I don’t know how many of you are teachers, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or just generally have children that you care about in your lives, but if you fall into one of those categories, then you probably have struggled at some point with starting a meaningful conversation with children. And if you don’t have a problem starting the conversation, then you probably have had some issues with sustaining a meaningful conversation. The answer to this dilemma is simple–you have to trick them.
One of the reasons I love fairy tales, fantasy, and good fiction stories in general, is because they can be used to till up the moral imaginative soil in child. Most kids–and let’s be honest, most people–don’t respond well when people are didactic about “how you should act.” I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for this style, but in my experience, this heavy-handed style of teaching is often either rejected completely or forgotten rather quickly–even if the content it good.
Fairy tales on the other hand provide a framework for talking about virtue without initially talking about virtue. In essence, your job as a teacher of virtue becomes that of a moderator rather than a speaker. A question-asker rather than an answer-giver.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m not suggesting that virtue is relative, but guiding the discussion with questions in the framework of a story usually yields a much greater harvest. Here are a few examples of questions that I ask in my class after reading a fairy tale:
1. Is there a clear good/bad person?
2. Why are they good/bad?
3. Is the good person rewarded? Is the bad person punished? Why?
Even if you have to ask a more directed questions like “What do you think about how Snow White’s step-mother gets punished?” “Does that seem fair?”
Children intuitively have a strong moral compass of what is right and wrong, so don’t be surprised if children have less of an issue with justice being served to “bad” characters than adults. Help them explore these feelings.
In his book, Tending the Heart of Virtue, Vigen Guroian writes, “Children are vitally concerned with distinguishing good from evil and truth from falsehood…and “children need guidance and moral road maps and they benefit immensely with the example of adults who speak truthfully and act from moral strength.”
So go ahead, ask questions. Explore with them. Be a moral road map!