The International TEYL Journal
FREE Materials for Teachers   |   CertTEYL Certificate Course  |   FREE Monthly Newsletter
Return to journal index and home page.

Psychoanalysis, Multiple Intelligences, and Fairy Tales in the Kindergarten Classroom

By Mark Forshee


This paper originally had Deconstruction Notes included at the end. We have changed these to POPUP NOTES so that the reader does not have to scroll up and down while reading the paper.

As an educator, I believe it is important to see/understand myself and my educational perspectives within a cultural and historical context. I see/understand myself as a product of late twentieth century thinking, and believe I share this historical context with a large portion of the population today. I am also the product/process of my own distinct academic background/foreground that informs my teaching strategies. Thus, I would like to sketch an overview of the theories that inform my pedagogy, as I describe teaching strategies designed to help young learners develop self confidence, virtue and inner directedness. Deconstruction Note 1 I will discuss the conscious and unconscious influences of Psychoanalysis on pedagogical strategies and perspectives: Freud's role as the great (western) modern "mythmaker" , Erik Erikson's developmental "life-stages", and Bruno Bettelheim's classic psychoanalytic reading of traditional fairy tales (and their implications for child development and pedagogy). I will also articulate Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory and explain how I try to utilize the ideas of this great "paradigm shifter" of pedagogy, while remembering/realizing the important pedagogical implications inherent in the classical psychoanalytic insights.

I attempt to demonstrate something of the phenomenon of Postmodernism/ Deconstruction and the linguistic/philosophical ideas of Jacques Derrida through the "performance" of a "second", "running end-note" text. Note 2

Freud had a profound effect on western languages through his creation and manipulation of metaphors. "Overdetermined" is a psychoanalytic neologism. Overdetermined: there are a multiplicity of (potentially contradictory) influences/causes for each thought/decision that we make (or that are made "through" us). We cannot identify all of the multiple influences directing our consciousness/behavior. There are multiple (unknown) wills influencing and motivating our "conscious will". We respond to salient/powerful tropes on emotional, physical, and existential dimensions.

Freud taught us that all thinking/decisions are "overdetermined". There are always unperceived internal/external variables that influence our writing/thought. We all have blindspots. Language/writing is also "overdetermined," as individual words/signs have multiple and "slippery" meanings. Note 2

Freud is the supreme modern mythmaker (modern "paradigm shifter") who created/discovered the "unconscious" and gave brilliant analysis of our internal and unknown desires/motivations. Anti-Freudians like Behaviorist B.F. Skinner have attempted to replace psychodynamic, internally motivated "insight" psychology-pedagogy with externally motivated instruction based on stimulus and response (conditioning through reinforcement). And Noam Chomsky, while not a psychoanalyst, "proved" that language development was motivated by internal cognitive variables and mechanisms in the brain that distinguish humans from the "lower" animals. Chomsky argued that humans possess a LANGUAGE ACQUISITION DEVICE that makes it possible for us to acquire languages as part of our survival strategies. Note 3

Erik Erikson expanded Psychoanalytic thought to encompass the influences of social dynamics of psychological developmental stages. The Trust vs. Mistrust stage of childhood/life development takes place within the first year of life but this "stage" is also a (dialectical) process. There is no definite terminus. The Trust vs. Mistrust "subtext" continues into the following "stages." Psychoanalysis tells us that eighty percent of the personality is formed by age five. We can see them as following a theme of advocating "narcissistic reflection" that extends to the "environmental holding" community of the kindergarten classroom (and beyond): building self-esteem within the child through stimulation of his/her unique proclivities and propensities. The initial moments/events of the Trust vs. Mistrust stage surround the child's need to trust that his parents will do what is necessary to keep him/her alive. There is literal life and literal survival. There is also psychological survival as a prerequisite to healthy personality/character development. Parents give their children life, more than once. Children have physical needs and children have psychological needs. 4

Psychoanalysis teaches us that it is very important for young children to possess the deep inner pride that comes with being able to express and exhibit their narcissistic impulse and have it joyfully affirmed and reflected back to them. This is a base/reservoir that the child can return to as a well-spring of affirmation and encouragement. The child can access this important affirmation of Self and use this power to strengthen his resilience to life's disappointments and chart new directions for his life with confidence and energy.

We are all familiar with Ovid's story/myth of Narcissus. Freud meditates on and analyzes this phenomenon of stages and styles of self-love. He centers and surrounds his discussion around the scientific-mythological neologism "Narcissism". Psychoanalysts D. W. Winnicott and Heinz Kohut emphasize the importance of "reflecting" the young child's "Healthy Narcissism" toward the development of (existential) trust and self esteem. Erik Erikson emphasizes this "reflection" (giving the child the reflected brilliance of his/her narcissistic performances) and "environmental holding" (creating a human environment that nurtures and protects the child from sudden shocks to the burgeoning ego) and presents it as the first challenge/crisis of development. All of Erikson's "life stages" are presented as a confrontational dynamic. The child/human develops in relation to his/her external environment. All of the life-stages, beginning with Trust vs. Mistrust, follow a kind of dialectical format. The continuum should lean toward the "positive term" but these are not presented as absolute developmental binaries. We want the child to trust in his environment but we don't want to make him gullible. We do want the child to trust him/her self. Freud points out how we all possess a kind of "healthy narcissism" which allows us to progress and take constructive chances and makes forward contributions to our lives and our communities. Trust vs. Mistrust leads to Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (2-3 years).

With the bravery and confidence of Autonomy, the child can chart new initiatives. The kindergarten year is an important period for the development of the dominant tendency toward Initiative vs. Guilt. This stage is followed by Industry vs. Inferiority: The kindergarten child creating/experiencing more sophisticated triumphs of Initiative (3 to 6 years) and beginning to create/discovery their pride in work-completed, and pride in well-performed hard work: With the virtue of Industry, the child can enter the more rigorous levels of his academic career with strong causal consciousness regarding determination, diligence, and positive outcomes. This is the very important process of ego formation. The child externalizes/projects/sublimates his/her libidinal energy.

How can we, as educators, help young learners find/create their own "greatness" and have the adequate Trust, Autonomy, Initiative and Industry to reach their highest academic potentials? Both Bruno Bettelheim and Howard Gardner provide us with useful tools and ideas for strengthening young learners voices, sense of identity, and ability to contend with the various social pressures around them. Bruno Bettelheim reminds us (and informs us with psychoanalytic wisdom) of the rich psychological material and sources of healthy inner-directedness that are provided with the exposure to fairy tale literature.

Thought is an exploration of possibilities which avoids all the dangers inherent in actual experimentation. Thought requires a small expenditure of energy, so we have energy available for action after we have reached decisions through speculating about the chances for success and the best way to achieve it. This is true for adults; for example, the scientist 'plays with ideas' before he starts to explore them more systematically. But the young child's thoughts do not proceed in an orderly way, as adult's do -- the child's fantasies are his thoughts. When a child tries to understand himself and others, he spins fantasies around these issues. It is his way of 'playing with ideas'. (The Uses of Enchantment)

Bettelheim teaches us that traditional fairy tales are metaphorical/allegorical guides for the psyche. Fairy tales allow the child to make his/her own decisions within the framework of healthy (and buoyant) narrative structure. The child becomes a proactive reader who can assimilate the healthy aspects of the narrative while styling those lessons to his/her own idiosyncratic understandings.

The rich metaphors/allegories and fantasy material of traditional fairy tale literature provides the young child with a perfect psychological environment for self discovery/creation. Young children are natural scientists and philosophers. Young children seek answers to life's "big" questions. The young child needs access to age appropriate philosophical and spiritual "answers." The fairy tale allows the child the magical ability to "play" inside of the text. The child is free to identify with any or all of the characters in the fairy tale narrative. In accordance with the Traditional-Oral and Postmodern-literary styles, the children are free proactively to modify details and dynamics in the story. The young child receives comforting and encouraging psychological "possible-answers" in the face of urgent and troubling existential riddles/questions, presented such that the child is implicitly empowered to massage and/or redirect the various character tropes in the narrative (i.e., gender of parent and/or child, specific causal and ethical conclusions, etc.).

Bettelheim writes:

The fairy tale provides what the child needs most: it begins exactly where the child is emotionally, shows him where he has to go, and how to do it. But the fairy tale does this by implication, in the form of fantasy material which the child can draw on as seems best to him, and by means of images which make it easy for him to comprehend what he must understand ... The fairy story communicates to the child an intuitive, subconscious understanding of his own nature and of what his future may hold if he develops his positive potentials. He senses from fairy tales that to be a human being in this world of ours means having to accept difficult challenges, but also encountering wondrous adventures. (ibid.)

The fairy tale provides a psychic map and compass for the child, allowing him/her to see/anticipate the developmental/maturation challenges/crises that he/she will inevitable experience.

In the kindergarten class that I teach, I focus on fairy tale narratives and I try to present the literature through various mediums designed to stimulate and enhance the multiple intelligences. The child self-selects the activities that interest him/her and gravitate to those activities that allow him/her to discover and exhibit his/her unique strengths and abilities, and through creative synergistic interaction with other intelligences in their particular constellation/configuration. In psychoanalytic terms, I am presenting the children with activities designed to stimulate their configuration of intelligences, thus allowing each child to possess the healthy Narcissistic self-confidence leading to more determined and proactive learning experiences.

Howard Gardner is another modern mythmaker, a "paradigm shifter", in the same vein as Freud. Gardner studied under the famous psychoanalyst Erik Erikson (when he was a student at Harvard, before earning his Ph.D. from Harvard). Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory identifies seven separate (but relatively interdependent) intelligences which each person possesses in unique cognitive constellations and configurations. Each individual possesses an idiosyncratic configuration of intelligences. Each intelligence exists in the individual to varying degrees. 5

Gardner's seven identified intelligences function with varying levels of interdependence and unique amplifications and attenuations (in terms of interaction and intensity).6

Gardner generally "frowns" on check-lists and artificial testing/demarcations -- defining students through artificial rubrics and quantification of intelligence quotients. Gardner advocates a more dynamic, process oriented approach, based on extensive individual teacher-student interviews and child-centered portfolio collections/-presentations. He advises us to focus on the individual child's strong cognitive proclivities and propensities instead of worrying ourselves (and the children) about particular developmental/cognitive weaknesses, including recognition and affirmation of individual variability in speed and rates of developmental skills and recognition and affirmation of the hitherto underappreciated intelligences of musical skills, kinesthetic skills, spatial recognition and manipulation skills, and the introverted/extroverted "people skills" of personal intelligence and intrapersonal intelligence (knowledge of other and knowledge of self, empathy/other consciousness and self consciousness). In the language of Psychoanalysis: Gardner advises teachers to affirm and reflect the young learners' narcissistic performances. Kindergarten teachers should actively facilitate the development of the positive virtues: trust, autonomy, initiative and industry.

In my own pedagogy, I draw on Gardner's insights, as well as those of Bettelheim. I tell the fairy tales with great kinesthetic expressions and "musical intonations" without reference to a book. The telling of the story is interactive; the children are given the freedom to influence and direct the narrative details, twists and conclusions. The children then draw pictorial representations of the fairy tales they have heard/experienced. The children also retell the fairy tale from memory, according to their own self-approved versions.

I read various book versions of the same fairy tale, with different endings. In accordance with Bettelheim's claims, the children often/always prefer the "older" versions of the fairy tales (instead of the Disney-type versions). As Bettelheim points out, the details of the narratives are psychologically important for the children and contain powerful tropes, powerful "metaphors, metonymns and anthropomorphisms" inside the hermeneutic, dynamic whole of the text. We make and "solve" puzzles depicting the major figures and events in the fairytales (spatial intelligence), we discus and analyze the fairy tales , allowing the children to extend their perspectives through "empathy awareness activities", learning about feelings of Self and Other , adopting different perspectives, resolving emotional/existential/family riddles (interpersonal and intra personal intelligences). We organize and practice puppet performances and thus extend the fairy tale analysis toward actual manifestation and adaptation (the children actively perform/demonstrate their understandings through bringing their realizations/discoveries to "life" in puppet performance. We also develop songs and dances to coordinate with the fairy tales (musical and kinesthetic intelligences). Every child is given the opportunity to "shine".

We experience the total narrative power of the "Hansel and Gretel" fairy tale. We are presented with the image/vignette of a happy and self-sufficient family. This is the harmonious family paradise before the inevitable onset of difficulties which require ego development and progressive "reality testing". The idyllic family symbiosis is inevitable disrupted by the "death" (absence) of the "good mother." This is an objectification of the child's experience of the (sudden) absence of the all-giving, all-providing, all-generous, symbiotic mother. The absolutely "good mother" must "die" so that the child may (gradually/abruptly) learn the requirements, tasks, and forethought necessary for successful functioning according to the "reality principle." The child learns that thought (infantile "primary process thinking") does/can not, all by itself, create reality. (Just thinking of the breast no longer magically "creates" or provides the breast for the child.) The child must begin to use an understanding/consciousness of causality to manipulate his/her environment, in order to eventually satisfy the "pleasure principle" in constructive, sublimated, goal-directed, and socially acceptable ways. This is initially a frightening experience for the young child, at least on the unconscious level. The "original" all-giving, all-pleasure producing mother is "dead" and the new mother figure is an evil substitute (perceived as "evil" by the developing children at the moment/time).

The evil stepmother takes on various behavioral manifestations in different fairy tales. In Hansel and Gretel, the new step mother no longer provides enough food (the breast or breast- substitutes, the pleasure totems, no longer magically appear on thought-demands) and somehow blames the children for the sudden failure. All food comes from the "mother" and if food fails to come as expected, the food/pleasure producing Mother is experienced as "dead."

The children fear abandonment. This is the very real fear a child demonstrates when he/she clings to his/her mother at the school gate. 7 The child's fears are realized in the tale as the parents lead Hansel and Gretel deep in to the forest. The parents return home and a bird eats Hansel s bread-trail. The children are lost/abandoned. Another bird guides the children to the gingerbread house. A third bird leads them back to their Father after they steal the witch's gold and jewels. The birds signify the necessary and destined pattern/dynamics of development.

The brother and sister in the narrative help each other to overcome the life/developmental challenges: The brother exhibits the necessary bravery to venture an emergency survival strategy (albeit it a faulty one, the bread trail). The sister comes up with the clever idea to present the poor-sighted witch with a chicken bone "finger." The sister tricks the witch into climbing into the oven. Both sister and brother carry the witch's gold and jewels out of the gingerbread house. The children must return to their father by crossing a body of water. This is a new, extra task that he/she must fulfill. The symbiotic/unified siblings must cross the river individually, on the back of a magic duck. More psychological distinctions/patterns are recognized. The children return to their father with their newly-found, newly "earned" riches. These riches will mean the survival and salvation of the family/self.

This event satisfies the child's need to feel that he/she is contributing to the well-being of the family. The family is a projection to be incorporated and thus helping the family to survive and prosper amounts to helping the self survive and prosper: more independence and more feelings of competence and what psychologist Bandura calls "self-efficacy". The children "graduate" from total dependency toward increased independence and self-sufficiency. The children overcome their fear and struggles with loss and newly encountered self-sufficiency requirements; the children earned rewards that provided sustenance for the family unity and the integrated self. The "good mother" figure is physically absent but her image/imago is eternally/psychically present, because the child has successfully incorporated her psychologically (Uroborus: the snake eating its tail/tale).

Freud reminded us of the mysterious powers of the body and the subconscious/metaphorical forces that move through the body (oral, anal, phallic, latency: "taking in", "holding on", and "letting go", "going inside in preparation to demonstrate outside"). Erikson expanded psychoanalytic thought to explain the effects of social dynamics on the development of the Self and the varieties of identity/personality construction. Jung went beyond the psychoanalytic framework/paradigm to postulate multiple personality types, which virtually amount to different empirical means of experiencing being/reality/life/existence (Introversion, Extraversion, Thinking types, feeling types, intuitive types etc.: the Meyers Briggs personality test is an application of this concept). Gardner's Multiple Intelligence theory identifies different intelligences (different styles of learning and of exhibiting understandings).8

Editorial Note: Gardner's MI Theory does not encompass learning styles theories. This article (PDF Format) explains this better: Learning Styles vs. Multiple Intelligences

Freud changes our lives by changing our thoughts. Freud gives us psychoanalytic descriptions/definitions, so that we can map and better understand our internal world. Erikson expanded the psychoanalytic descriptions/definitions to map the life long developmental process in the societal web of relations. Bettelheim helps us to understand emotional and cognitive development through the multiple meanings of fairy tales. In my kindergarten class, I try to exercise these multiple understandings/truths in my kindergarten classroom; I focus on the individual child and his/her learning needs. All of these theoretical truths/understandings can be helpful and yet they are not "absolute truths". All of these theories help us to understand and benefit the individual child toward discovering/creating Self, integrating the many aspects and dynamics of the personality, and developing the necessary "virtues" for intellectual, emotional, and existential wisdom. 9

A TRUE teacher doesn't take anything seriously except in relation to his Pupils , not even himself - Nietzsche

What is truth? a mobile army of metaphors, metonymns, and anthropomorphisms. In short, a sum of relations - Nietzsche

Language speaks man. - Heidegger

Comments and questions? Please contact us.

The International TEYL Journal is owned, published, and copyrighted 2006 - 2012 Advanced Teacher Training.
All rights reserved. Online ISSN 1705-6276 Print ISSN 1705-6268 CD-ROM ISSN 1705-6284