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!
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.
When my eldest son was a little younger, I told him a story every night. This lasted for three or four years, and while he’s kind of outgrown wanting to hear my stories, I cherish those years I was able to sit back and dig into my creative well and pull out a story. It was relaxing, and I felt I was connecting to my son more than when I read aloud from a book.
My younger son heard a story by his father for many years too. After about two years, I think my husband finally wearied of telling about Dig Dig the Dinosaur and his many adventures! But he wins an award in my book for telling about the same character for that long!
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.
I have been told no adult forgets the person who told them stories as a child. I don’t know if this is true, but I hope it will be.
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, here are some posts I wrote while telling my stories, and a little more too:
Why Tell Stories?
How To Tell Stories To Your Children
Inspiration: Examples of Stories with Storytelling Tips
Wisdom from Storyteller Winston Stephens – includes venues for adult storytelling around Athens, Georgia.
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 Box – Fostering 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!
I have already written about my five-year-old’s favorite knee-high naturalist class at the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, GA. Now it’s time to write about the other awesome classes they have that are just for homeschoolers! We’ve been taking the Homeschool Science classes this past year, and we intend to keep taking them as long as we can. I can’t sing the praises of the staff and volunteers at the nature center enough. They are a wonderful group of people who truly care about educating children.
Homeschool Science classes are once a month and last for two hours each. There are two separate classes – one class for ages 5-9 and another for ages 10-15. They are very reasonably priced (at this time: $4 per class for Athens-Clarke County residents and $6 per class for non-residents) and you can sign up for just one or all of them. Parents accompany the students and many younger siblings tag along too. Everyone I have encountered there has been easy-going yet eager to learn and help the kids. Surprisingly, my two-year-old wasn’t too much trouble for me when I brought him along:
Every class begins with indoor instruction/activities and then everyone goes outside for a hike and other activity. Classes are usually divided into two or more groups, depending on the size, and then they rotate the activities. Quite a few people enroll in these classes!
In our last class, we learned about fish, and the whole class got to go fishing! (Complete with safety instructions too.) Another group went to another area and used small nets to catch critters in the pond. Then the groups changed places. The staff and volunteers always make sure that all the kids get to participate and receive any help they might need. Parents also help as needed. (I wish I had my camera when my son was fishing for the first time! The photos you see on this page were taken during two other classes.)
If you are a newbie to these kind of classes and have small children, you might find that a two-hour class is quite long! At least, I felt that way the first couple of times. I was quite tired at the end. For some reason, it feels a little easier for me now. Maybe that’s because I’m physically and mentally prepared. I make these recommendations for you:
- Wear comfortable shoes that can get dirty. Most classes include a hike in the woods. Strollers are not accessible.
- Pay attention to weather and wear appropriate clothing. They WILL GO OUTSIDE EVEN ON COLD, RAINY DAYS.
- Bring snacks/water, but nothing difficult to carry. Students don’t eat during the class, but I’ve noticed several kids are ready to eat right after class. My five-year-old doesn’t need to eat, but I usually have to give my two-year-old a snack, if he’s with us. I keep water in the car for the drive home.
- I wear a small backpack so that my arms and hands are free. This makes my life easier all the time – not just during this class! But I do recommend it for the class.
- You may want to leave your toddlers at home with a babysitter the first time so that you can see how the class goes, but don’t worry if you need to bring them with you.
Please share where you live and your favorite classes available to homeschoolers.
Note: This column was printed in the May 2, 2012 edition of the Barrow Journal.
I am all for giving children as much freedom as possible. They need time to play, create and build. This make-believe and the trial and error of creating teaches them more lessons than they could ever learn from the well-meaning words of adults. This is at the heart of project-based homeschooling.
But in real life, it’s awfully hard to let my five-year-old pursue every project he thinks up. Sometimes I’m rushing around the house trying to get us ready to go out when he says something like, “Mommy, I think we could make a giant eel out of paper.” Please, I think, don’t talk to me now, but I don’t say it. He’ll go on and on about his idea while I’m only half listening.
Other times his ideas are just impossible. “Mommy, maybe sometime we can go to Greenland.” Uh huh. (Though requests like that are good ways to start explaining concepts like money, time and distance.)
For these reasons, I was happy the other day that we had the opportunity to let him run with one of his crazy ideas. I was cleaning up the lunch dishes, and I had planned to take the boys outside after that. It was a beautiful day, but my son had another idea.
“Mommy, I have an idea for a recipe. It would need celery and lettuce, and I would mash them together with that masher you use for making mashed potatoes. Then I would need that thing you use to mix stuff…”
I’ll interject here to explain that celery and lettuce are the only two vegetables my five-year-old will eat. He likes celery dipped in Catalina dressing, and he’ll eat a little bit of plain lettuce that he grew himself in the garden. And after more discussion, I figured out that the second utensil he was referring to was a whisk.
Now he continues, “…and then after it’s all mashed, we’ll make a cake out of it, and then we can put it in the oven and cook it for ten minutes!”
Oh yes…you can imagine how much he was whetting my appetite! But I stifled my laugh. Just as I was going to come up with a gentle explanation as to why that wouldn’t taste good, I thought to myself, “What would it hurt to let him find out for himself?”
All the stars seemed to be aligned for this special project. We weren’t going anywhere, and I had the two ingredients. The celery we had needed to be used up anyway. In addition to this, the two-year-old was in a rare, independent mood and went upstairs to play by himself for a while.
I laid out a cutting board, a big bowl, the masher and whisk. Then I cleaned a few sticks of celery and leaves of lettuce. I also gave my son a little knife to cut the celery with. My five-year-old is a cautious fellow, so if he knows something can hurt him, he’s very careful with it.
He stood on our step stool and went to work on his own recipe. He was very serious about it. I heard him counting the small pieces of celery he chopped and added to the bowl. At first he said he’d use nine pieces, but as he continued to work, he decided he needed more celery, and I cleaned a couple more stalks. He ripped up the lettuce into small pieces too.
He discovered that it’s very hard to mash celery. At this point I suggested that he chop the pieces smaller. He tried that, but I think it was too much work. He went back to the masher.
To my surprise, celery can be mashed if you keep at it a very long time. My son worked diligently for almost an hour. It gave me time to fold the laundry.
Finally the concoction was ready, but he said it needed water. We decided half a cup would do, and then I gave him a small casserole dish. He poured it in there, patted it down, and then I baked it at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
After it cooled down, we had the big taste test. My son took a bite, and though his expression was subtle, I wish I had videotaped it. After some contemplation, he admitted it wasn’t so good. But I knew it was a good day, and I’ll always remember the look of joy and determination on my son’s face while he was making his “celery and lettuce cake.”
Kelly O. Sullivan (@KellyOSullivan), a friend of mine on Twitter said, “That attitude of ‘try again but tweak’ is at the heart of science and experimentation.” So it is, but when my son said, “Maybe it will taste better if we put something else on top of it,” I finally snickered. Sometimes you gotta teach them when to cut loose.
Part 3 of Will Too Much T.V. Hurt My Children?
This is what happens when we get busy and forget about our afternoon T.V. time! —–>
I thought I’d follow-up my series about watching television with a list of the shows that my kid’s love to watch. There are, of course, more great shows out there, but this is what we’ve been able to watch via Apple TV/Netflix. Most of these you can access on Netflix, but there’ s a few we purchased on iTunes that you can’t get on Netflix – I put a star next to those.
If you aren’t already aware of either Apple TV, the Roku Box, or similar gadget, I highly recommend it. The gadget isn’t too expensive, and if you can get Netflix on it, it’s only $8 a month to have access to some great programming. All the nature shows listed below were found on Netflix. If you have questions, feel free to e-mail me!
What isn’t listed here: the movies my kids watch, the sitcoms we occasionally watch together, or shows that they’ve only watched once or twice. What is listed below makes up 95% of what they watch, and they have watched the kid’s programs over and over. They usually pick a show and watch through all the episodes we have access to. Right now my eldest is in a Curious George marathon.
To find out how often my boys watch T.V. and how I regulate it, go to my last post.
Shows they watch on their own:
- Disney’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse* ~ Very first show for both my boys at the age of 2. The five-year-old still likes it.
- My Friends Tigger and Pooh* ~ Very prosocial, I believe.
- Curious George
- Dinosaur Train
- Word World*
- Disney’s little einstein’s*
- Super Why! ~ Probably one of the best with helping to learn how to read.
- Dora the Explorer
- Go Diego Go
- Thomas and Friends
- Bob the Builder
- Walking with the Dinosaurs ~ This is probably not for everyone or for very young children. My oldest son didn’t watch these until he was little older, and it’s only been recently that the 2-year-old started liking them. (No, make that loving them.) It’s a documentary-like program with computer generated dinosaurs recreating what life might have been for the dinosaurs. It can be rather gruesome at times too. (We let them watch Walking with the Dinosaurs on their own because we’ve watched with them enough to explain what’s happening.)
A note about nature shows: Programs depicting how animals live (or how prehistoric animals might have lived) can be violent and sad, but frankly I think super heroes or other adult shows are just as bad, if not worse.
As a typical boy, my five-year-old picked out the animal-eating-other-animal after watching just one or two nature shows, and that is what most of his make-believe is about. Neither of us introduced it or encouraged it (except for letting him watch nature shows). It just happened. I think no matter what he watched or what we hide from him, he’s going to find some way to let this natural, boy aggressive behavior out.
Frankly, I would rather he pretend about animals rather than pretend-play with guns. My boys don’t watch super-hero cartoons or anything else like that. For the record, I think stories with super heroes can have some very good, moral lessons in them, but I’m glad we happened to navigate to the world of animals in our house. Though life in the wild can be cruel, my son understands that animals have to do these things to survive. He’s learning about the natural world through a scientist’s eyes, and he’s developing a keen appreciation for nature while learning that life is not easy either.
Here are some wonderful documentaries we’ve been able to watch on Netflix. I think I’ll add to this list as we watch more because it makes for good record-keeping for my son’s portfolio. (Opps. I haven’t kept this promise – see below.) They are in no particular order,
but I put my favorites on top. Actually, I loved them all!
- National Geographic: Climbing Redwood Giants
- National Geographic: Gabon: The Last Eden
- National Geographic: American Serengeti
- Nature: Wolverine
- All of David Attenborough’s wildlife specials (BBC)
- Turtle: The Incredible Journey
- The Last Continent
- Colossal Squid
- National Geographic: Antarctica Wildlife Adventure
- National Geographic: Incredible Human Machine
- Discover Planet Ocean
- Discover: Prehistoric Planet
- Journey Into Amazing Caves: IMAX
- Animal Planet: Safari
- Beavers: IMAX
- National Geographic: Creepy Creatures ~ good for Halloween
- Lizard Kings: On the Trail of the Monitor Lizards: NOVA (PBS)
- National Geographic: Secret Yosemite
- National Geographic: Bear Island
- Wolves in Pardise
- National Geographic: Thunderbeast
- At Close Range with National Geographic
- Antarctic Mission
- National Geographic: Eden at the End of the World
- National Geographic: Big Sur: Wild California
Please tell me about any shows I should watch that isn’t listed here!
UPDATE March 2013: I’m sorry I haven’t kept my promise to update this list, but recently I have begun a Pinterest board of our favorite Netflix shows which I’m adding to (with commentary) as we watch them. Check it out here.
When my two-year-old took naps, he watched considerably less T.V., but now he watches along with his brother in the afternoons and evenings.
Note: This is a follow-up to my previous post about the research I found on T.V. viewing and young children.
When I was a child, I had several favorite shows I liked to watch, and I always watched Saturday morning cartoons. I also had a little black and white T.V. in my bedroom that I could watch whenever I wanted, and I ate my dinner while watching T.V. by myself. I can’t remember exactly how much time I spent in front of the T.V., but I don’t think my mom ever worried about it, and I don’t think she restricted it. I also loved to play make-believe with my stuffed animals, and I went in the backyard to play alone in the snow too.
When I grew up, I became a well-rounded adult who could live with or without T.V. After leaving my parent’s house, I rarely watched T.V. When I lived in Japan for a year, I didn’t own a T.V. Just before I met and married my husband, I lived alone and kept my T.V. in the closet. I used it to watch movies on the weekends that I rented from the local video store. I do like watching T.V., but only quality T.V. and entertaining movies. When I moved in with my hubby, he got me hooked on watching some of my favorites like Lost and Battlestar Gallactica. (Don’t tell me how they end!) For me, television is a way to relax and also learn in a visual way. As a visual learner, I love documentaries and travel shows.
I think there are many children in today’s society who are watching too much T.V., and they are watching inappropriate programming for their age. This is probably why the The American Academy of Pediatrics felt they had to make recommendations, and it may also be why we’re hearing about Nature Deficit Disorder. But if you’re a parent and you’re reading this, then I bet you’re a homeschooling parent or at least a parent who takes time to think about your child’s education, well-being and future. I doubt you’re letting your T.V. babysit your children all day long.
So let me repeat the final sentence from my last post: “I believe that when parents balance age-appropriate, commercial-free T.V. viewing with other, healthy activities, television can’t hurt kids. And it may be good for them if they watch educational, prosocial shows.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should let your kids watch more T.V. If you have a schedule that keeps the T.V. out of your children’s day then by all means, keep it up. If I could, I would prefer my boys watch less T.V., but I’ve found that without letting them watch T.V., I don’t get the time I need to:
- write my newspaper column
- get some chores done
- get my ducks in a row
- in other words, rejuvenate, rejuvenate, rejuvenate.
I am an introvert and so is my husband. Maybe we’re even extreme introverts. Right now I’m reading Introvert Power by Laurie Helgoe, PhD, and it’s fascinating. Someday I’ll write about it (I did! – click here), but for now I’ll say that while reading this book, I’ve learned to not feel guilty about spending time at my computer, writing, and reading whenever I get a chance. I never thought it was wrong to do those things, but with kids, the only time I get to myself is while they’re sleeping or watching T.V. We can’t afford babysitters, and I have no outside help (except when my husband is off work or my mother-in-law is visiting once a year.) I get secretly irritated when well-meaning people tell me I deserve to take a day off on a regular basis. I want to say, “Are you going to come to babysit for me?” I can’t expect my husband to spend all his free time with the boys – he needs to rejuvenate too. There are simply no other options.
More importantly, by giving up guilt and worry over how much T.V. they are watching, I have found that I stay centered and cheerful (most of the time) while I’m with them. I have more energy overall, so I can do more fun projects. I can be fully with my children instead of being tired and wishing I had a little time for myself.
Usually in the afternoons around 2 or 3 o’clock I have a sinking spell. When I was young and single and working full-time, my productivity went down around this time. I will never understand our culture of having to work 9-5. Those countries who do “siesta” have it figured out! If I have to, I can keep going and force myself to work, but I become drained and uncreative. Giving myself a break gives me the fuel to keep going the rest of the day.
So this is how I do T.V. time in our house:
- My kids get to watch T.V. at certain times only. They have come to expect to have their “T.V. breaks,” and I consider it their “quiet, resting time.” By having a set schedule and letting them each pick one show, I don’t get many arguments about watching more T.V. If they do argue with me, I remind them that this is how we always do it. If I want to give them extra T.V. for a special occasion, I make it clear that it’s a special occasion, and they understand that.
- They usually watch two, ~20 minute educational kids’ shows that we can watch via Apple TV/Netflix every afternoon around 2-3pm. In the summer this is a particularly good time because they have usually been playing outside, and they need to come inside to cool down and rest. It’s just too hot here to play outside all day.
- Sometimes I let them watch one 20 minute show and one 50 minute show if I need more time.
- In the evenings after bath time, they watch two ~20 minute, educational shows. This is when I take my shower and get ready for bed. After that, we go upstairs to play for about 20 minutes, then read a book or tell a story and go to sleep.
- Extra perk: This schedule has allowed me to have fairly well-behaved children. Nothing works better in this house than saying, “No shows tonight…” to get these boys to cooperate with anything I need them to do.
And, surprise, this is not the only T.V. they watch. They also watch T.V. with me and my husband at lunch and dinner. I know some people feel watching T.V. during meals is the sin of parenthood. I resisted for years, and it’s only been recently that I finally gave in to watching during dinner. I grew up eating dinner by myself in front of the T.V. with a T.V. tray (remember those?) because my siblings were 10 years older than me and doing their own thing, and my father was usually away at work. More than anything I have wanted to have my own family sit around a table and have a conversation about their day, but it just hasn’t worked out that way. So why I am committing this sin of all sins?!
- As my husband reminds me, he’s usually working at home, so we’ve been talking with each other and the kids off and on all day. By dinnertime, we’ve seen up close what we’ve done all day.
- We converse quite a bit about what we’re watching, and it can stimulate interesting, educational conversations. We’re also stopping and starting the show several times during mealtime in order to get more food or someone has to use the bathroom. Sometimes it can take an 45 minutes to watch a 25 minute show!
- At dinner we usually watch a documentary. (I think this is how my husband lured me to the T.V. during dinner.) There are hundreds of wonderful documentaries and nature programs on Netflix, and we’re slowly going through them all. We talk about them, and I bring out the globe to show my son where the show is taking us. My husband and I both feel this is very educational for our children, and since we stay busy at other times of the day, dinner has just been an easier time to enjoy this type of programming.
- I should note that we usually only watch about half of a program at dinner and save the rest for the next day. They usually run from 50-60 minutes.
In preparation for writing this blog post, I thought I would keep track of my kid’s T.V. viewing during a two-week period. Some days we watch much more and other days they watch very little because we fill our time with other projects and outings. The weather has a lot to do with it too. (Now we’re watching less because of the beautiful weather!) So here I am, laying it all out for you. I took these numbers back in early March:
March 5 – 3 hours; March 6 – 1.25 hours; March 7 – 3.5 hours; March 8 – 2 hours; March 9 – 3.25 hours; March 10 – 1.5 hours; March 11 – 2.5 hours; March 12 – 3.25 hours; March 13 – 2 hours; March 14 – 2.5 hours; March 15 – 2 hours; March 16 – 3 hours; March 17 – 1.5 hours; March 18 – 1 hour
This averages out to 2.30 hours of TV viewing per day, which is in line with the recommendations by The American Academy of Pediatrics. As you can see, there are days that the boys watch more, but there’s also days they watch much less. Considering the quality of the programming they are watching, I’m not worried about an extra hour here and there.
The reason I am homeschooling is so that my children can have more time to play, be creative, spend time outdoors, and not have their sleep interrupted by an early morning school bell. I consider T.V. their time to relax and a time to expose them to places and ideas that I can’t do easily any other way. Furthermore, they are awake approximately 13 hours per day. We are spending a good 10~11 hours per day away from the television.
If you’d like to read more on this subject, Camp Creek Blog (my mentor in project-based homeschooling) wrote a series about screen time that was right in line with my thoughts on the subject: “Why I don’t Worry About My Kids Screen Time, Part 1” and “Part 2,” and a related follow-up, “Trusting the Process – Trusting the Child.”
In Part 3, I’m going to list of all the shows my boys watch and what we’ve watched with them.