Some background to the story…
The story of Snow White is one that most of us heard in childhood, either through the medium of a tale or the movie. Thanks largely to the popularity of the film and the sanitising effect of the past hundred years or so of adaptions, the version we know today can lay claim to being one of the most famous and commonly retold folk story from the Grimm’s collection, if not all fairy tales of all time.
Collected by the Grimm brothers in the early part of the nineteenth century, it quickly became a favourite story for families to share. Variants began to appear almost straightaway, as a later edition of the collection edited by one of the brothers added details that made Snow White a more active member of the dwarf household, expected to take on the duties for the chores around the house. Features included in the story of this period that may, or may not, have lasted to what is being told lately, are the cannibalistic habits of the Stepmother (she ate the cooked heart and liver of ‘Snow White’ – a hart killed by the huntsman), the carrying of Snow White up a mountain to be displayed to the world (no mention of a glass coffin, by the way), the lack of a kiss from a prince to revive Snow White (the apple was dislodged from her throat during the mourning journey as the prince carried her away… goodness knows why… when he fell in her love with her corpse looking body, ewww), the existence of a huntsman at all, the question of the age of Snow White (in the text, it is clearly indicated that she is seven when she runs away from her evil stepmother, which makes her relationships with her stepmother and dwarves, and then her marriage to the prince problematic, if you don’t accept the slow passing of time between moments of plot – presumably she is much older than seven at the end of the story). The ending of the story is one of the biggest divergences from the Grimms’ version of the story, as they record that the stepmother, seething with jealousy and rage, has been invited to the wedding and, while so incensed that she can hardly bare to go, can’t resist the temptation to be part of the big finale. Her reward for her evil doings is to be given a pair of red hot iron shoes, that she must wear and dance in until she drops down dead – a similar fate shared by the stepmother figure in Ashenputtel [sic], the Grimm Cinderella story.
A WORD OF CAUTION – please ignore this bit if you know this already, but if you look up Snow White in Grimm Tales collections ensure that it is this one. There is another story that features a character called Snow White, who has a sister called Rose Red, and they both get caught up in all sorts of trouble. An interesting enough story, but don’t read it and think it’ll suddenly involve dwarves and apples and things. Well, there are some similarities, though not enough to make it worthy of doing much comparative work.
There are some fantastic retellings of the story out there. My favourite author, Neil Gaiman, wrote a rather compelling version in his collection of short stories, Smoke and Mirrors¸ entitled Snow, Glass, Apples, which is totally unsuitable for anyone under the age of twenty-five or of a nervous disposition (Rude behaviour! Seduction! Language!). This is now in graphic novel form and is in every sense, graphic. I adore it. It has a beauty from the pre-Raphealites and art nouveau, by way of Hollywood of the 1920s. By the same author and more suitable for younger audiences, with some caution, The Sleeper and The Spindle continues the story of Snow White from the end of the usual tale, and adds an unnerving and heart-breaking twist by including features from another well-known princess’ sad fate. This the tip of the iceberg as Snow White goes. The movie world has offered us the dreadful Mirror Mirror (avoid is my advice, as I have the put the effort in to enjoy/endure it a couple of times and I can’t find anything to recommend it other than it eventually ends, despite Arnie Hammer raising the tone by walking around in his pants and everything, looking like it’s been shot by Instagrammers on holiday at Disneyland, from their usual haunt of the land of Deviant Art). The Snow White and the Huntsman film and it’s sequel, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, are entertaining and fun, but bring only Thor with a dodgy accent to the party, and something that is meant to be the Snow Queen, I think, though quite frankly, I wasn’t sure what that plot line was about or how it related to anything I had read in folk tales previously, but then what do I know?
I know this is stating the blindingly obvious, but particularly with this story, when you use the internet for research, always, ALWAYS, use safe search, especially for images. I’ve not recovered yet from what I saw when carrying out research, as it can get very weird, very quickly, even with a moderate search. If you don’t, you’ll want to wash your eyeballs. Unless that’s your thing, in which case, well, I never knew you that about you and what are you doing here? I am weird, but not THAT kind of weird.
Notes on the Activities
Like the games and activities in my Hansel and Gretel Activity Pack, these are great as warm-ups to sessions or as short bursts of activity in themselves. Some of them you may recognise, but I have given them a twist to make them special and a flavour of the theme. Children like familiar games, so if you know some other games like this, add them to your session or part of your day.
Gather your group together, and read, recite or otherwise perform the opening part of the story to get everyone focussed and ready to work or play. I find a story, or a poem, gives everyone a chance to sit down and settle down, as well as for boundaries to be established. However, I wouldn’t go through the whole story in one sitting. For one thing, if you are going to be performing yourself, you’ll more than likely run out of puff if you do the full version of the story. It is quite intense too, and a break to relieve or build-up the tension (whichever you feel like!), is not a bad idea. Draw attention to the key features of the plot and what has just happened and why. There’s a lot going on in this story, and while it’s not crucial that everyone gets every single nuance and facet of it, to get to grips with it properly is a bit of a challenge for some children. The most important thing is that the children have a meaningful experience, so do take time to savour the story, and enjoy it, and that includes you too.
It’s probably best if you choose your own pause stops in the text, but if you want some hints, here’s what I would do:
- Introduction to the story and go into the story up to the part where Snow White is alone in the woods (it creates a bit of tension). Do reassure the children if you need to about the happiness of the ending btw. Discuss the key events and characters, and record them on an ‘ever after tree’ – draw a tree and have a leaf for each bit of the story or key feature. Do activities based on monochrome with hints of red, do mirror activities
- Finding the dwarves cottage – go over the part when Snow White finds the cottage, sneaks in and goes to bed (if that is what she does) or is discovered. Compare with other stories featuring cottages in woods (Hansel and Gretel, Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks), count in sets of seven
- Life in the cottage – cover the lives of Snow White and the dwarves at the house. Drama time – act out the story: Snow White’s day and the Dwarves mining activities
- The arrival of the ‘Pedlar’ – what happens when the stepmother intervenes in Snow White’s life. Act out the story with the journey through the woods and with her pack of evil. What was in the pack? What wasn’t? Play the memory game – place items out on a tray. Cover, children cover eyes; remove items; children spot what is missing. Problem solve the way out of Snow White’s problems.
PART ONE – DOC’s CLEVER GAMES (short warm-up activities)
- The Diamond Game – put the group in a seated circle, both fists tight in their laps, select one member of the group to be Doc. He has to leave the room or move away to where they can’t see or hear what happens next, while you select a child to hold a fake ‘diamond’ in a tightened fist. When Doc returns, they have three guesses to find the ‘diamond’ – if they guess correctly they can choose who goes next, if they don’t, the successful diamond hider gets to be Doc. Feel free to substitute the diamond for any other treasure or item from the Pedlar’s pack that you prefer. A good game for concentration and creating calm.
- Wake up Sleepy – a physical warm-up. Everyone is Sleepy, trying to wake up! Stretch up a hand, an arm, two hands, two arms, a head, a body. Reach out a hand, an arm, two arms, a head, a foot, etc, until the whole body is grasping and aiming for new treasures. Add big yawns (vocalised or not, it’s up to you). Extend the movements into small circular movements, tightening and loosening muscles.
- Woodland Walk – basically a Follow-The-Leader game: make this as intense as you like, as it can be Snow White going for a walk with the Dwarves, the Dwarves going to work, or a more intense search for Snow White by the stepmother or huntsman. Start with a slow walk and a sensible leader to make sure that everyone has the idea…, then build-up the complexity of the movements and speed, direction etc. Great at Forest School, but can be done pretty much anywhere (within reason, obviously). Add a path to follow with cones or pebbles or breadcrumbs, as a huntsman would look for footprints in the snow… the options are endless here!
- Behold the Mirror! – a simple mirroring game. Give everyone a partner and place them face to face. Tell (however tempting asking them to choose usually ends in anarchy, so take the onus off them) one of them to be a witch or wizard and the other a magic mirror must copy everything their boss does. Start with small hand movements up and down, move on to finer hand and face movements and/or moving the body around the space. This may take a few sessions to perfect
- Beware the Witch – an un-Musical Statues game, or with magic themed music, the children mime the Snow White’s jobs as instructed by the leader (adult or nominated child), until the shout goes from the leader ‘BEWARE THE WITCH’, and they must hide. Witches have terrible eyesight, so as long as they stand still they’ll be fine (that’s where the statues bit comes in). This is a great game as it gives the reluctant dancer something to do, as Musical Statues can be a challenge for them
- Who’s in the Wood? – as an alternative to the above, the children move around until the call goes out ‘HERE COMES THE WITCH’, and they all curl up in a ball. One of the children is then covered with a cloth by an adult, and once covered, the other children can move around them in a circle and have a guess at who is missing. BEWARE – lots of peeking can occur. Keep an eye out for sneaky peekers!
- Laces – set up a lacing area. Unless you have a very permissive school, leave your corset at home. Bring in a pair of old shoes or boots and give the children opportunities to experiment with doing up the laces. Start with basic knots and bows. Move on to patterns with the laces themselves (criss-crosses etc)
PART TWO – A BASKET OF IDEAS
- Act out the story – do this in parts, just as you would with the telling of the story. Give the children roles in small groups and swap them about to keep it fresh and interesting for them. They will need lots of prompting here and go over the warm-up games for about half a session to get them ready. Work on empathy and how the characters feel, but keep them focussed on what they have been asked to do and keep everything short and lively.
- Ask the Magic Mirror questions – the Queen has the mirror and only chooses to ask it who the fairest of them all is, but it must be able to answer other questions too. Using the mirror as a framing device, develop the concept of how to write questions. Once they are all written, do some sneaky research if necessary and then take the role of the mirror in the hot seat and answer those questions. Use this device to ask questions and develop an understanding of how to answer questions in full sentences – something many children struggle with
- Have a stock of mirrors and tell the children to create a self-portrait, drawing themselves as the fairest of them all (obviously)
- Create ‘Frankenstein’ pictures of faces by using collaged images from magazines or photographs of the children – or photofits! What does the fairest of them all really look like? Perhaps use this as a springboard to discuss body image issues (HANDLE WITH CARE)
- Ask the children in a Circle Time format to consider their best attributes – I’m brave, Bob is good at football etc. Focus on strengths, rather than drawing comparisons. Possibly do this as partner work, so that the children learn to give and take compliments
- Create a mirror frame– use school mirrors available from amazon.co.uk at a fairly reasonable price and are safe for school use. Make frames out of card or get second hand frames from charity shops/car boot sales to decorate
- Make a pathway into a forest area (if you have one or can imagine one), using ‘footprints’ – real or imagined (newspaper or tissue paper, cones etc. are good substitutes). Use the instructions for Woodland Walk above for more clues here. Get the children involved in making their own pathways and giving instructions to each other around the outdoor area once you get there, as they love nothing better than bossing each other about and exploring their space – allocate one of the children the role of Queen and the rest can be her loyal huntsmen searching for Snow White, for example
- A wooden spoon is great for outdoors, as it is strong enough to take the weather (wind, rain, blizzards, heat – whatever that is) and durable against the hands of little children. Use them as a form of mask or puppet. I have a set of spoons from ‘Flying Tiger’ that are huge and give ample space for features.
- Use permanent markers or good felt pens to make faces and add googly eyes, felt, wool as you feel.
- Carve the spoons using vegetable peelers (UNDER CLOSE ADULT SUPERVISION if your class are having a go. You’ll probably be OK by yourself. Probably – I only had to go to Accident and Emergency twice)
- Polish with beeswax. I’ve tried varnish – it’s sticky and goes everywhere. I’ve tried PVA solution – useless as it just rolls away or soaks in and takes colour with it. Beeswax soaks in, but is durable and adds a lovely sheen to the finished product too. Coloured beeswaxes are available, as are wood dyes. Experiment for a finish that you like.
- Try pyrography at home. Have the number of the NHS to hand (see the note in brackets in point b. above)
- Design and make treasure – ask the children to think about what the dwarves might have in their house. Using what the children can find in the natural environment, ask them to select the elements they want and create a design with them for ‘treasures’, before putting them together. Use sketchbooks or paper on clipboards for the designs. Take a store of pencils, pens, string, glue, tape and scissors if you are going outside. Glitter glue was made for this. And if you do go outside, no messy classroom either!
- The Dwarf Cottage
- Make a very simple Dwarf Cottage – make a house using a home corner or large box. Ask the children to design the house and suggest the elements they need to include, such as windows, a door, etc. Decorate with diamonds or features that the children decide should be included
- Make the flatware and cutlery for the dwarves and Snow White (everything x 8)
- Ask the children to design and build Dwarf Cottages using ‘found materials’, such as cereal boxes and so on
- Apple games:
- Printing with apples
- Sorting apples according to size and colour (use a range of different varieties)
- Apple carving using peelers and teaspoons
- And don’t forget to round it all off with a wedding feast – make jam tarts, fairy cakes, iced buns, etc. I like this activity. No children need be invited. Just teachers. Leave out the bit with the hot shoes, unless there are inspectors in school
PART THREE – RECOMMENDED BOOK LIST
My, by no means, exhaustive list of recommended books for grim reading:
· If you want to know if you have a good collection of the Grimm Tales, look for the name Jack Zipes and you’re in for a blood-thirsty treat. But do read the stories first before shocking the children and yourself.
· Phillip Pullman has written a brilliant adaptation of the Grimm Tales (BTW The Shivers is my favourite tale in his collection, although it is particularly gruesome and in no way suitable for anyone, let alone children)
· Neil Gaiman is a master storyteller, excelling at adapting Germanic and Norse folklore, so look out for Smoke and Mirrors, Fragile Things and Norse Myths. His story Snow, Glass, Apples has just been adapted into the format of a graphic novel, and is an absolutely stunning version of the Snow White story – and is ADULT ONLY for graphic (no pun intended) content from the start, though well worth a read if you like a scarily twisted and horrifying retelling of the narrative, told from the perspective of the stepmother, terrified by the malevolence of the overly pale, ruby lipped girl
· Alternatively, just hire me and I’ll come over and tell a story at the appropriate level for the age of your children, as there is nothing better than an oral folk tale being passed on the way it was meant to be 😊 My advertising is so subtle, I bet that almost passed you by, didn’t it? #sorrynotsorry x
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