The Morals of Stories

For the past few weeks, the Sunshine Room has been reading different versions of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. In many of the versions, the largest billy goat resolved the conflict, or “fixed the problem” with the troll by being physically aggressive.  

As teachers, we talk with the children about how being physical was not a safe choice, and how the goats and trolls should have communicated better with each other. Although the idea and images of the troll getting butted or kicked off the bridge into the water made the children laugh, they seemed to connect with the idea of using peaceful words instead of their bodies as a solution.

Later, the children had opportunities to act out the story. They got to choose which character they were and how the largest billy goat was going to end the story. In each of the performances the children opted to invite the troll over to the meadow with them to eat grass or pizza or even dog bones!

After noticing the children chose peaceful resolutions, we took a look at Jack and the Beanstalk. In the first version we read, Jack climbed up the stalk without telling anyone where he was going, stole gold coins from the giant, and then cut down the beanstalk. The giant was merely following Jack to get his money back. Wouldn’t anyone follow someone that took their belongings? Why is the giant the villain? While reading this it seemed to us that Jack was the one who was being rude, unsafe or mean. 

So we wondered…

  • What are the children taking away from the stories we are sharing?
  • How can we use these “old school” fairy tales in a positive way with the children?

After reading the same story again we stopped throughout to check-in with the children about what they thought about what happened. 

What would you do if you saw that huge beanstalk outside your window?
I just couldn’t climb it at all.
I would ask my dad and then he would say yes or no.
I would see if my mom would go with me.
I would yell, “HEY, it’s not safe!”

Why might the giant be grumpy?
He thinks kids smell like stinky and farty. 
Maybe a long, long time ago a different kid stole his gold and he didn’t get it back.

What could Jack have done differently?
He should have asked the giant when he woke up. (to take his gold)
He could just get a job from the giants and then earn the money.

How would you feel if you were the giant and someone took your money?
I would be sad and call the police.

How could Jack fix it with the giant at the end of the story?
He could bring the gold back and just drop it on the cloud floor and run away.
He could give the money back, and a cow and then he would have milk.
He could say sorry with a card.

Then we read a different version of Jack and the Beanstalk. The children noticed the differences as we were reading. One of the stories had more of a positive moral while the other seemed to reward the unthoughtful behavior. It was reassuring that the children preferred the story that had a more positive message of kindness!

Reading these classic stories and consider the messages they are sending children made us wonder. Can children decipher how the events in the story are “just pretend” and that it wouldn’t be safe or kind to actually do the things the characters do in the story? We value the conversations we have had surrounding these stories and the children’s reactions to them. It has been meaningful to focus on the morals and characters that we all know so well and really analyze the stories with the children. We hope that this focus will not only be meaningful conversations to have, and will lead to more meaningful storytelling in the future.

Reflection by Emma Kane and Jessica Kardas, Sunshine Room Co-Teachers

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