Archive for September, 2011

September 27, 2011

The Benefits of Storytelling

The National Storytelling Network says that “storytelling is essential to education: neuroscience is demonstrating that the human brain organizes, retains, and accesses information most effectively in narrative form.”  Click here to read what else they say.

I’ve been spending the last few weeks thinking and writing about storytelling because I value the importance of storytelling for my children and community.  I’m wrapping up my series on storytelling by brainstorming several reasons why storytelling is so valuable for children and adults.  Below is my list in no particular order.  I hope you might contribute to my list by adding your thoughts in the comments section.

Storytelling is beneficial because:

  • Stories both entertain and impart wisdom.
  • I can teach my children in an unique way that they will want to listen and remember.
  • Storytelling ignites the imagination.
  • It fosters listening and comprehension skills.
  • It teaches speaking skills.  Shortly after beginning to make up stories for my five-year-old, he wanted to make up stories to tell me!
  • Storytelling is part of our language arts, which is a vital part of any person’s education!
  • Stories help people understand their place in the world.  For children, stories can help them understand who they are and the world they live in.
  • It’s relaxing.  A stress-reducer!
  • Storytelling provides valuable one-on-one time with the teller and listener(s).  Telling stories to children is an expression of love.
  • Similarly, storytelling connects people and communities.  It’s a positive form of communication that fosters compassion and understanding.
  • Stories preserve cultures, beliefs and values and shares those cultures, beliefs and values with the rest of the world.

Note: To find more resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.

I’d like to dedicate my column and these blog posts on storytelling to the friend who inspired me to tell stories: J.J. Reneaux.  I think of her so often.

What do you think?  Please add your thoughts about storytelling in the comments section.

September 26, 2011

Two Stories I Made Up For My Five-Year-Old — to Show That YOU Can Do It Too!

This is the third in my series of posts about storytelling for children by their parents.  The first post was a review of the book Tell Me A Story by Chase Collins.  The second post was “How I Use Storytelling to Enrich the Lives of My Children.”  In that post, I warned you that I might get brave enough to share one of my stories with you! Well, guess what?  I’m giving you two!

With these stories I would like to illustrate something that Chase Collins taught me in her book.  When you are thinking “what the heck am I going to tell a story about?” she suggests that you look at what is going on with your child at that moment.  Did they do something special that day?  Is there something that they are into?  When we were on vacation in Chicago this summer, my son took his first subway ride, so I told him a story about some children riding on a subway and meeting a subway monster (not a scary monster)!  Right now my son is into snakes, so you can guess that many of my recent stories have snakes in them.

She also said that if you can get your child to give you an idea, then go with that!  Sometimes my son says, “Just tell me a story,” and I know he doesn’t want to contribute an idea.  But lately he has been saying, “Can you tell me a story about Jack and Piper?  And it could be about how Jack goes walking to the river and finds a rainbow snake who is lost?”  (That was my son’s prompt tonight!)

The following story is one I told last month before my boy’s birthdays, and while I usually forget my stories by the next day, this one stuck with me because I was kind of proud of it.  But I don’t always tell good stories!  Usually I start one and then struggle to come to a conclusion.  After telling this tale, I later I realized it has a similar theme to a book that I’ve read to my son….but I promise I am not plagiarizing!  My story is very different, yet perhaps I subconsciously got something out of that storybook.  I think this is okay when making up stories for kids.  We are not telling these stories to sell them.  It’s a one-time love offering to our children.  Get your ideas anywhere!  It doesn’t have to be original or told with perfect diction.  If it’s a bad story, don’t worry.  You’ll forget it and tell another one the next day.

The beginning paragraph is how I usually start out my “Jack and Piper” stories.  My main character is Jack, but since I told this story right before my son’s birthday, it seemed better to make Piper the main character in this one.

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Jack who lived in a forest in a log house, and he had a big garden full of vegetables and flowers.  And he also had a friend named Piper who was a troll with big feet and shaggy hair, and he lived down the path in a tree.  Piper couldn’t talk, but he had no problem communicating with his friend Jack.  

Well, tomorrow was going to be Jack’s birthday, and Piper was at home thinking about what to get for his friend.  That morning he walked outside his treehouse and noticed how beautiful the first morning light was glowing through the trees.  Oh, it would be wonderful to get Jack something as beautiful as that morning light, he thought.  Later, he was walking along the river, and he noticed how good the morning air smelled.  He breathed deep and sighed.  It would be wonderful to get Jack something that smelled as good as the morning air.  Then he walked up a small hill to one of his favorite places.  There, he sat in the grass and watched the sunrise while he ate some warm bread for breakfast.  Oh, he thought, I would love to get something that Jack would love as much as I love this morning sunrise!  

Piper sat there all day feeling kind of blue because he couldn’t think of anything he could give to Jack.  He didn’t have any money to buy anything, and he wasn’t very good at making things.  He went to bed feeling sad, but he woke up early in the morning, determined to be the first person to wish Jack a happy birthday!  He warmed up some bread in the oven and though he still felt bad about not having a present for Jack’s birthday, he knew it would be worse to not wish Jack happy birthday at all.  So he went to Jack’s house early.  It was barely light, and Piper snickered because he knew his friend liked to sleep late.  He would wake him up and be the first person to say “Happy Birthday!”  

When Piper got to Jack’s house, he knocked on the door, and a very groggy Jack answered it.  “Aw, Piper!” Jack whined.  “You woke me up!”  Piper clapped and jumped up and down.  “You want to wish me happy birthday?” Jack asked.  Piper nodded and held up the warm bread.  “Okay,” Jack said, “Just a minute.”  It didn’t take long for Jack to get dressed, and very soon the two friends were walking along the river.  “Wow,” Jack said, “It’s a beautiful morning. Smell that fresh air!”  The first light was easing its way through the branches.  The fog was gently lifting off the water.  Soon they were on top of the hill where Piper liked to eat his breakfast.  They ate the bread and watched the sunrise together.  

“I haven’t been up to see the sunrise in such a long time,” Jack said.  “I forgot how amazing it is! Thank you, Piper!”  

When Jack said that, Piper became very happy!  Suddenly he realized that he did give Jack something as beautiful as the morning light, that smelled as good as the morning air, and something that he loved as much as the sunrise!  

Currently, for a several nights in a row, my son keeps asking me to tell him a story about Jack and Piper AND an animal that gets lost.  I have no idea why he chooses this theme.  We did not have any occurrence when he got lost, and to my knowledge he has not watched a television show with this theme, but maybe he did.  Who knows?  For whatever reason, I believe it is important to him, so I am indulging him with stories about an animal getting lost and Jack and Piper helping the animal get home.  For the first couple of stories, I just had Jack and Piper help the critter home, but then I wised up.  I used the opportunity to tell my son what he could do to find his way home, if he got lost.  So in my third story, I had Jack instruct the animal to remember what landmarks he passed on his way down the river.  They followed them back up the river, and helped him find his way.  In the fourth story, which I’ll share below, I gave the advice we always hear:  If you get lost, stay put!  (Tonight I told a similar story, and I’m starting to think I need to encourage him to think of a new theme.)

Another note before I share the story:  As I mentioned before, my son usually tells me what kind of animal gets lost.  For the story below, he pointed to a snake on his “Snakes of Georgia” poster that he has on the wall next to his bed.  The snake he pointed to was a Yellow Rat Snake.  (Yes, you know you love your child when you let him have a poster full of snake photos and are willing to tell him a story about a Yellow Rat Snake!)  Here it is:

One morning Jack decided to take a walk down by the river.  When he got there, he sat down on a rock and enjoyed watching the river, listening to the gurgling sound of the water.  Suddenly he saw a baby yellow rat snake slithering by on the path very fast!  

“Little snake!” he said.  “Where are you going so fast?”  

“I’m looking for my mother!” the little snake said.  “I’m lost!” 

“Oh no!” Jack said.  “I’ll help you!  I’m very experienced at helping lost animals.”   (At this point my son asks me where Piper is, so I have to go get him.)  “But first we need to go get my friend Piper.  He’ll help us.”

Relieved, the baby snake went along to Piper’s house.  When Jack told Piper that the snake needed help finding his mother, Piper nodded and came along.

“First,” said Jack, “We’ll go back to where I found you.”  Soon they were at the place where Jack was sitting that morning.  “Now, Little Snake, where were you when you lost your mother?”

“Not far from here,” said the snake.  “Over there!”  He looked in the direction of a big boulder that was sitting on the bank of the river.   “My mommy took my sister and I out to find food, and she found me a cricket.  Then she went off with my sister to find her some food.  And I was so busy eating that I didn’t notice that they were gone!”  The little snake cried.  He wanted his mama.

“Ah,” said Jack.  “You know what?  I bet your mama isn’t far off.  The best thing to do when you’re lost is to stay right where you are.  Let’s go back to the boulder and wait.  I bet your mama will find us!”

“Okay,” said the little snake.  So Jack, Piper and the snake sat down by the big rock and waited.  The snake was still worried, but he was glad he had Jack and Piper to be with him. 

After a few minutes, the little snake’s mama and his sister came around a big tree that was close by.  “Mama!” the little snake cried.  “I thought I lost you!”

“I’m sorry you were scared,” said Mama.  “I was right over there with your sister.”

Jack and Piper were very happy that they were able to help the little snake.  They waved good-bye and watched as the snake family slithered down the trail.  Then they went back to Piper’s house and played together for the rest of the day.

Okay, so it won’t win any awards, but it made a 5-year-old very happy.  I hope you’re inspired to tell stories to your child.  If I can do it, you can do it!  Just let your imagination go wild!

***

Note: To find more resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.


September 21, 2011

How I Use Storytelling to Enrich the Lives of My Children

In my last post I reviewed the book Tell Me a Story: Creating Bedtime Tales Your Children Will Dream On by Chase Collins, and I spoke a little about her reasons and strategy for making up your own tales.  In this post, I want to share my experience in telling stories to my son.

Telling stories has always been a passion of mine.  I used to write fiction, though I wasn’t very good at it or at least not good enough to get published.  Oral storytelling is also a passion, especially since I met the late J.J. Reneaux.  I can’t wait until my boys are old enough to go to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, TN.  I have been once, and it’s a wonderful experience.

But it took reading Tell Me a Story to get me started on making up tales for my own children.  Since I am a busy mama and often exhausted, I had felt like most of my creative juices were used up, but Chase’s book is inspiring.  When I read it, I began wishing I had someone like her to tell me stories!  She knows how to bolster confidence.  If you want to do anything creative and think you can’t do it, you might want to read the first part of this book.

It also frees my creative side to know that I’m telling stories to a five-year-old who will be happy with anything I come up with.  I don’t have to tell publishable stories or stories that adults or even other kids might like. I just have to tell something!  My child is thrilled that I’m taking time to tell him a story that is just for him.

As Collins suggests, I think about what happened to my son that day or what he’s interested in at the time, and I incorporate those things in the stories.  Even though it’s only been a few weeks since I finished the book, I have told dozens of stories to my son.  Many of them had different characters and were in different settings, but then I came up with Jack and Piper.  Jack is a little boy who lives in the forest in a log house with a large garden full of vegetables and flowers.  Piper is a troll with big feet and shaggy hair that lives down the path in a tree, and he’s Jack’s good friend.  Piper doesn’t talk, but Jack and Piper have no trouble communicating.

My son seems to love Jack and Piper because he’s been requesting a story about them every night.  He’s starting to tell me who they meet in the woods too.  I adore my son’s input because I know his creative juices are flowing, and he’s starting to see all the possibilities….

Best of all, he told me his first story the other night!  His story was very similar to some of my stories, but he put in his own character and changed the setting. I was so proud.

A few observations about my storytelling since I read Tell Me a Story:

  • When necessary, I have tried to come up with stories that might give my son a message I want him to hear.  This is something Collins talks about in her book, and I love the opportunity to teach my son in a fun way instead of hitting him over the head with a lecture.  Once I told a story about a little girl who babysat a very naughty puppy.  The puppy chewed up her favorite toy and wouldn’t do anything she needed him to do.  I hoped that on some subconscious level, my son might start to understand why there are times I need him to obey, be calm and not so difficult.
  • In my last post I shared Chase Collin’s “nitty-gritty story structure,” which she claimed, if followed, was an easy and full-proof way of coming up with a good tale on the spur of the moment.  Well, it’s not as easy as she makes it sound, but it definitely helps.  I have created some decent stories using this structure.  But then other times it’s so hard.  I can come up with a journey and a threat, but figuring out a hero-inspired way out can be tricky!  Luckily my son doesn’t mind my lame endings.  However, I have found that I enjoy telling stories more if I just let go of the structure and tell, which brings me to my next point…
  • Sometimes my stories are more like a “slice of life.”  Just a simple moment, a walk in the woods, what the hero encountered, what the hero liked and didn’t like, and then he went home.  After telling a few of these, I realized they relaxed me tremendously, my son enjoyed them, and I think they impart a great wisdom: to notice life, our surroundings, feelings and to appreciate nature.  And sometimes after telling these stories, I would think back and realize that it did indeed follow the nitty-gritty story structure after all!  Just in a very subtle way.
  • Finally, I have observed how happy storytelling makes me.  Take away the pressure to create a good story and simply speak about what you love, where you would like to be, what you’d like to be doing and with the kind of people you love, and you create a beautiful fantasy that both you and your child can dream on and keep with you throughout your day.  And then, of course, you might start to notice how your life parallels the lives of your characters…

Please come back again because in my next post, I might get brave and share one of my stories!

***

Note: To find more resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.


September 18, 2011

Book Review: Tell Me a Story by Chase Collins

Or How to Use Storytelling as a Teaching Tool



Note: To find more resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.

When we were visiting family in Chicago this summer, I had the chance to read Tell Me a Story: Creating Bedtime Tales Your Children Will Dream On by Chase Collins.  Ever since I read it, my head has been spinning with fairy tales!

The book appealed to me because I know the power of stories and storytelling.  I have always been a lover of stories, books, and the oral tradition.  I had the privilege of knowing the award-winning storyteller, J.J. Reneaux, before a battle with cancer ended her life at the age of 45.  She further inspired me to listen to and tell stories.

Stories do more than entertain.  When I had children, I knew I wanted to use stories to enrich their lives with the wisdom that they could impart.  Children listen to stories much more readily than they do to lectures.

This is why I was thrilled to find Chase Collins’ book because she makes this very point.  Children’s lives are rich with fantasy.  It is something essential to childhood, and their imagination is how they begin to navigate their way through this complex life.

Books are wonderful and necessary, but when parents make up their own stories to tell children, it is a way to validate your child’s make-believe world.  Collins writes, “Your children will be touched to have you affirm the imaginative world they live in, and you will show them that, along with the facts, you also see some magic in the universe.”

By telling your own stories, you will be able to pinpoint specific topics that are important for your child that day.  There may be a specific issue you need to address, but even if there is not, you will be imparting your own values and beliefs through your stories.  You’ll do this almost subconsciously, but Collins also says that telling stories may give you new insights to yourself as well.

If you think you are not creative enough to tell stories, then you need to read this book.  It is a source of inspiration for anyone wanting to be more creative because Collins defines creativity and convinces you that you do have what it takes.  Everyone does.  I found the book to be beautifully written, and through her examples, I felt my creative juices begin to stir.

She also shares what she calls the nitty-gritty basic story structure:

  • There was a likeable hero
  • who had reason to set out on a journey
  • when a threat occurred
  • from which there was a hero-inspired way out
  • which resulted in a safe return and a happy ending.

Yes, it’s the basic structure of many beloved fairy tales, books and movies.

I know what you’re thinking because I thought it too.  Why tell young children stories that may be scary (i.e., the threat)?  And why tell children stories with only happy endings when that isn’t realistic?  Chase Collins convinced me that telling children stories with this structure is important, and though I urge you to read the book for her detailed explanations, I will try to put it into a nutshell:

Children are smart. They already know that the world is challenging.  They tackle new and scary moments everyday even though we may not realize it because we’re looking at their lives through the lens of an adult.  Trying to shield them from scary stuff doesn’t help them because they want guidance from us as to how to confront life.  (I should mention, however, that when you tell your own story, you don’t have to make the threat gruesome and horrifying. It could simply be a problem that needs to be solved.)

Children do not have the experience to see the shades of gray in life that adults do, so giving them what may be a realistic ending to an adult is what may frighten and puzzle the child.  Collins writes that unhappy endings do “…nothing to build a courageous spirit or a willingness to let go of infantile things.”

By telling children stories in which a likeable hero confronts a threat and overcomes it, we are telling them that life is full of struggles, but we know that they have the ability to face them and overcome them.  By giving them happy endings, we are telling them that life is worth living.

After explaining this concept to my husband, he said, “That’s something adults need to hear too.”  Indeed, how many of us have become disillusioned with life, tired, and broken?  We know that life is hard.  Maybe telling some fairy tales can remind us why it’s worth living.

Please sign up for my RSS Feed (or subscribe by e-mail in the right mergin) so that you won’t miss upcoming posts about storytelling or the inspiration that you might need to tell them!  Be sure to check out this list of The Benefits of Storytelling, especially if you aren’t yet convinced that you should tell stories to your children!

This column was first printed in The Barrow Journal on Sept. 7, 2011.

September 11, 2011

Supporting Your Child’s Interests Is a Good Thing

Today I was having a conversation with my husband, which happened to correspond with something I have been reading in Discover Your Child’s Learning Style.  I’ll talk more about that book (and I’ll write a newspaper column about it) once I’ve finished it, but I wanted to share with you what my husband told me now.

My husband is a big fan of podcasts.  (I am too, but I don’t have much time to listen to them.) One of his favorite podcasts is Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour.  It sounds like a fabulous show.  My husband is always telling me the story of whatever scientist that is being interviewed by Dr. Kiki, and someday, I will get around to listening too….

But today he was listening to a scientist who is beginning his graduate studies on sharks, which sounds fascinating, but I’m not writing about sharks today.  What I want to tell you is that Dr. Kiki always asks her interviewees how they got interested in the subjects they specialize in.  After listening to several episodes, my husband has noted a trend.  There are usually two factors that contributed to each scientist’s area of interest:

1) Their interest began in early childhood and never went away, and

2) They had an adult that helped foster and support their interest.

For example, the scientist who studies sharks says that when he was a child, his parents got him a membership to the local aquarium.  He said they would drop him off at the aquarium, and he would go sit by the shark tank all day.

When my husband told me this, I was excited to tell him about the chapter I read last night in Discover Your Child’s Learning Style.  Chapter 7, “Interests: So Easy to Overlook,” encourages parents to listen to and help their children follow their interests and passions.  More importantly, authors Mariaemma Willis, M.S. and Victoria Kindle Hodson, M.A. note that many parents don’t encourage their child’s interests because it may not lead to a practical vocation or means of making a livelihood.  But this can have a negative impact.  Even if the child does not turn his/her interests into a vocation, it is important that they continue to pursue their interests in their free time.

Think about it.  Adults are much more likely to be able to get through their daily grind of work if they have something to look forward to on the weekends, right?  Keeping our hobbies and dreams alive is paramount to staying healthy, active and giving us more peace of mind.

Discover Your Child’s Learning Style also provides a chart on possible careers that match a child’s talents with their dispositions.  It’s not an exhaustive list, but the authors want parents to realize that there are many more careers out there than they may think at first.  For example, if your child is interested in music, it doesn’t mean that being a performer is the only option available to them.  Think of all the careers related to music: performing, producing, songwriting, agent, management, teaching, coordinators of concerts, ticket sales, or maybe they will want to work at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Furthermore, I believe parents who support and encourage children’s interests will help them find activities, volunteer work and/or internships that will look great on resumes and go a long way in assisting their children to find a vocation that will be meaningful and satisfying to them.

This is the biggest reason we want to homeschool.  We want our children to have the freedom to delve into the subjects that make them happy and will make them want to learn.  But you don’t have to homeschool to help your children.  You just have to give them the freedom and support to discover their passion.

September 6, 2011

Homeschooling’s Biggest Challenge: No Break for Mama

The hardest part of homeschooling for me is not getting enough rest/breaks/”me time”/time alone/time to get my ducks in a row.  I love it.  Don’t get me wrong.  But we all need and deserve some down time.  After my second son was born two years ago (see photo above), the time I got to myself decreased dramatically.  As an introvert, I really need time alone to recharge, yet I have surprised myself at how I can thrive with such little time to myself.  I think this is because I love my job.  I love my boys, and I love being with them most of the time….but that still doesn’t take away the need to have a break sometimes.

I can get tired, cranky, and I can yell.  Sigh.  I’m not perfect.

I knew that I couldn’t be alone in this, so I put out a message on one of the homeschooling e-mail lists I belong to, and I asked other moms to share with me how they do it.  Do they get any free time?  Do they hire someone?  Do they suffer through it? Or maybe I am just a selfish mama?

Thankfully, there are others like me who need their “me time.”  And they allowed me to share their comments in the latest column I wrote for The Barrow Journal.  I hope you’ll click here to read it and then come back and tell me how YOU do it.

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