Fairy Tale Trail Comes to Life

Written by Diane Lander; inspired by her great-nephew Jackson, May 2019


My professional learning focus for much of this school year has been around concept-based instruction and its relationship with conceptual understanding. This post is the venue for demonstrating some of my learning.

Students are only able to transfer their understanding of concepts to new contexts when they have deep conceptual understanding of the concepts; the same holds true for adult learners. And so, educators can best transfer their understanding of pedagogical concepts to their classroom context when they have deep conceptual understanding of those concepts.

The Story

Fairy Tale Trail Comes to Life ~ A True Story of How Deep Conceptual Understanding Prepared the Foundation for Creative Transfer

Once upon a time, there was an auntie who deeply loved her great nieces and nephews. The children enjoyed coming out to the lake to visit her and Uncle, and they all treasured the time they spent enjoying nature together.

One day, while Auntie was out walking in the woods, she wondered what else she might do to make the lake an even more magical place that would help create childhood memories the children would never forget.

When she arrived home from her walk, Auntie had an idea! She would clear out some of the underbrush in the patch of trees near the driveway, and she would call the pathway, “Fairy Tale Trail.”

“How magical it will be for the children to play in the land of fairy tales!” she whispered to herself, while scraping her arm on the rosebush she was trying to pull out.

With the clearing finally complete, Auntie scoured the dollar stores to find some paraphernalia to decorate the trail.

She found birds to hang in the trees, dwarfs to guard the trail, and some ceramic mushrooms to add to the decor.

Auntie even managed to get a little creative with the entryway! But the real magic happened when the children arrived….

One great nephew, in particular, was extremely enthusiastic about playing in this magical land. When his older sisters went back inside to listen to their iPods, Jackson asked Auntie to come out to play with him. He told her he had an idea for Fairy Tale Trail.

Auntie calmly said, “I’d love to hear your idea, Jackson,” while inside, she was barely able to contain her excitement, because her hidden agenda was for the children to make the space come to life with their OWN ideas.

Jackson revealed his first idea as he took Auntie to the leaning climbing tree. He asked if she knew the story of Peter Pan, and then asked if she could help him make the Lost Boys’ Hideout by the tree. “Yes I can!” exclaimed Auntie.

It didn’t take them long to haul in some sticks from the woods nearby to build the hideout. (Auntie didn’t let on that those were some of the same sticks she painstakingly cleared out of the bush a few days earlier…)

As they continued to play, Jackson came up with many more creative ideas for Fairy Tale Trail. At one point he asked, “Is The Little Mermaid a fairy tale?” Auntie answered, “No, but it’s a magical story with a happy ending, so it’s perfectly okay to include those kind of stories.”

He then declared that this large rock should be named, “Ariel’s Rock,” because one side of it looks like waves.

After naming a few other areas, Jackson asked if Auntie had any Popsicle sticks and glue, because he wanted to add some characters. Well, the teacher in Auntie ALWAYS has Popsicle sticks and glue on hand, so they went back to the house and set out the building materials.

At this point, his sisters couldn’t resist Jackson’s enthusiasm, so they all worked together to build Popsicle stick characters and other embellishments.

When they were finished building, Jackson set to work adding their creations to Fairy Tale Trail.

Tinkerbell got glued onto the rock in front of the Lost Boys’ Hideout.

Bambi on Ice brought this space to life.

And signs were placed along the trail to point the way for visitors.

After all the items were placed, Jackson went over to the ceramic mushrooms and declared, “Auntie my brain is exploding with ideas when I’m in here! Can we make this an area for Alice in Wonderland- you know, because of the big mushrooms? And could you ask Uncle to drill a hole in this stump for Alice to go down?”

Jackson’s mom texted Auntie the next day to say that Jackson was still spilling out ideas when he went to bed that night. He’s now in the process of creating items to bring out to the lake next weekend. Auntie can hardly wait to see what his creative little mind has in store!

At one point during the day, Auntie said, “Jackson, thank you for being so creative, and for bringing Fairy Tale Trail to life with your ideas!”

To which he responded, “Thank YOU, Auntie! If you hadn’t made this space, I wouldn’t be having these ideas!”

That’s when I made the connection! I had provided a context for Jackson to transfer his understanding. I realized that Jackson has deep conceptual understanding of fairy tale, and his deep understanding allowed him to transfer his learning to this new and unfamiliar context.

Jackson’s brain has made connections between all the stories he’s experienced in order to construct a deep understanding of fairy tale. This enabled him to transfer, with the help of his vivid imagination, his understanding to this new context. He is metacognitive about his own understanding, which he demonstrated as he questioned and verified whether or not some of the stories he knew were, indeed, fairy tales.

When we have deep conceptual understanding, we can transfer our understanding to new contexts, and sometimes, in very creative ways…


The following weekend, Jackson arrived with Sleeping Beauty in hand.

And then this happened!

It seems that the ‘mummies’ had gone shopping for craft materials…

The kitchen table exploded with creativity as everyone got involved in the fun.

Fairy Tale Trail is now complete with a wishing well, a mushroom cabin…

a lady bug house…

a miniature Whoville house, and Jackson’s creation – Rapunzel in her tower!

To be continued…

I hear that Jack recently planted some of his magic beans along the trail; I wonder if they will grow…