Being tucked in with a stuffed animal, nightlight on, staring into mommy's (or daddy's) face while your favorite fairy tale is read to you, or sitting on the sofa during reading time and being transported to faraway lands with enchanted animals. Personally, I don't think any childhood would be complete without fairy tales. Children's lives are enriched with the addition of fairy tales, fables, myths, folk tales, and fables.
In these stories we learned how valuable a person is, that being kind makes your soul shine and leads to riches beyond measure, that staying pure and good and doing right brings an inner joy that cannot be obtained from any other place. We also learned that the evil can be beaten and what threatens us can be stopped. The suffering that happened in these tales was real to us. We sat and listened with rapt attention, at the same time putting ourselves in place of the character of the story.
Rudolf Meyer, in The Wisdom of Fairy Tales, said "Millions of human souls absorb the fairy tale motifs during their formative years, and their feelings are given a direction which influences the whole character of a people. No other literary creation, not even the most lofty classical work, has such a fundamental effect on generations of people."
Charles Hermite, French Mathematician, told a French Academy: "Develop the imagination. Everything depends on that. If you want mathematicians, give your children fairy tales." You can find this quote in the book by Marie Shedlock, The Art of the Story-Teller.
Another story, this one regarding Albert Einstein, when he was questioned by an anxious mother about how she should prepare her child to be a scientist, he replied with, "First, give him fairy tales; second, give him fairy tales, and third, give him fairy tales!"
When the Brothers Grimm wrote their first book of tales, is wasn't really written for children, even though the title was Children and Household Tales. It had many footnotes and it was quite a large volume. The second volume was changed a bit for children, being a bit more simple to understand. Wilhelm once defended the first volume to a mother that stated that she would not read it to her children because one story in it told how some children were tricked into killing their friends. Wilhelm replied to her that he was more careful when playing with his friends after he was told that story by his mother.
J.K. Rowling has this to say about fairy tales: “I really feel that we're not giving children enough credit for distinguishing what's right and what's wrong. I, for one, devoured fairy tales as a little girl. I certainly didn't believe that kissing frogs would lead me to a prince, or that eating a mysterious apple would poison me, or that with the magical "Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo" I would get a beautiful dress and a pumpkin carriage. I also don't believe that looking in a mirror and saying "Candyman, Candyman, Candyman" will make some awful serial killer come after me. I believe that many children recognize Harry Potter for what it is, fantasy literature. I'm sure there will always be some that take it too far, but that's the case with everything. I believe it's much better to engage in dialog with children to explain the difference between fantasy and reality. Then they are better equipped to deal with people who might have taken it too far.”
Bruno Bettelheim, a great 20th century child psychologist, states in "The Uses of Enchantment" that the unrealistic nature of these tales (which narrow-minded rationalists object to) is an important device, because it makes obvious that the fairy tales' concern is not useful information about the external world, but the inner processes taking place in an individual.
By fostering a child's imagination, you help their ability to visualize to grow, and with the growth of visualization comes the growth of their magical ability.
I hope that you've made the decision to make a place on your bookshelves for fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and fables. It will open the world of imagination for your children and open dialogue for discussion with them, as well.