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Why Are Folktales Important?

from Stone Soup

Folktales can be used to help children study other cultural traditions, model positive character traits, learn about the consequences of decision making, and even develop stronger reading skills

Our collection of folktales from the world’s great oral traditions, was developed to immerse children in timeless stories and help them discover a love of reading. These highly engaging stories represent a range of diverse story traditions. We’ve collected folktales from China, Africa, Latin America, India, Europe, Malaysia, the Middle East, Native America, and even remote places like the Marshall Islands or Siberia.


As Margaret Read MacDonald writes, “A folktale is a story that has been passed from person to person.” For more information about what is a folktale, you might go to What-is-a-folktale.

Margaret also cites there are many forms and genres of folktales including:


  • Animal Stories

  • Epics

  • Fables

  • Fairytales

  • Legends 

  • Myths

  • Tall Tales

  • Urban Legends

Since folktales have been passed down through the oral tradition, they were honed for listening, so they were easy to remember and share. As a result, folktales make it easier for children to differentiate characters, follow a plotline or recall a sequence of events. Not surprisingly, working with folktales can also help children develop the critical reading skills of phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension needed to meet the requirements defined in the Common Core Standards for Reading.  


These classic stories are not only highly entertaining, they also play an important role in passing along core values or character traits. Folktales were often employed to share a common history, to reinforce cultural values, or highlight important traditions. 


When people belonged to a tribe or lived in a small village, by necessity they needed to be able to get along well under a variety of circumstances and minimize conflict. Typically, only the chief, a high priest or a shaman could confront someone over committing an offense. As a result, stories were often shared to intentionally clarify how a transgression had occurred. Hopefully, the person at fault would then recognize the parallel between their actions and a character’s mistakes in the story.


As folktales were passed down over generations, they modeled behaviors and helped reinforce expectations about how to live a meaningful life. Over time, folktales subtly incorporated character traits like caring, resourcefulness, trust, or courage into the fabric of the stories.


Folktales also model the elements of effective decision-making. Characters in folktales invariably encounter conflicts that require them to make difficult decisions and take action to resolve a conflict. These decisions then lead to clear consequences that carry a message: making a “good” or more responsible decision results in positive outcomes while making a “poor” or irresponsible decision inevitably leads to negative outcomes. As a result, folktales can demonstrate the importance of making difficult decisions under challenging circumstances. Engaging children in discussions about the consequences of making poorly thought-out or rash decisions, helps them see the importance of making effective decisions in their lives. 


You might want to learn about the common characteristics of folktales.

Folktales by their nature celebrate diversity. By experiencing stories from different cultures, children can discover valuable insights about another culture’s values, beliefs, history, practices, and customs. When children learn about diverse cultural traditions, they not only broaden their view of the world, they frequently develop a greater appreciation of their own family’s heritage. 


Folktales can be used in a variety of ways to help children: 


  • Develop stronger reading skills

  • Study other cultures

  • Model character traits

  • Appreciate other traditions

  • Learn about decision making 

  • Explore new ways of seeing the world

  • Discover a love of stories


As you explore the diverse stories included in our folktale collection, please remember that all of these timeless stories share a common thread: they were preserved so they could be shared over and over again with each new generation. Learn more about using folktales in the classroom, or check out Margaret Read MacDonald’s award-winning book Teaching with Story.


We also have over 45 differentiated lesson plans with worksheets that are correlated to the common core standards for Kindergarten through 2nd grade. These lesson plans and worksheets can be downloaded for free.

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