A while ago I was hunting around for some new stories to read to Am. As always, I was looking for bedtime stories that would relax her and hopefully send her off to sleep so I could get on with some wine & trash tv. And as always, I was internally groaning at the rows and rows of books about unicorns, fairies and super-heroes. What I really wanted to read her, were stories about the real world.
Maria Montessori had a thing about fairy tales and any kind of magical realism. She believed our world was packed full to the brim with enough wonder to fascinate any child, and that fantasy only stunts a child’s understanding of the amazing place we live.
It is true that the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly is just as dazzling as any unicorn adventure, and the lion hunt on the savannah as fearsome as the most dastardly Disney villain.
Personally, I will never be against fairy tales, they weave our history and traditions through their stories, and show good triumph over evil in full pantomime glory. They incorporate diverse customs into their charm, and can allow us to step foot in a different culture, or time. They can provide insight into social mores, provide guidelines for behaviour, and allow for important conversations about outdated tropes and unacceptable stereotypes. I can, however, see where Maria Montessori was coming from; The world is incredible enough, there is no need to add what is literally unbelievable to spark a child’s interest.
I wanted to read her stories that were based on the world around her now, which would hopefully capture her interest and help her learn about her environment. There are of course many, many books that do this, and I list some of our favourites here. The ones I had found were not exactly what I was looking for, which a collection of short stories about the natural world in the form of a guided meditation for relaxation.
So I decided to write my own. At first they were little stories about animals that live in our part of the UK, in South East England, in the form of guided meditation to help her to relax for sleep. She mostly ignored them at the start, and pleaded for me to make up stories about Pocoyo and Peppa Pig instead. In turn I chose to ignore the maxim of ‘Follow The Child’ and kept at it. During the day I would make up as many ridiculous stories about cartoon characters as she wanted (‘Mummy, can you tell me a story about when Elly the elephant didn’t like eyes.’)
I would read her a mix of stories about real life (going to nursery, learning to use the potty etc) and flying unicorns or fairy princesses with talking frogs. But at bedtime, I would tell her one of my natural world stories. She began to engage with them more, and asked for her favourite ones to be repeated.
When I told friends what I was writing, they asked to read them, and said their children enjoyed them. I enjoyed writing them and started researching interesting animals, places, and things in nature I though might make a good story. I’m now adding ones about different periods of history, to enable her to step into the life of a child in the past. I hope these stories are helping her to grow her knowledge and understanding of the world, which is a fundamental principle of Montessori.