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Updated: Jun 17, 2020

Who would be

A merman bold,

Sitting alone

Singing alone

Under the sea,

With a crown of gold,

On a throne?

- Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Merman

I'm clearly obsessed with stories from Scotland at the moment (oh, how I would LOVE to be up there right now) so here's another story from the sea...with a little bit of teaching about refrains again! FACEBOOK LIVE SESSIONS ON TUESDAY AND THURSDAY AT 10.15AM, THEN UPLOADED TO WEBSITE! Or, click here to watch it now! BACKGROUND-BITE: Merfolk are legendary aquatic creatures with the upper body of human and the scaly tail and fins of fish. They pop up in stories from all around the world and have frequented folktales throughout the ages! You've probably come across Hans Christian Andersen's 'Little Mermaid' or seen the Disney version of this tale (which has a happy ending when the original one does not!) What you might not know if that, despite their beauty, merfolk can be extremely dangerous and they have the power to decide the fate of any ship they come across! In some stories, they use the combined power of their beauty and singing to lure people into the sea, either to bring them down to live in their realm or to drown them! Some merfolk are a bit nicer than that though and have been known to rescue drowning humans (thank goodness they aren't all bad!)

The earliest mermaid-like figure was probably the ancient Syrian goddess Atargatis - she was a fertility goddess associated with water and depicted as human above the waist and fish below. Then there was the great Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, who wrote about actually seeing nereids. These were nymphs - half-human / half-fish mermaids - and he very specifically wrote that “the portion of the body that resembles the human figure is still rough all over with scales.” He also talked about mermen who climb up into ships, sit down and make the ship list over to that side - as if it was all true! Then there are the sirens in Greek mythology (initially depicted as half woman/half bird) but in later tales they became more like the mermaids we recognise today. If you hear them singing (like Odysseus did), tie yourself to a mast and try to ignore it! The 'Age of Discovery' (think sailing about exploring) brought along many a mermaid sighting which was most likely just a manatee or dugong trailing some sea-weedy hair and freaking out the sailors!

ACTIVITIES FOR YOUNG CHILDREN - EYFS / KEY STAGE 1 (0-7 years): 1. Learn about the the most famous merman: Poseidon - 2. Listen to the original story of The Little Mermaid (WARNING: - this doesn't end like the Disney one!) - If you like that, they why not try out Alfred Lord Tennyson's poems as well - 3. Enjoy watching Disney's The Little Mermaid together at home!

4. Watch this video about manatees and see if you can work out why they might be mistaken for merfolk - and find out why they are so awesome - 5. Grab some props - of the general household variety - and check out just how dramatic you can make your own re-working of our tale! 6. Try writing the story from the merman's perspective - here's a funny little video to help remind you how to organise your story - 7. Using story stones/dice (see my blog post about outdoor activities for kids) , devise your own adventure for our merfolk! 8. Craft some sea themed bits and bobs -

ACTIVITIES FOR OLDER CHILDREN - FOR KEY STAGE 2-4 (8-15 years): 1. Listen to Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid and try out the comprehension tasks -

2. Learn about the ultimate merman: the Greek God Poseidon- 3. Watch this video about manatees - - can you see why they might be mistaken for merfolk? 4. Create an comic strip or animation of the story - , 5. Sharpen your skills before you break out your story scribbling equipment. Check out and remind yourself about the benefit of using repetition in your writing. 6. Try writing the story from the merman's perspective -

7. Draw/design your own member of the merfolk -

8. Build some complex sea scenes / creatures out of Lego -

9. Research DC Comic's Aquaman (NB: PG-13 rating) -


1. Have a read of this article that explores the history of merfolk -

2. Listen to The Singing Bones' Podcast on The Little Mermaid in which Clare Testoni traces the history of The Little Mermaid, from ancient goddesses of love and fertility to folk stories of love and marriage, slavery and gender politics. This episode focuses on selkies, finfolk, and Sea Kings, with an interview with Finn O'Branagáin, talking about the power of these stories.

3. Then try Part 2 where she looks at the stories that inspired Hans Christian Andersen stories of sirens, of Undine, and Eastern European rusalka and the scary watermen known as Vodnik. 

We also talk to two real mermaids about what it is like to really be a mermaid! With Mermaid Jessica Pearl and Mermaid Amelia we look at modern mermaid culture and the pros and cons of Disney romanticism. - Enjoy!

The book I used today was Michael Morpurgo's collection of Greatest Magical Stories -

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