Big issues

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By Teresa Saundersfreelance writer and education journalist

Stories imitate life, so use them in an imaginative and creative way to help children both confront, and try to resolve, some of life’s big issues

child reading

Fear and hate, cruelty and jealousy, anger and violence, war and death. Children’s stories have never dodged life’s big issues – and generations of youngsters have learned to confront some of the worst human failings through the pages of the stories that they read. Stories play a vital role in helping children to explore the different ways in which problems can be overcome – through cleverness, courage or humour – as well as introducing them to the virtues of kindness and compassion, truth and honesty, forgiveness and understanding. While stories provide a safe and secure environment to learn about difficult aspects of life, by Key Stage 2 children will have already started to draw on their own experiences to empathise with certain situations, characters and feelings that they encounter in books. Concentrating on resolution and encouraging children to talk about how problems could have been avoided or overcome will not only help them to gain a greater insight into the stories, it will help to initiate discussions about life’s big issues. Avoid just selecting books that tackle issues such as bullying and bereavement head-on. You will also find plenty to talk about in genres such as fairy tales and fables – and it will be useful to compare the different ways in which problems and issues are resolved. The activities suggested overleaf use stories from different genres to explore a wide range of issues.

“Stories play a vital role in helping children to explore the different ways in which problems can be overcome”

Different stories, different endings

Fairy tales: Traditionally, fairy tales have happy endings. But living happily ever after comes at a price. Intricate quests must be fulfilled. Desperation must be endured. Cruel, odious characters – witches, giants, wicked stepmothers or ugly sisters – must be outwitted.

Myths: Myths try to make sense of human failings and, as in life, the outcome is not always happy. Destruction and danger are frequent. Gods, demons and terrifying monsters conspire against human endeavour. Solutions include compromise, ridicule and death.

Legends: Legends concentrate on positive outcomes based on high ideals. To achieve this, legends romanticise events, people and deeds. Honour, chivalry and heroism are important themes.

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