The story of “Sleeping Beauty” is very well known, especially in the form of the Disney animated film. The story begins with a new baby princess, and a party for her. There were thirteen wise women or fairies in the kingdom, but the king and queen had only 12 golden plates, so they invited only 12, rather than have one of them do without a golden plate. The slighted fairy comes to the party anyway, just as the others are giving kind wishes to the baby, and wishes that she will prick her finger on a spindle on her 15th (Disney said 16th) birthday and die.
The last of the fairies is able to amend the curse to be a sleep lasting 100 years instead. Still, the king and queen order all the spindles in the kingdom to be burned. On her birthday, the princess happens upon an old woman spinning, is fascinated by the unfamiliar sight, pricks her finger, and swoons away.
All the inhabitants of the castle fall asleep as well, and sleep for 100 years. Many princes try to rescue the sleeping beauty, but none can until the century is up. The lucky guy who comes along right then is able to stroll right in, kiss the beauty, and wake everyone up. They marry and live happily ever after.
Both Perrault and the Brothers Grimm collected this story. LessonSense has a simpler version of the story to read aloud. K.Y. Craft has done a gorgeous picture book. Read one or more versions of the story. Depending on your school’s video policy, you might also like to show scenes from the Disney version. Break out the Venn diagrams.
Mary Engelbreit included this story in her Nursery and Fairy Tales Collection.
“Sleeping Beauty” is not the best fairy tale to act out. Instead, have the class retelling in the form of drawings of the major episodes. Then move on to some cross-curricular connections.
- There are plenty of problem-solving opportunities in this story. First, the king and queen are faced with the problem of having only 12 golden plates. Have students state the problem, the solution they chose, and the consequences of that choice. Use the same pattern to chart choices and decisions made in other fiction, history, or students’ own lives.
- Once the curse has been cast, the king and queen try to save their daughter from it by destroying the spindles in the kingdom. This doesn’t work. In fact, it may be that the girl would have been less fascinated by the spindle and less likely to touch it if it hadn’t been such a novel experience for her. What are some other options?
- Nowhere in the story do we learn how the people of the kingdom managed without spindles. Did they have to import all their fabric? Was this a hardship for the poor? Speculate on the solutions the people might have come up with.
- Once the girl is asleep, nothing happens for 100 years. Why do all the princes take the chance and die horribly (some tellings specify the horrors of their deaths), and why aren’t there a whole bunch of princes lining up when the century ends and the solution becomes easy? Develop hypotheses.
- Although all the living things in the castle go into suspended animation for 100 years, the inanimate things must have gotten dirty and ruined, and the plants apparently also kept growing. In fact, one of the nice details is that the roses keep growing, but do not bloom for the 100 years, creating a thorny hedge. When the curse is lifted, the briars suddenly bloom all at once. Have students write about what things would have been like when the people all work up. Since everyone knew this was supposed to happen, could they have prepared for it? If so, what could they have done? If not, why not?
- How much might things have changed in the world at large when the people all woke up? Use your classroom timeline, or make one, and consider. If they fell asleep in 1200 and woke in 1300, what would have changed? What problems might they have faced? What if they fell asleep in 1908 and woke in 2008? This can be a great writing prompt.
- Follow up with a question: is Sleeping Beauty a time traveler? Why or why not?
- Sleeping Beauty is a fine story for 100th Day.
- It’s also a good one for dozens. Use 13 math manipulatives to stand for the fairies and 12 yellow paper circles to stand for the plates, and practice one-to-one correspondence.
- Time and calendar lessons fit well with this story. Learn the word “century” and use timelines to clarify the idea.
- In the Disney version, the prince doesn’t wait for 100 years, but has to have harrowing adventures. In the original story, the prince is just in luck, having heard from his grandfather about the Sleeping Beauty and deciding to check the story out at the right moment. Do students admire the prince who has to go through hardship for the Beauty?
- Sleeping Beauty is probably the most passive and unimportant fairy tale heroine of all. She does nothing from the beginning of the story to the end, except to prick her finger, and that was part of the curse. Challenge students to rewrite the story in such a way as to give the Beauty some character.
- The king and queen start all this trouble with a social faux pas: inviting all but one of the fairies. The slighted fairy then takes offense and gets her revenge. This could be a great starting point for a discussion about feeling left out.
- The Sleeping Beauty is a very popular ballet, with music by Tchaikovsky. The Australian Ballet has teacher resources. The music from this ballet was used for the Disney film.
- Sleeping Beauty has also been the subject of many beautiful and romantic paintings. The Disney film artists used medieval art for inspiration. Read about that and see examples at The Docent’s Page. Have students compare the paintings (as well as illustrations in any books you bring in) and list the characteristics they all share, as well as the differences.
- Design a castle for the Sleeping Beauty. Don’t forget to have plenty of briars growing all over it.
- Here is a collection of coloring pages using the Disney images.