Archive for ‘Storytelling as a Teaching Tool’

June 4, 2013

I Need Your Help Creating a Resource Guide on Storytelling for Parents.

The Boyhood of Raleigh 1870 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896

The Boyhood of Raleigh by Sir John Everett Millais (click image for info)

I am a storytelling advocate, and I consider it my job to convince parents to make up stories and use the oral tradition as part of their parenting repertoire. 

This year I’ve been working on a resource for parents to help them do this. It will include at least the following:

  • Why Should Parents Tell Their Children Stories
  • The Benefits of Storytelling
  • Examples of Stories
  • Interviews with Storytellers
  • An Easy Guide On How To Tell Stories

As I’ve been brainstorming for my resource, it has occurred to me that parents will be most convinced of the power of storytelling if they hear stories from adults who are remembering the storytellers of their childhoods.  This is where you come in.

  • Did someone tell you stories when you were a child? How do you remember that person? Do you remember the stories, or do you remember how they made you feel?  Please tell me about it.
  • In addition to this, I’d like to hear from parents who are telling stories to their children now. How do you come up with your stories? When do you tell them? How do your children receive them?  Please share your experiences with me.

You can leave a comment below, or you can e-mail me at shellipabis at gmail dot com. I also would appreciate it if you shared this page with your friends, especially those people that you know loves stories!

Anyone who is quoted in my book/resource will be acknowledged, and I’ll be happy to include your blog URL, if you have one.

What I can’t promise is a speedy delivery of this resource. This is my long-term project, and it’s happening in slow moving spurts as I homeschool and care for my family full-time as well as write a weekly column. If you’d like to see what I’ve already written about storytelling, you can go to my Storytelling Page.

Thank you! Together we can make the world a better place by advocating storytelling.

February 21, 2013

Story: Lego Boy

Since I don’t have a column to share with you this week, I thought I would share one of the silly stories I made up for my son one night during our nightly storytelling ritual.  If you want to start a storytelling ritual with your children, please see The Storytelling Advocate for a list of resources.

Storytelling tip:  Pick something that your children are interested in, and make it the main character or setting for a story. This story was inspired by my boys’ nascent interest in building, especially with Legos.  In it, I also tried to touch on something that my son had been dealing with recently: his frustrations when he couldn’t do something the way he wanted to. I wanted him to know that set-backs are part of building and creating, and part of life!

Lego Boy by Shelli Bond Pabis

Once there was a little Lego boy who lived in a big, Lego city.  The city was built by two brothers, and it was sitting up on a table in their room where they always left it.

At night, while the brothers slept, Lego boy would wake up and explore his city and play with his Lego cat.

“I think,” the Lego boy said to his cat, “I could build this city even better!” And he went about rearranging the Lego pieces. He built himself a nice, cozy room for him and his cat to sleep in during the day.

But that night when he woke up, two walls of his room were gone, and he had to put them all back. He also built himself a bed and a chair for him and his cat.

The next night, he was happy to wake up and find that his room was just like he had left it, but there was another place in the city – his other favorite place – that was gone!  It was the park where he liked to go with this cat, sit on a bench and look out the window at the moon.

So that night he worked hard to remove all the blocks that had been put right in the middle of his park, and he found the flowers and put them back. He built a bench, and he and his cat had just enough time to sit there awhile and watch the sunrise out of the window before the two little boys woke up.

The next night was Lego boy’s happiest night because when he woke up, he found that nothing had been changed in Lego city. The two little boys must have been busy doing other things that day. So Lego boy and Lego cat sat on the bench in the park and gazed at the moon all night. Just as the sun was rising, they hurried back to their room and went to sleep.

When they woke up that night, however, Lego Boy was heartbroken to see that his room was gone. Everything had been changed! “It’s going to take me all night to fix it again!”

He was very frustrated. “There must be something I can do. Something I haven’t thought of before.”

Lego Boy thought and thought and then realized he would have to go on a journey. He’d search outside the city. He and Lego cat left the city and walked to the edge of the table. He looked out into the room. The two brothers were sleeping peacefully in their beds. He also saw a shelf across the room. On it there were paints, paint brushes, paper, scissors, and…..the answer to his dreams!  GLUE!

With the help of Lego Cat, Lego Boy made it across the room, climbed the shelf and got the glue. When they pushed it off the shelf, it made a soft thud on the carpet, and one of the boys turned over in his sleep!  Lego Boy and Lego Cat held their breath! Luckily, the boys didn’t wake up.

When they got back to Lego City, Lego Boy collected the pieces he needed to build his walls again, but this time, as he was building them, he poured glue between the pieces. It oozed out as he snapped the pieces together, and he smiled in satisfaction.

It took him all night to build his room again, and right at sunrise, he couldn’t even make it back to his bed! He fell right to sleep on his doorway!

The next day, the little boys were busy doing other things and didn’t notice the glue bottle sitting inside Lego City. But their mother came into their room that afternoon to put laundry away. She noticed it, and she frowned as she tried to pull Lego Boy’s walls apart – they wouldn’t budge.

She called the boys into their room and showed them the glue. “You need to take care of your toys!” She scolded them. “I’m not buying you new Legos if you are going to glue them all together!”

“We didn’t glue them together,” the boys cried. But, of course, the mother didn’t believe them.

When Lego Boy woke up that night, he didn’t know anything about the scolding that the two boys got. He was just very happy to see that the walls to his room were still there, and, in fact, while Lego City got changed around quite a bit over the years, his room always stayed right where he glued it.

***

I apologize in advance if this gives your children the idea to glue their Legos together. :)

Remember: Please respect copyright laws. While I’m happy for any parent or teacher to borrow this story, I hope no one is stealing it for other purposes. Don’t plagiarize.

December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas and My Gift to You

the three-year-old's handiwork

Merry Christmas. Wherever you are, or whatever you are celebrating today, I hope you are warm, healthy, and well-loved.

And now is as good of a time as any to start what I hope will be a new tradition on this blog….my sharing stories with you.  I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, and I don’t know if you will care to read the stories I tell my son in the evenings, but every once in a while I happen to tell a good one - not a perfect story or publishable story but a story that I like - and I’m hoping that by sharing a few with you, you might be encouraged to tell stories to your own children.  Unfortunately, it’s not the same when I write them down as when I tell them off the top of my head. Clearly I am editing and polishing as I write, adding a detail that makes more sense, or eliminating the pauses, the “oh wait…I forgot to say,” and the “uuuummmms.”  And I never remember it exactly as I told it even though I try to type it right after the telling.  

I told the story below to my six-year-old the night before Christmas Eve, and I surprised myself with it because it came so effortlessly, although I had no idea how it would end when I started it! That doesn’t always happen!

You don’t have to tell a perfect story to your children. You are not trying to get published. Anything you have to say, anything you make up that is for them and only them will be treasured by your children. And the more you tell, the better you’ll get at it. I hope you’ll start a ritual tonight. If you want, borrow my story or part of it. Whatever you do, trust yourself that you know how to tell stories.

A Christmas Story by Shelli Bond Pabis

Once upon a time there were some children who lived with an old man and woman. The children weren’t siblings, and they didn’t have any parents, which is why the old man and woman were taking care of them.

Christmas was coming, and the old man and woman didn’t have much money.  The children each had something they were wishing for though.

The first little girl wanted a doll she had seen in a store window.  It was a fabulous doll with shiny, blond hair, blue eyes and a beautiful dress.  She wanted it more than anything in the world.

The little boy was hoping to get a book he had seen in a shop.  It was a book of adventure stories!  He loved adventure stories, and he wanted to read all the stories in this big book.

The last little girl wanted a puppy more than anything else. Unfortunately, the old man and woman didn’t have enough money to buy a puppy, and they had even less time to take care of one!

When Christmas arrived, the children were excited and had great hopes that morning!  The first little girl found one package under the tree, but when she opened it, she didn’t find a doll.  Instead, there was some pretty cloth and blue yarn. Blue was her favorite color.  She was very disappointed, but she was a good little girl, so all she said was “thank you.”

The little boy noticed there was something in his stocking!  It felt like a book! But when he reached inside, he found a crisp new notebook, and nice new pen.  He was very disappointed, but he was a good little boy, so all he said was “thank you.”

The last little girl found her present under the tree.  It was a little box, so she knew a puppy wasn’t inside.  She very disappointed, and when she opened it, she found it was full of seeds!  Seeds?!  But she was a good little girl, so all she said was “thank you.”

The boy took his pen and notebook to his room and stashed them under his bed, and then he forgot about them and went outside to play.  The little girl with the seeds took them to her room and placed them on her dresser because there wasn’t much she could do with seeds in the winter.

The old woman told the first little girl that they would make her a new dress with the pretty cloth because the little girl really needed a new dress.  Together they worked on it in the evenings, and girl learned a lot about sewing.  When it was finished, she did love the new dress, especially since her old one was looking very drab. There was some cloth left over, and the old woman said perhaps they could also make something else.

“There’s not enough cloth here for another dress,” the little girl said.

“But there’s enough for a doll’s dress,” the old woman said.

The little girl’s eyes brightened, and together the old woman and she worked on making a doll!  They used the leftover cloth and yarn and some scraps from the old’s woman’s sewing basket.  When they were finished, the little girl thought this doll was even better than the one she had seen in the store window!  She was very happy!

Meanwhile, the little boy had been playing and pretending outside in the snow!  He came up with all kinds of adventures, and sometimes he played with some neighbor boys down the road.  One night after a full day and some grand adventures, he went to his room to rest, and he saw something poking out from under his bed.  It was the notebook and pen. 

‘I should write down what I did today,’ he thought.  So he did.  He wrote all about the adventure, and it was fun!  Then he began to write down all the adventure stories that he came up with in his head.  By the time spring came, he had filled his notebook, and when he read it over, he thought his stories were quite good!  He let his friends read the stories, and they laughed and had fun remembering their adventures that winter.  The boy was very happy, and he continued to write stories and share them for the rest of his life!

Finally when the frost had past, the last little girl took her seeds to the back of the yard and found a sunny place to plant them.  She didn’t know what they were, and she wondered what they would grow into, so she took good care of them.  She watered them, weeded the bed and fertilized them.  They grew into tall bright pink and red flowers!  They were quite beautiful, and she was proud that she had managed to grow them!

There was a farm next door with some animals, and that spring, the farm dog had a litter of puppies.  When they got big enough, one of the puppies started to explore the yard, and he saw something bright red and pink that he wanted to investigate!  When he found the flowers, he also found the little girl, and she was delighted with the puppy.  He licked her face, and she carried him to the old man and woman.

“I think our neighbor’s dog just had some puppies.  Let’s go see if this puppy belongs to him.”  They put the puppy in a little cart and walked over to the next farm.

Sure enough, the puppy belonged to the farmer who could clearly see that the little girl was already in love the dog. 

“I was going to take this litter of puppies to town to see if I could sell them, but it looks like this one has already found a home.”

“Really?” the little girl asked.

“If you can prove to me that you can take good care of him, I’ll let you have him.”

“I’ll take good care of him!  I promise,” she said.

The old man agreed.  He told the farmer how the little girl had planted her seeds, watered and tended them and helped them grow.  “I think she’ll make a good mother to this little puppy.”

“In that case, he’s yours,” said the farmer.

The little girl was very happy!

Tell me some of your favorite Christmas tales!

December 13, 2012

The Gift of Story

storytelling drawingNote: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, December 12, 2012.

If you’re running out of money searching for the perfect holiday gifts, remember that sometimes the best presents for young children are free.  Telling stories to children is a gift they’ll never forget.

When I was young, my grandmother told me stories about her childhood living on a farm. I can still remember the sound of Granny’s voice, her laughter and the way she used her hands when she talked.  The stories have stayed in my memory because they delighted me so much, and now I tell them to my own children.

She told me about the “tricks” she, her brothers and cousins used to pull while growing up on the farm.  She was the youngest of three daughters, so she wasn’t needed in the house.  She became the ringleader.

Once they stripped a pine tree of its needles, and when my great-grandfather drove by it on his tracker in the field, he couldn’t figure out what in the world happened.  He came and got his family to look at the pine tree that shed its needles, and they all wondered what happened.  My grandmother and her brothers didn’t say a word.

Another time they had a water-drinking contest that she said almost drowned her littlest brother, James!  And the best story is how they took a bite out of every peach on the peach tree because they were told not to pick any of the ripe peaches.

She also told me about the time my grandfather wrapped a huge box, labeled it to my grandmother from him and put it under the Christmas tree very early in December.  He wouldn’t tell anyone what it was.  All he said was that it was very practical.  On Christmas morning, everyone wanted Granny to open that box first.  What was in it?  Toilet paper.

So you see, I come from a line of tricksters and practical jokers, and if it weren’t for these stories, I would never know that. True family stories tell children where they come from, and they teach them lessons that their elders learned the hard way.

I believe every parent should tell stories to their children, but they don’t have to be true stories. Children love it when their parents make up stories for them. Trust me – it doesn’t matter how bad you think your story is – you’ll have a captive audience.

Two years ago I started a nightly ritual of making up a story for my six-year-old.  Now he won’t let me go until I tell him a story, but that’s okay.  I know that my stories are a treasure to him, and even though he might not remember all the stories, he’ll always remember me telling them to him.

Most nights my mind is a complete blank.  I have no idea what to tell him. Sometimes he’ll give me an idea, or else some character, usually an animal, will pop into my head. I just have to go with whatever comes to me or else I’ll never get a story told.

It’s amazing that as I start with some kind of character and setting, the storyline will arise from that almost as if by magic.  The more I tell, the easier it is for me to stop worrying about telling a good story and just tell something. No matter how silly I think it is, my son always smiles and wants another one.

So this holiday season, think about starting a storytelling ritual with your children. Start with something from your child’s life – a toy, a favorite animal.  Make it come alive, and you’ll be amazed to see that made up stories can be the best entertainment, the best way to share your values, and the most rewarding gift you can ever give your child.

Do you tell stories to your children? Do you want to, but you’re not sure how?  Please let know. I’d like to offer more resources on storytelling, and I’d like to get a feel for what you would like or need.

July 29, 2012

Wisdom from Storyteller Winston Stephens

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on July 25, 2012.

I am a self-proclaimed “storytelling advocate,” and I believe every parent should tell their own stories to their children.  I’ve been thinking of ways to try to inspire parents to do this, so it was only natural that I should interview my storytelling friend, Winston Stephens.  Stephens is a retired kindergarten teacher, and storytelling has been a big part of her life, both and in and outside the classroom.

Children respond better to stories than they do lectures, and I believe they never forget the storytellers in their lives.  I asked Winston if there were storytellers in her life that she remembers.

“Many!” she said.  “My Stephens grandfather told all kinds of stories to my brother and me, some Br’er Rabbit tales, The Three Pigs and stories from his childhood. My Winston grandmother regularly told me stories about her life (in which she was always the heroine), sang story songs (The Fox Went out on a Chilly Night) and recited one long story poem (Lasca) that I learned by heart. My parents would make up bedtime stories and others for special occasions.”

She says her father got sick of the story he made up for her and her brother because they made him recite it over and over, and if he tried to change one detail, they wouldn’t allow it!

“I felt personally honored to have that special kind of attention paid to me.  Stories have helped me to make sense of actual events in my life,” she says.  “Those who tell stories are revealing their values, telling you what’s really important, imparting their culture. True stories about personal experiences usually impart wisdom that the teller has learned, as well as giving the sense of how ordinary life today differs from what it was like in the past.”

As the oldest child in her family, Winston slipped easily into a storytelling role and imitated the way her parents and grandparents told stories.  Later, she would use storytelling in her classroom.  She says every Friday there would be a told story instead of a storybook, and at the end of the year, she had an extra special story to tell.

“On the last day of school every year I would tell a story about how that class got stranded on a deserted island and had to figure out how to makes tents, find food, and, eventually, get themselves rescued. In the story I highlighted the real kids’ strengths and interests. While I was telling, they would cheer and add more details. It was all a validation of what we had experienced and learned together.”

Today she tells stories too. She regularly tells stories for the Kindergarten classes at a nearby elementary school, and she’s been hired to tell a few stories at birthday parties and family reunions.  For the children she sometimes uses props such as a set of nesting dolls or stuffed animal.  One of her personal favorites is using an Appalachian-style dancing man on a board to tell a story, which includes songs for him to dance to and the children to sing to.

She has also started finding storytelling opportunities for adults in the community.  In January, she took a class at Athens Academy by the Southern Order of Storytellers, which is based in Decatur.  The SOS is eager to encourage storytellers around the state, especially by getting storytelling “clusters” started.  Stephens started her own cluster, which meets at her house on the third Wednesday of every month.  They talk about storytelling news, get advice from experienced tellers and practice telling.  They invite anyone who is interested in attending.

She is also enjoying the new Rabbit Box events, which are currently held in downtown Athens on the second Wednesday of every month.  They provide a forum for people to tell a true story from their lives, but it has to be told in 6-8 minutes and related to a certain theme.  Stephens has signed up to tell a story in August when the theme is “Now I Get It.”

These events prove that storytelling must be just as good for adults as they are for children.  Indeed, whenever you are waiting to hear “what happened next” you are engaged in a story.  Stories are part of our lives whether we’re conscious of them or not.

You can find out more about Winston Stephens’ storytelling at her website, http://mswinstonstephens.com/stories.htm, and if you’d like more resources to help you tell stories to your children, visit my storytelling resources page.

June 8, 2012

Guest Post at Simple Homeschool: Using Storytelling in Your Home Education

I’m honored that Simple Homeschool recently published a guest post that I wrote for them.  It’s titled “Using Storytelling in Your Home Education.”  I hope you’ll check it out, and be sure to also check out and share my storytelling resources page.  I will be focusing part of this blog on storytelling, and I hope my blog will be a resource and inspiration to get parents to start telling more stories to their children!

What I loved most about my “Granny” was the stories she told about growing up on a farm with four brothers, two sisters, and all the “tricks” they pulled.  This was my first introduction to the power of a story.  Not only did they captivate me, but they gave me insight to where I came from. I can still hear her voice telling them in my mind.

Click here to read the full post.

May 27, 2012

Using Storytelling and Puppet Shows in Homeschool

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on May 16, 2012.

One of the best ways to engage children in the learning process is through stories.  I’ve tried to use storytelling often with my children, and now that my eldest is five, he loves to be told stories.

Though books are wonderful, there’s something special about mommy or daddy telling a story that they have made up just for him.  Although my son doesn’t always want to look at a book, I’ve never had him turn down the opportunity to be told a story.  I truly believe that fostering this love of stories will lead him into reading and writing on his own.

I’ve witnessed some exciting side effects of this storytelling – my son loves to tell me the stories that his daddy has told him and vice versus.  Although he may exaggerate the details a little, I know that his comprehension is good, and this is something that teachers look for in elementary school.

Occasionally he wants to make up his own stories too.  It’s always exciting to me to listen to him and know he’s using his creativity and learning how to structure a story.  It also teaches me patience because his stories can get quite long!  At bedtime it makes for a good stalling tactic, so I have to keep him in check there.

Earlier this year I wanted to make storytelling a part of our morning activities.  Before I decided what to do, my son had his own idea.  He got out some little finger puppets that we had, and he wanted to do a puppet show.  That’s when our morning puppet shows became a ritual.

At first we just had fun with the six little finger puppets.  We – the five-year-old, two-year-old and me – would each take turns hiding behind our love seat and holding up the puppets for the “audience” to see.

I’m not the best storyteller in the world, but I could take the little puppets on a walk through the forest or by the ocean, and they’d find lots of interesting things to look at.  My five-year-old picked up on this theme and would repeat it during his show, but he always put a creative twist on it.

Surprisingly, my two-year-old could put on a pretty good production too.  He especially liked to feature his toy dinosaurs in the puppet shows!

At some point I showed my sons some puppet shows on YouTube to give them different ideas about what puppet shows could be like.  We watched a really good one that a little girl did using Eric Carle’s “The Hungry Caterpillar” story.  After that, my five-year-old wanted to do it too.

That’s when we started making our own puppets.  We recycle old cereal and frozen pizza boxes and cut out the shapes of the puppets.  Then we decorate them with construction paper or felt or whatever we have.  We glue popsicle sticks on the backs to use as handles.

We’ve done “The Hungry Caterpillar,” “The Little Red Hen,” “The Three Little Pigs,” and then we used a story that my son wrote himself (and dictated to me).  It’s called “The Little Lightning That Was Afraid to Strike.”  We made puppets for that too.

(Note: As you can see, much of the “artwork” – if you call it that – was done by me.  My five-year-old doesn’t have the skills yet to do it on his own, and he’s quite a perfectionist, so he gets frustrated easily. I’ve decided it’s okay for me to do this work as long as he gives me input on how I should create things, watches me do it, and he also has to try to make some of the easier stuff on his own.)

Recently I experimented teaching math during a puppet show.  I had two toy dinosaurs try to figure out some simple math equations, but one of them kept giving outlandish answers like 2 + 3 = 146,789.  The other one would roar at him.  My boys were laughing hysterically, and I knew I was on to something.

I hope to keep using puppet shows in our homeschool and use it for teaching various subjects.  Like everything, it’s a slow process, and I don’t want to force it, or the boys will be turned off.  If we do keep it up, I’ll reward the boys someday by taking them to the Center of Puppetry Arts, which happens to be in Atlanta!

I hope you’ll subscribe to my blog because I’ll be sure to write more about storytelling and puppet shows.  Do you use storytelling or puppet shows in your homeschool? Please tell me about it!  And check out my storytelling page for more information on how you can use storytelling in your homeschool.  Thanks for stopping by!

May 23, 2012

The Storytelling Advocate

I am advocating that all parents tell their children stories.  Not just any stories – but your stories.  

Whether made up or from our own lives, children need to hear our voices and our stories.

Storytelling is an expression of love, and there is no better way to impart your values or teach your children where they came from. Although I love books, I don’t think that reading from a book can capture a child’s imagination like when they hear something made up just for them.  They know it’s special, and they want to listen.  If you’re having trouble getting your child to enjoy books, try asking, “Can I tell you a story?”  If you love reading books together, try asking, “Can I tell you a story?”  It will be the icing on the cake.

But you think it’s too much trouble, and you aren’t creative enough, right? You’re wrong. If you tell a story with love, it will be a story that your kids want to hear.  As you tell more stories, you’ll get better at it.  I promise.

And that is why I’m dedicating part of this part blog to teaching storytelling and inspiring parents to tell more stories.  This page will be added to my header, and I’ll list resources for you to get started telling stories.  

If you homeschool, you’ll be happy to know that storytelling is part of your child’s language arts requirement.  Whether you homeschool or not, you’ll be adding value to your child’s life, fostering their creativity, igniting their love of language, and helping them begin to write their own story.

No adult forgets the person who told them stories as a child.  

All you have to do is begin “Once Upon A Time….” and think about what is important to your child that day.   But if you need a little more help, look here:

First of all, I Need Your Help Creating a Storytelling Resource: Read this for more information

Introduction

Guest Post at Simple Homeschool: Using Storytelling In Your Home Education

The Gift of Story

Why Tell Stories?

The Benefits of Storytelling

Storytelling and what that has to do with Homeschooling

How To Tell Stories To Your Children

Book Review: Tell Me a Story by Chase Collins ~or~ How I Use Storytelling as a Teaching Tool

How I Use Storytelling to Enrich the Lives of My Children

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

Using Storytelling and Puppet Shows In Your Homeschool

The Gift of Story

Inspiration: Examples of Stories with Storytelling Tips

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

Merry Christmas and My Gift to You

Story: Lego Boy

Inspiration: Storytellers

Remembering my friend and storyteller, J.J. Reneaux

Wisdom from Storyteller Winston Stephens  – includes venues for adult storytelling around Athens, Georgia.

Storytelling Links

National Storytelling Network

National Storytelling Festival - Every October in Jonesborough, TN

Southern Order of Storytellers - based in Atlanta, Georgia and encouraging “clusters” or storytelling groups to start throughout Georgia.

Rabbit BoxFostering the art of storytelling in Athens, Georgia. We provide a forum for people to share true stories from their lives. (Adult storytelling)

Bill Harley - This storyteller had my sons in stitches with his tape “Dinosaurs Don’t Say Please and Other Stories.” Just wanted to give him a shout-out for all my story loving friends.

…And if I can think of anything else that will help inspire you to tell stories to your children, you can bet I’ll add it here!

***

February 29, 2012

Remembering my friend and storyteller, J.J. Reneaux

Note: I wrote this column for the Barrow Journal in 2009 in remembrance of my friend, J.J. Reneaux.  Today, February 29, 2012 is the anniversary of her death.  Since it only comes around every four years, I thought I’d repost it on my blog.  J.J. is the person who first taught me the importance of oral storytelling.

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been ten thirteen years this week today since my friend and children’s author/singer/songwriter/storyteller, J. J. Reneaux, died of cancer.  I met her when she taught a storytelling class, and though I always loved stories and writing, she is the person who made me realize how important stories are in our everyday lives.  Without stories, we would have no way of framing our own lives.  They can offer wisdom, tell our history, entertain and enlighten us.

J. J. spent part of her life living in Southwest Louisiana, and the folk tales from her varied background, especially her Cajun roots, inspired her storytelling.  According to her obituary (Athens Banner-Herald, March 3, 2000), J. J. won many awards for her books and recordings, including the Anne Izard Storyteller’s Choice Award for “Cajun Folktales.”  Her book “How Animals Saved the People,” which is my favorite and was published posthumously, also won the Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award and was chosen for the Outstanding Children’s Book of 2002 Award from the Southeast Booksellers Association.  She toured in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, and Europe, and she was a regular guest at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee.

I did not know how well known she was until I read her obituary.  This is probably due in part to my naïveté and also her easy, humble manner.  She had a beautiful, calm voice, and I looked up to her because I felt she had wisdom to impart to me.  I still think of her often, and I’m grateful that during the short time I knew her, she made me feel welcome in her home.  Whenever I feel like a fish out of water, I remember how she encouraged me to walk down my own path.

Before she died, I left for my yearlong stay in Japan where I was an assistant English teacher.  Though I knew she was ill before I left, I never once thought she wouldn’t be here when I got back.  I had looked forward to our continued friendship, so when I received word of her passing, it was very difficult for me.

I did receive hints of her condition before she died, however.  I used to write long, rambling e-mails about my experience in Japan to family and friends, and she rarely returned my messages except once or twice.  Once she told me that a person really learns whom their friends are when you are in a wheelchair.  She added that she encountered some toddlers whose expressions were like, “Cool Wheels!”  It’s this that tells me her courageous spirit was unwavering, and I can only hope to emulate that in my own life.

She left behind a loving husband and two children, and now that I’m inching up to the age she was when she passed, I can’t help but count my blessings and my stories.  I plan to use stories liberally while educating my children.  Moral lessons and history lessons are always more easily digested when they are learned through stories.  Part of the reason I write this column, I think, is to record the stories I want my kids to remember.  And if there is anything I can do for J.J., it’s write about her so that you can share in her stories too.  So, please, next time you go to the library, look up one of her books.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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

January 14, 2012

Homeschool Priorities Part 2: Imagination * Play * Motion * Literature

scenes from my five-year-old’s puppet show

My first priorities for my sons at the ages of 5 and 2 are: imagination, play, motion and literature.

I grouped imagination/play/motion together because they go hand and hand.  At five-years-old, my son is using his tremendous imagination constantly.  The two-year-old is quite adept at it too. Playing is their number one job.  Right now as I type this, the five-year-old is upstairs with all his stuffed animals.  He has arranged them “just so” on his bed, and he says he’s keeping them warm.

He runs up and down the hallway, and he pretends he’s a horse. He “flies” toys around the house. Outside, he’ll find a strand of wild onion, tell me it’s an “eel” and then go feed it “ants.”

I’m thrilled to see that at five- and two-years-old, my boys are beginning to play together well, creating forts and pretending to be dinosaurs or ocean animals.  (This is also a big relief to me because I’m getting a little more free time to myself.)

Rough and tumble play is a frequent activity in our house.  My boys are always moving, always pretending, and I don’t want to discourage that.  There is clear evidence that children learn through play.  In addition, authors Michael Gurian (The Wonder of Boys) and Steve Biddulph (Raising Boys) both write about how important it is for boys to have plenty of space, and they need to move their bodies.

Biddulph writes in Raising Boys, “Sitting still at a desk for a long time is usually hard and painful for boys (and some girls too).  In early primary school, boys (whose motor nerves are still growing) actually get signals from their body saying,  ‘Move around. Use me.’ To a stressed-out first grade teacher, this looks like misbehavior.”  (This is in a section titled “Starting School: Why Boys Should Start Later.”)

I probably don’t have to convince you how important play and movement is for children (or any of this for that matter), so I’ll leave it at that.  But I will tell you exactly what I’m doing besides giving them ample time to imagine, play and move.  This is where my second priority, Literature, comes in.  The number one “schooling” activity kids this age should be involved in is soaking up books and stories: fiction, non-fiction, oral storytelling, plays, you get the drift.  (The phases of learning mentioned in this post is very intriguing to me, and I want to read more about educational philosophies that support this notion.)

  • We read books often.  If we’re not going anywhere, I have “book time” with both my boys in the mornings, and then we (my husband and I each take one child) usually read one book at bedtime with the five-year-old and look through several picture books with the two-year-old.  We go to the library too, but I’m lucky to have quite a nice collection of children’s books through library sales, so I find we have long stretches of time when we don’t go to the library because we’re busy with other things.

We read storybooks as well as non-fiction.  My five-year-old is very fond of science books about bugs, snakes, the earth or whatnot.

For a long time, I wanted to incorporate another way to foster make-believe with both my boys that I could easily participate in.  I also wanted to create some kind of morning ritual with them.  I wasn’t sure how to do this.  I started “book time” but I wanted more than that.  Then one morning my five-year-old pulled down the finger puppets that were sitting on the top of my bookshelf in the living room.  (They had been there untouched for a long time.)  He wanted to do a puppet show.

  • And that was the beginning of our morning puppet shows.  We all take turns putting on a play, and even my two-year-old will get behind the love seat and put on his own puppet show!  How cool is that?

We don’t do a puppet show every morning.  If we are going somewhere, or if the boys are playing nicely together, I don’t push it, but I do encourage it and ask for a puppet show on a regular basis.   My puppet shows are another outlet for me to impart some wisdom, though mostly I entertain.  (Once I even let their toy alligator try to eat the puppets.  It’s nice for me to have an outlet to do “boy stuff” in a way that suits my energy level.  Afterall, I’m a forty-year-old girl who likes to sit in one place!)

In addition:

My future goals:  In the near future, I hope we can find an art class for the five-year-old.  Long term goals: some kind of art study, music study, and/or creating more elaborate puppet shows.  I’d like to make some puppets or make a puppet stage.

What do you do to stimulate your child’s imagination?  And please come back.  I’ll continue to go over my homeschool priorities in detail.

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