Friday, September 27, 2013

Of fairy tales and nursery rhymes

Just this week, a fellow mum blogger’s post of the use of fairy tales in a Primary One test paper went viral. It's a display of how influential and immediate social media can be. comments ranged from the 'I assume you are referring to something I think you are referring to therefore I must say my piece' to the 'I must impress with my super powerful grasp English, even if I end up being confused myself'.

No matter. The post has got me stressed and wondering what is the purpose of it all? So now I have to inculcate the knowledge of fairy tales to my children, so that they can 'correctly' say that a fairy godmother will turn a snake into a handsome prince? Why can't she be a mean fairy godmother and turn the prince into something not himself? Must it even be a snake for that matter?

Was the question testing the knowledge of fairy tales? Or the English language?

According to the fellow mum blogger's second post on this issue, the teacher who set the questions have rebooked at the answer, which I'm heartened about. It's good that she is open to comments and feedback and shows her to be a partner in a child's education and development, the other important partner being the parent.

Still I wonder about the type of questions that schools set at the primary level. What is the purpose? What are they testing?

Fine, EV and AA aren't there yet. They still have a long way to go, but I need to know. Despite 'being assured' that children don't necessarily need to know how to read in Primary 1, all these honest feedback and sharing from parents with kids already in the primary school system worry me. What will the situation be when it's my kids' turn? I'm sure I'm not the only one feeling this way.

So, fairy tales. What’s wrong with them? What’s right about them? I think it’s perfectly fine to read fairy tales to my kids. Yes, there are many stereotypes, like how a fairy godmother must be good, or that a snake must be turned into a handsome prince and not the other way round, or how a wolf (or a fox) is always the bad guy, eating up the pigs or Red Riding Hood’s grandmother or the gingerbread man. Or even the stereotypical view of beauty.

My view - so? What’s wrong with such stories? Generations of children have grown up reading them. I’ve grown up reading Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Thumbelina. Nothing is wrong with me.

Reality: we live in the real world, in a stereotypical world, in a politically incorrect world. So what’s wrong with exposing EV and AA to these stories?

Mind you, as I’m reading the fairy tales to my kids, I’m not even talking about the stereotypes. I’m reading and sharing the tales with them as what they are, stories. We’re enjoying the beauty of the stories together, appealing in their simplicity, bonding together through our imagination.

Before anyone assumes that I’m only reading fairy tales to EV and AA, let me say that I read all sorts of books to them, in English and Chinese. Just look at the My Favourite Children’s Author series that I did last year, or this interview, and you will know that for a fact. I read newspapers to them, I read National Geographic to them. Heck, even brochures that I get in the mail.

Point is, I believe in exposing EV and AA to as many reading materials as possible, politically correct or not, and in doing so, develop their skill, not just love, for the language. Because language is a skill that they need for the rest of their lives.

I will introduce even Enid Blyton and her crazy characters like Dame Washalot and Saucepan Man. For I want my kids to have a great imagination, to fly away on the Wishing Chair when they have to. Because without imagination, how are they going to tackle their compositions in school?

And when they are older, or when they start questioning any story, not just fairy tales, I believe in being honest and sharing with them the realities of the world. The world is never a fair place (that’s why the word ‘fair’ does not have the letter ‘y’, which would have made the word ‘fairy’); but it is what we make of ourselves that makes this world an even more meaningful place.

And while I’m talking about fairy tales, how about nursery rhymes?

I agree. Nursery rhymes can be scary and cruel, as this fellow mummy blogger shared. Did you know that ‘Jack and Jill’ has a French connection and is linked to King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette?

So with all the cruelty of nursery rhymes, I should refrain from singing them to my kids, shouldn’t I? Not!

Again, I take a similar position as with fairy tales. Nursery rhymes have a brilliant musicality to them, with their beats, rhythm and rhyming words, which are perfect for teaching language and literacy at a young age. Did you know that many rhymes follow a 2-3 beat? Take ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ for example:

Twinkle twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky
Twinkle twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are

Try clapping to it and you will know what I mean.

Nursery rhymes are great for word play too. Instead of ‘It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring’, it can be changed to ‘It’s raining, it’s pouring, the river is flowing.’

Nursery rhymes are brilliant for imaginative play too. I still remember going round in a human train, singing ‘London Bridge is falling down’, and trying to avoid being ‘captured’ by two friends who were pretending to be the London Bridge. That was so much fun! Fun that I would like EV and AA to have too.

So you see, nursery rhymes indeed have lots of possibilities. I love them! I’ve been singing them to EV and AA since they were in in my tummy, and I have no intention to stop. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star remains the all-time favourite, followed by Itsy Bitsy Spider and Baa Baa Black Sheep. Can’t wait for our next singalong time!

There’s one nursery rhyme that I refrain from singing, though. It’s ‘Rock-a-bye Baby’. It is about a baby on a bough and falling when the bough breaks. I mean, seriously? I’m not about to sing anything like that. Touch wood!!

All other nursery rhymes are welcomed and sung in the Say family home. And why shouldn’t they, considering how fun and imaginative they are, not forgetting their importance in increasing phonological awareness. Add in some finger play and viola! It’s instant fun that keeps any cranky kid occupied and laughing in no time.


Round and round the garden, like a Gingerbread Man.

Aha! A impromptu rhyme that infuses a popular fairy tale character, AA’s favourite character. I can’t wait to share with him later today, and watch how he ‘runs’ when I say ‘Run run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!’. He is just so adorable when he does that, melts my heart.

It’s amazing how kids fall in love with a particular tale or character and react to it in their own little way. Don’t you agree?

Do you like fairy tales and nursery rhymes? Do you accept, tolerate or avoid them at all costs?

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