. The exploration of the stories and characters through role-play and art helps children to develop creativity and imagination (EAD). Role-play activities also meet the Physical Development ELG: Children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements. They move confidently in a range of ways, safely negotiating space.


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