Folklore Unit Study
by Dianne McLean
So what exactly is folklore and how do I teach it?
Folklore is a method of storytelling which is generally passed down from one generation to another and includes one or more of the following elements:
It doesn't necessarily teach a moral lesson, nor does folklore always have character development goals for the listener (or the storyteller). Folklore can be about legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales, stories, tall tales, and even customs included in the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is primarily passed on through verbal or other informal methods. These days, the internet is considered to contain quite a bit of folklore!
It's actually so much a part of our everyday life that we often don't even think about it. Special sayings in a family, things you do around the dinner table, how your family celebrates holidays and other traditions - these all contain elements of oral folklore. But folklore can originate from material items such as a particular piece of furniture, a piece of family jewelry, or a portrait. Behavioral folklore includes things such as superstitions or things that bring good luck - or bad luck - or even old sayings that prompt a person to behave a specific way. Have you ever heard the saying, "a penny saved is a penny earned?" This is a form of behavioral folklore, it prompts a person to some kind of behavior.
Teaching folklore to your children is easy to start. Just visit your library and pick out a few books from a particular author. Read them with your children and then see if the stories have a recurring motif. Recurring motifs are elements of plot and character that an author will use over and over again - combining and recombining them in different ways to create variations on existing stories. Does the series you chose contain poetic elements? Are there both tricksters and fools in the stories? What kind of "crimes" were committed? Did justice prevail or did the trickster get away with their crime?
You can incorporate quite a bit of history when you study folklore. Most traditional folklore has some element of historical fact to it. Some is obvious, while others are not so obvious. Look for the things in the stories that might possibly be historical facts, and then have your child research the truth behind the "facts".
Math and science are living subjects, and you can find all sorts of math and science elements to folklore. It's a great jumping off point to proving a hypothesis!
If you are interested in obtaining our unit study for this week - on the folklore of Brer Bear and Br'er Rabbit - just become a member of HECOA! It's free. Once you have registered and confirmed, just log in and come back to this page - then click on the link below to download your free unit study!
In this study, we’ll cover briefly the following subjects:
Literature – Folklore and origins – compare and contrast three versions of a Brer Rabbit Story (all included in the study packet)
History and Culture – Slavery, African and Cherokee relationships to this folktale
Film – Variations on the folktale
Note: Parents are encouraged to spend some time thoroughly reviewing this unit study and decide which points to discuss with their children based on their age and level of comprehension. There are discussions about sensitive topics such as slavery and other political issues that may not be appropriate for younger children without a parent to help explain. Such is the beauty of homeschooling - you decide how to teach this unit.
The Uncle Remus stories have been rewritten by other authors to change the expression of dialect and make them easier to read. However, they also changed the content when they rewrote each version. Try finding different versions of the story and compare.