Friday, May 14, 2010

What is it about Rapunzel?

I love using fairy tales and folktales to deliver important messages about friendship and appropriate behavior. I always "ham it up" in my reading/retelling, and ask lots of questions. Take for example, The Princess and the Pea - this presents a perfect opportunity to discuss whether it is a good idea for the guest to "whine" ("Oh, that bed was so lumpy! I didn't sleep a wink all night!"). Then there's The Three Billy Goats Gruff - what about that Troll? Was he a kind guy? Did he own that bridge? Should he hurt others? Was that behavior "thumbs up" or "thumbs down"? Oh, and Goldilocks - excuse me, but did she knock on the door? Did she remember to first get the attention of those bears? Did she have any right to just walk in?

This year, the story of Rapunzel won everyone's heart. I read to them the original story from Armand Eisen's A Treasury of Children's Literature. I read the story slowly and dramatically, pausing to ask my questions - Should that witch have taken that little girl and made her live in the tower? Was this the right thing to do? And, somewhat protectively, I added, Is this story real? Is it a true story or pretend? Are there witches? Then, I retold the story using the spoof (or what is often called "a fractured fairy tale") Falling for Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox. At circle, I unveiled a long three part rope for us to braid together...three children at a time, each holding an end of the "hair," and me at the opposite end, holding the tied-together part. We practiced motion terms - moving under, over, to the side, in the middle, to the right, to the left. It was rather hard for these 3s, but they were focused - fascinated to see a braided rope appear. (An unexpected hit was my simple follow-up project, to make their own individual Rapunzel picture - braiding her hair, trying to draw her. Much to my surprise, all the children worked on this, trying to create the braid. A fun way to build fine motor skills.)

During freeplay that day (and over the next several days, as well) I learned what a hold this story had on the children. Using the blocks, they built a (short) tower for Rapunzel to live. Then their retelling and dramatization of the tale began. In the children's version, the witch is very kind and motherly. She visits Rapunzel frequently, bringing treats. There's no need for only one prince and one Rapunzel - one day, two princes appeared on the scene and they called out for five Rapunzels. In the children's version, the mother witch welcomes the princes. They work together to defeat a common enemy - imaginary dragons. But then, some children decide to be the dragons and it is decided that all will live peacefully together - mother witch, princes, Rapunzels, many, many babies, and even the dragons, because the dragons protect the castle. The tower blocks are frequently turned into a dance floor and a fabulous dancing ball is held.

I am fascinated how children seem to know instinctively how to make things better. They are fascinated by good versus evil, they long to hear about witches, monsters, bad guys, and trolls, but their goal is clear - peace and harmony will reign. This is a true happily ever after tale.


  1. Wonderful. Love the rope part.
    Wonder what would happen if you left the 3 pieces of rope out another day?

  2. What a perfectly wonderful way to use Rapunzel. I love the circle time activity of braiding the "hair." Reading this made me miss preschool.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Marla! You are a regular contributor and I really appreciate it.

    Must admit - I thought about putting that rope out again, but my "friskier friends" worry me. With your voice in my head, I will give it a try this week. It will be fun to see what they make of it...and I'll be keeping my eyes on them!

  4. Thank you, Megan, too! I found your comment after writing to Marla. I miss teaching with you - you are the theatrical one!