There was a time when I would have told you that fairy tales were not developmentally appropriate for children. After all, all that violence, all the children losing parents and sexist stereotypes, all of that must be bad for children, right?
And yet I myself have always been fascinated by fairy tales, and I graduated from the Brothers Grimm to Robin McKinley to adult/mature fairy tale interpretations. Fairy tales stick with you, they resonate, and they can be very powerful.
I now believe it would be a mistake to leave those fairy tales out of our childrens' educations. The very fact that they are powerful, in a dreamlike way, gives us the chance to explore our basic human fears, needs, and uncertainties. We should recognize and discuss the metaphors: the heroes quest as a metaphor for growing up and finding your own identity, the endangered maiden as metaphor for the fear of first menstruation and entry to womanhood, the rescue of the frozen maid/young man as metaphor for the cycle of the seasons, etc. I'm not alone in seeing "Little Red Riding Hood" as a story for girls in puberty - Susan Kim writes about that in today's Huffington Post.
And if you read widely, you can avoid the Disney sexist stereotyping. In the last few weeks I have read The Snow Queen and The Magic Nesting Doll to my children, and both tell the tale of a girl rescuing a frozen boy, both through her loyal love but also through her bravery. The violence is no worse than most contemporary entertainment, and the fact that "good" almost always defeats "bad" and there is a "happily ever after" is actually more developmentally appropriate for kids.
What do you think? Should we teach our children through fairy tales? What are your favorite tales?