Getting Started With Storytelling.

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Last week I talked about why we tell stories, and why children need us to tell them stories.

This morning, I took a few moments to think about where I told stories this week. At the preschool where I assist a few mornings a week, the children were telling their scariest stories, which mostly involved older siblings shooing away ghosts. I shared some little tales to help redirect play, and later in the day, visited one of my tutoring students. Together she and I explored the stories of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta, contrasting their storytelling styles, and finding that we both preferred Ibn Battuta’s easy narrative to Polo’s constant reminders of how strange and foreign everything is! And then, with my son, this week brought chances to share stories of how he’s grown, and of how hard school was for me when I was a little younger than he is now.

In many ways, storytelling is so woven into the fabric of my daily life that I hardly notice it any more, but I still remember panicking the night before starting a new lesson block, wondering how I would remember the next day’s story. Over time, I have learned some wonderfully easy ways of getting stories into my head and heart, and I look forward to sharing them with you in these posts.

Just getting started with storytelling, though, when you don’t think you know how, can be daunting in itself. Forget teaching content — how do we even begin? Here are three easy ways to dip your toes into the river of story. Be careful, though — once you start telling stories to your children, they are unlikely to let you stop!

1. When I was little . . . (Also known as, “When your grandpa was a little girl…”)

My mother’s family are born storytellers. And then, when you take a storyteller and surround her with storytellers, there is no end to the tales that come spilling out at family gatherings. My grandmother, a short, auburn-haired woman with a love of green onion sandwiches, used to start stories about my grandfather’s childhood with a twinkle in her eye and the words, “When your grandpa was a little girl…” which provoked gales of laughter right from the start. What are your family stories? Try telling one in the car or over a meal tonight. Children love to hear about themselves and about their loved ones — try telling about something your child did as an infant or toddler, or about a time when you had a similar experience to one they’re having now. It needn’t be an epic saga. A few sentences will do.

Pay attention to sensory details, if you can recall them — what did it look like, smell like, sound like, taste like? These family stories are ones you don’t have to learn; you already know them by heart. They are in your bones.

2. Nature stories

Quick! What’s going on outside right now? What is the weather like? How strong is the wind? The name “Nature Stories” encompasses a wide range of story types and styles. Let’s start with something really simple, especially if you have children under 7. Pick an animal or plant you see every day. If you are in the Midwest of the United States, that might be a squirrel or a rabbit; maybe a goldenrod plant or a dandelion. In the heart of London? Perhaps it’s a pigeon or a swan in the park, or even a simple tree. Living on a sheep station out in western Australia? Well, sheep are easy, but maybe a wombat has been digging out your gardens. Give your child a peek into that creature’s day. Animals eat and sleep each day, just like your child.

There doesn’t need to be a big dramatic event, just the events of their day, told like you might tell your child what you did yourself that day.

“Well, Flopsy rabbit woke up, and she hopped out of her burrow. She saw the sun would rise soon, and she used her paws to clean her face. Then, she found a tasty clover flower to nibble.” Again, sensory details are key. Don’t worry about giving the animal or tree a strong personality. Just take us along for a day in their life.

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3. Tried and true

Why do some stories seem to get told year after year, in form after form? Because they work! There are plenty of deep reasons why preschoolers love, “The Gingerbread Man,” and older elementary kids beg for a spooky story around the campfire. Pick one you already know, one with a painfully easy plot, little to no character development, and plenty of repetition. Tell it to yourself first — in the shower, while washing dishes, as you mow the lawn, in the car — until you feel like you have a good sense for the sequence of events. Then, tell away! If you are feeling especially ambitious, you could make a little puppet play with toys your child has already.

 

A word to the wise: if your child is especially young — under 4 or 5 — or has never had stories told without a book before, it may take a while for them to learn to be listeners. For littles, make the stories very short and simple. You can let older kids know you are trying something new and need their help. They might like to find toys or objects to help you act out the story, or to draw as they listen. Mealtime is a great time to start a storytelling practice. It gives talkative youngsters a chance to practice listening, and to actually get some food in their bellies! Sharing a story at the table also serves to invite deeper conversation, and to give children who are more shy a chance to relax and enjoy the company around the table without the pressure of having to answer questions.

The most important piece of advice for how to get started, is to start! And then start again! Don’t be afraid to tell the same story over and over, but if a story just isn’t working, chuck it out the window and try something new. Remember, it's important. I actually think storytelling can save the world, and it’s up to all of us to tell and to listen. 

(all photos: Sara Renee Logan)

 

Sara has a new course starting October 23rd! In this latest offering, Nature Stories, you will:

  • Learn how a few simple moments each day can provide you with a wealth of story material.

  • Try some fun exercises that help you out of facts and figures learning, and into a new world of wonder-learning.

  • Create a Wonder Book, a home for all your observations, dreams, and story sparks, with words and images.

  • Connect with other storytellers in a private facebook group, where we will encourage one another to step boldly into joy-filled storytelling. 


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Sara Renee Logan has been telling stories to anyone who would listen since she was seven. Many years as a Waldorf teacher allowed her to tell stories about everything from Baba Yaga's hut on chicken legs, to the water cycle, to the life of Joan of Arc.   She continues to share her love of storytelling and stories with audiences of all ages, specializing in bringing the wild beauty of folktales to young and old. Sara has a home on the web at sarareneelogan.com where she shares stories of her life, tips, and ideas for parents and other storytellers.  Sara offers coaching services and the Story/Reading process of story-based biography exploration that guides seekers to look deeply into their own life stories through the lens of traditional tales.  Sara shares her life with her partner, Melanie, their son, and an unreasonable family of pets. 

 

Why storytelling? (Introducing Sara Renee Logan!)

I was a Waldorf classroom teacher for many years, starting out as a kindergarten assistant, then a subject teacher, and finally taking on four different grades classes, with whom I journeyed for varying lengths of time.  The part of the day I loved best was story time. A hush would fall over the students, and together, we would travel on waves of words, through mysterious forests, over sparkling seas, and under the earth, sometimes passing through towns and schools that looked a lot like our own.

It was similar when my own son was small, and he wanted a story about Boy and Cat and their adventures together each night. We’d sit in the candlelit darkness of his room, and I’d struggle to stay awake as Boy and his talking Cat went on adventures.

 

Some of the adventures were magical, some as ordinary as a trip to the grocery store, but all were met with equal joy.

 

Waldorf education relies heavily on storytelling. From the nursery to the high school, narrative retellings of all kinds of stories lie at the heart of the lesson. Even in middle school science lessons, we retell the story of the experiment or observation. This week, I want to focus on why storytelling is so important. Next time, I’ll get into how you might get started with storytelling for the children in your life.

 

So, why? Why can’t we just open a book, or show a movie, or let the children read or observe or tell their own stories. The answer is, “WE CAN!” All of those things are good and worthy ways to learn and to share learning. There is nothing wrong with books, or movies, or going out into the world to see it for yourself. So why the focus on storytelling?

First off, when I say “storytelling,” I specifically mean oral storytelling without a book. Sometimes, it feels like I might as well say, “without a net.” To tell a story from the heart, without words on the page or an image on the screen to fall back on, is to be vulnerable. That vulnerability is an invitation to our listeners to be in relationship with us. The teller needs the listener. My stories about Annika and Her Dresses when I was 8 were fun, but they became even more so when I had a friend who would listen!

The Waldorf curriculum is rich in story, from nature stories and fairy tales, through great myths and legends, to biographies and historical stories. These aren’t the only stories we can tell, though, nor should they be! Sharing stories from our own experience, family memories, and stories we create right in the moment for our children are amazing ways for our children to connect to their own place in the world. As they listen, they are building a treasure trove of stories to pass on to their own children one day, and they are learning to tell their own stories.

Telling stories allows us to make the lesson content into something that is alive. Words on paper are dead; they will not grow or change. They are fixed as they are. This is not me tearing down reading, or being anti-books, but it’s a fact; that’s part of what I love about my favorite books: they are always the same, even when I am changing, and I can meet them in new ways. A story, told aloud, from one person to another or to a group of people, is alive. It can change to meet the needs of the listener. It can be dramatic or calm. The storyteller can draw out the parts of a biography, for instance, that paint the clearest picture of a time in history, or which are the best example of a figure’s character or personality.

With a story, we can make the most daunting material feel approachable, if not familiar and friendly. We might be worried about teaching long division, or medieval law, or the American Civil War, because it feels hard or strange, or overwhelming in scale. By telling a story about dragons sharing pancakes, or a young page who must help his king in a difficult matter, or a family making decisions about whether or not to fight, we can add a drop of humanity, and sometimes even a little levity, to subjects that threaten to feel heavy.

 

Storytelling demands that we be absolutely present to the story. In this, it is a present, a gift to our listeners. We bring our whole selves into that moment, and together, teller and listeners weave a tapestry of experience. It is a beautiful way for us to connect with our children.

 

So, again, why should we tell stories? In short, my deepest answer, the one I get when I stop dancing around the academic benefits and Steiner’s recommendations and so on, is this: Because it is their birthright. Humans tell stories. We tell stories about ourselves, about our homes, about our countries, about our Gods, about our heroes, and about our deepest fears. Children deserve to have access to that magic, to that history, and to themselves. We can offer it to them word by living word, drop by delectable drop. We can offer it to them in the car, cuddled up in bed, on a beach, on a subway platform, over dinner, in a hospital, at the zoo, on an airplane, on a mountain, waiting in line at the grocery store — there is nowhere we cannot share a story, so it is available and accessible. It is their inheritance as story-telling creatures. We owe it to them. We, as adults, owe children not only pre-written, pre-illustrated, pre-digested stories, but new stories, old stories, stories burning like fire on our tongues, and stories flowing like water between us. And if we tell them our stories, we may be lucky enough that they will tell us theirs. 

Photo: SRLogan

Photo: SRLogan


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Sara Renee Logan has been telling stories to anyone who would listen since she was seven. Many years as a Waldorf teacher allowed her to tell stories about everything from Baba Yaga's hut on chicken legs, to the water cycle, to the life of Joan of Arc.   She continues to share her love of storytelling and stories with audiences of all ages, specializing in bringing the wild beauty of folktales to young and old. Sara has a home on the web at sarareneelogan.com where she shares stories of her life, tips, and ideas for parents and other storytellers.  Sara offers coaching services and the Story/Reading process of story-based biography exploration that guides seekers to look deeply into their own life stories through the lens of traditional tales.  Sara shares her life with her partner, Melanie, their son, and an unreasonable family of pets. 

A Letter To Our Homeschooling Friends.

As you start the school year, you may be feeling like your family doesn’t understand your decision to pursue home education. Or it may be your friends that are questioning it. Or the school you made the decision to depart from. Some will openly challenge and judge you. Others will do so silently.

You will find that a handful will wholeheartedly trust and support you. (Nurture those relationships, they have great value.)


Keep your eye on the ball. Don’t engage the naysayers. How can any of us know what it's like to walk in another person’s shoes? The only skillful (and soulful) response when people are not supportive is to not take the bait. Practice seeing what’s good in them.

Cultivate faith in yourself. Let go of the rest. There is a lot of work to do.


You will hear it all. That your children won’t know how to socialize. That the kind of socialization they are getting is not enough, or not the right kind. That they will become overly attached to you. That you don’t have enough of “your own thing” going on. That you are depriving them. That they need more activities, or those of a different kind. That they need mean peers and mean teachers to teach them about the world, and to build resilience. That you are not educated enough to educate them. Some criticism will come from people you deeply love and respect, and it will sting. Some will come from complete strangers and you might find yourself laughing at the absurdity of it all.

The list could go on forever. In the short time we have been homeschooling I have developed the following response:

Thank you, but I’ve got this. My husband and I know what's best for our son, we know what's best for our family, and he is not your responsibility. He is ours.


I trust my life and how it unfolds. As a result, I don’t take any of these ultimately well-meaning offerings personally. You don’t have to, either.

Good luck this year.

 

You’ve got this!

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Helping our children create realistic expectations around Art.

Very often children and adults alike have unrealistic expectations when it comes to their initial attempts at art. So often we are quick to move into frustration when our art work doesn't match the images we have in our minds.

Brian and I sat down (on the floor. we do our best thinking there.) to discuss this situation, and some ways to help ourselves and our children shift mindsets into one of growth.

Drawing from 14 years of teaching and coaching, Brian points out that "practice is as important in art as it is in music, or sports, or math....you wouldn't expect to only ever need to do one long-division problem to completely grasp the concept! Art is no different."

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Let us help you sort out art for next year! Weekly Art is open for registration.

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Be sure to check out our payment options.  You've got choices for keeping the Weekly Art program within reach for your budget.

To help you answer the question "is this program right for my family?" we're giving folks the opportunity to try out a lesson for FREE. Fill out the form below and tell us where to send yours!

Jean Miller's review of Waldorfish Weekly Art.

Jean Miller of Waldorf-Inspired Learning recently played with several of our art lessons and wrote a review of the Weekly Art Program. 

We loved having another teacher experience our lessons, and share their thoughts from the perspective of someone who also works closely with homeschooling families! Here's a taste of her thoughts:

"When I talk to parents about planning mean lesson blocks, they often ask, “How can I easily focus on Waldorf painting and drawing?” 

Here’s how the conversation usually goes. I am explaining the 3-part lesson in a 2-day rhythm like this, “on day one, you present new material with a story, and then you paint a picture or draw into the main lesson book. On day two, you revisit that story and write a summary into the book.”

Most parents reply, “OK, I can do that. Except I don’t really know how to paint or draw.” 

Well, then what? 

Often I find myself saying you just have to do it. Just start, and you will learn as you go along. 

But over and over again, I hear from clients that they never get to it because they feel inadequate, not prepared. They don’t know how to do the drawing and painting in the Waldorf style, so this stops them. Many parents simply avoid moving forward with their main lesson block. They get stalled and hung up here.

(Can you tell this is all very familiar to me? When my children were young, I had this fantasy that if only I could freeze them for about five years to go and learn everything I needed to about Waldorf, then maybe I could come back and feel prepared to homeschool them!)"

** Read the full review here. **

More Than Meets The Eye: The Role of Art in Waldorf Education.

The liberal use of color that infuses all aspects of a Waldorf Education is not only delightful, it’s deliberate. Beautiful main lesson book entries created by students, beginning in first grade with the heartwarming “One Sun”, increase in complexity throughout the grades. Color, form, technique, and meaning converge to animate all subject matter from math to science, foreign language and native language studies. What is the value of this approach?

Photo: Cristina Havel

Photo: Cristina Havel

“The important thing is to arouse in children a real feeling for life, and color and form have the power to lead right into life...these details are essential to the vitality of the work.” -- Rudolf Steiner, 1922, The Spiritual Ground of Higher Education

Shaping and Perceiving

Artistic endeavors sharpen two very important human skills: the ability to shape, or see, and the ability to perceive, or distinguish. When practiced over time using diverse techniques across a variety of subjects, something very special emerges: the ability to shape and perceive new ways of looking at the world. In 1st grade, “One Sun” might become “one son” -- or “one bun”, as my son said to me, giggling, as I ate a hamburger when he was six. As the Waldorf student develops, connections continue to be made on ever deepening levels and the creative process is strengthened, resulting in students who are able to make connections across a variety of subjects. This skill is highly valued in our culture and is known as interdisciplinary thinking. It’s a truly holistic way of looking at the world and contributing effectively.

Photo: Robyn Wolfe

Photo: Robyn Wolfe

I am always doing things I can't do, that's how I get to do them.  -- Pablo Picasso

The idea that a child cannot succeed in Waldorf Education unless he or she has excellent artistic skills is a myth to be dispelled. One child may draw endlessly in the early grades while another may be adept at origami or painting, or lose herself in handwork. Skills and interests “come in” at different times and under different circumstances. The creative process is sometimes mysterious and always transformative, no matter when and how it reveals itself. There is no wrong way to express oneself artistically. We must teach our children to create without judgement, only then will they be free from inner constraints and available to capture a world in perpetual motion. Therein lies the magic and power of art.

What is Waldorfish Weekly Art?

Waldorfish Weekly Art is a unique series of online art classes aimed at teaching a variety of methods widely practiced in Waldorf schools around the world. These classes can be used as weekly art classes that are folded into existing homeschool routines of any kind, as refresher courses for brick-and-mortar Waldorf school teachers, and, for those with far-reaching goals with respect to Waldorf homeschooling, as foundation courses that can be applied to different subjects as your student progresses through the grades.

Photo: Cristina Havel

Photo: Cristina Havel


"I’m so pleased to have found art lessons that draw on the Waldorf style as opposed to all of the “outline and color in” art lessons that seem to be popular online. We are really enjoying them!” ~ Heidi

 

"As a teacher - drawing figures for my chalkboard drawings has always been difficult, and I was rarely happy with the results.  Learning how to first draw the gestures and then detailing it.  Soooo much easier and successful!  I will play more with this one!" ~ Debra


After a successful first round of lessons building both individual skill and a strong online community of artists working in the Waldorf tradition, Waldorfish Weekly Art is back for it’s 2nd session and will run from Sept 1 - May 31 2017/18 . Registration is now open!

 

We've got options for keeping the Weekly Art program within reach for your budget. Explore our payment options, here.