storytelling

Pedagogical Stories: Start with the Stories in Your Bones

 

I come from a family of storytellers, though if you asked them, they might not own it.

The stories shared around my grandmother’s living room, in the front seat of my mother’s car, at restaurant dinners with my dad, these stories have shaped my identity and my sense of belonging. The stories don’t always have a clear point or moral. Sometimes, they don’t even have a plot. Each one, though, for good or bad, has been deeply instructive for me as a growing and developing human being — and don’t forget, we are growing and changing for the entirety of our time on earth!

All of these stories, if told when there was a desire to teach me something, or to pass on a particular piece of wisdom, could have been pedagogical stories. These stories, which my family members knew as they knew their own breath, have become part of my own legacy of stories, and are woven into my very bones and being.


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When you begin to delve into the deep soil of waldorf pedagogical storytelling, it can be overwhelming.

 

My advice, is to start with what you know in your bones. Start with your own life. Your life is a source of stories that are both unique and universal. They are unique, in that they are your own, and no other human being in the course of history has your biography or destiny. They are universal, in that we, as human beings on a path of development towards our fullest expression of selfhood, take a common journey between birth and death. This journey may lead us into dark forests or underground caves, and while we may never find ourselves living in a palace at the end of it, the union of “[our] avocation and [our] vocation, as [our] two eyes make one in sight,” as Robert Frost wrote, is the real happily ever after that fairytales offer.

Family enjoying time by the river and self-made campfire

 

To start telling pedagogical stories, you must listen.

 

Listen to your child, or to the children around you, and try to understand what they’re going through. Hear their concerns, their desires, their clamor for attention. Then, respond with something from your own life. In the US, it’s common for my friends and me to bond by sharing stories with one another — “Oh, that happened to you? Here’s what happened to me that was similar…” — not as a way of one-upping each other, but as a way of saying, “I’ve been there, too.” You can do that same thing for your child. It can be hard, even painful, to excavate some of the darker places in our memories. Don’t feel you have to bare your soul right away. It wouldn’t be appropriate in most cases, and it’s not going to meet the child’s needs.

Here are a couple of concrete examples: your child had a rough day at school. She was trying to help a friend who was upset, and the teacher noticed her talking and called her out in front of the rest of the class. When she tells you this, what do you want her to know? Perhaps you want her to know that you understand how important it is to help someone else, even when it could get you into trouble, so you share the story of a time you did that. Maybe you want her to gain the courage to talk to the teacher tomorrow about what happened. You could share a story about a time you had to be brave.

 

There’s no need to tell your child what you want them to get out of the story.

 

Rather, you can ask them about it — What do you think I learned from that? How do you think my mom felt when she heard that? Try adding sensory details to your story — what did it look like, sound like, smell like, in your 3rd grade classroom? Paint a picture with your words, and then let it dissolve. Let your child decide what to do with the story. She will take the action she’s ready to take.

Perhaps you notice that your children have been leaving their toys or sports equipment in the yard where it could be damaged by the rain, or by a pet, or could even be stolen. You might remember how you left your tennis racquet on the back steps and your dad stepped on it and bent the frame. He was okay, and you were kind of able to straighten out the racquet, but it was never quite the same after that.

Now, this is the hard part for me, when there is a specific behavior I want to see change: resist the urge to say, “And that, dear children, is why you must go pick up all the baseball bats, soccer balls, and rhythmic gymnastic apparatus from the yard RIGHT NOW!”

Rather, tell the story during a time that isn’t cleanup time, and talk about the story with your children without trying to lead them to a particular behavior. Then, when it’s time to clean up the next day, or the next week, you might say, “Gosh, I know I was really sad when that tennis racquet got bent out of shape. I really don’t want you to have to go through that.” Keep your tone earnest and matter-of-fact.

It’s not a cure-all. And to be honest, what’s even more important than their capability to influence and instruct, is that these stories help you to create a connection.

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My favorites from my mom’s childhood, were the ones that involved her sisters or cousins, and the trouble they got into. Especially as I moved through the nine-year change and into early adolescence, these stories were a way to understand my mom as a fallible, good-hearted person, able to laugh at her mistakes and learn from them. I loved, and still do, hearing the story of how grandma was too short to reach the pedals on the big 1930s car, so she and a friend learned to drive together, one steering, and one working the pedals. Their license had both their names on it! I learned creativity and resourcefulness from that one. My family, as far as I know, weren’t on a mission to teach me those things through those stories, but their choice to tell those stories spoke volumes to me about what we, as a family, valued and stood for.

The stories you share don’t have to have a particular goal or value in mind that you want to pass on to your kids. Sometimes, you might not even know why a particular story springs to mind, and it might be just the one they most need to hear right then. And then, sometimes your stories will fall flat. That’s just the way it is. Keep trying, keep telling, but also keep listening. The story that failed, might be needed later; and in the failing you might figure out which story you wish you had told instead. You can still tell it. Please do.

You can share memories that are more recent, too! If your child has a misunderstanding with a friend, you can share about a misunderstanding you’ve had, even just the other day. No need to get into too much detail or too many adult reflections — “I was really mad, because I thought she’d said something mean about me to our friend. I had heard something from another friend, and I was sad and hurt. When I asked her about it, she explained the whole conversation, and it was actually about something else. I was really glad I asked, even though it was hard.”

The stories we choose to share communicate so much about our values and our own perceptions of life. By passing them on to our children, we are giving them a gift from a past more distant than they can touch themselves, one that can carry them forward into the future with courage and a sense of belonging. Right now, those are two things of which our world is in dire need, so let’s start small, and really listen and share with the people around us, no matter how big or small they are.

~Sara


Related content:


Storytelling • Sara Logan • Waldorfish.jpeg

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. 

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)


 



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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 Waldorf 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


Related content:


IMG_6026.jpeg

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. 

chalk drawing (photo) tutorial

I was finishing up my plans today, for a storytelling video I'm working on for the BEarth Institute. It occurred to me that I should probably have a relevant chalk drawing behind me in the background while filming... but of course I didn't think of this 3 days ago when I had all the time in the world to draw it. Needing something "easy" that my brain already has a template for, I opted to recreate a drawing I did when my former class was in the 6th grade. The original version of this particular drawing has been floating around out there in the internet for a few years now, and I often get questions about how it came together on the board. At the time, I didn't think to take pictures of the original work in progress, but I grabbed my camera today. My hope is that having a visual record of this process will be useful to you! Here we go.....

 

Humble beginnings....a simple wash with orange and then some dark blue layered over the top section. Not thinking too much here....just spreading the colour around.

 

 

 

 

 

Starting with the background....clouds. Trying to bring in the colors of the night sky, along with some shadows & depth, aided by black chalk. Love black chalk! The story I'm pairing this drawing with comes from the very beginning of Roman History... it is here in the curriculum that the stories we tell begin to transition from stories to "real", recorded history. We leave behind the mystery, and start looking towards the concrete.

 

Full moon, partially obscured by the clouds. Tucking the moon behind another part of the background layer helps continue adding depth and interest. More black chalk used.

 

 

 

 

 

Beginning to think about the middle ground now. Added a couple of islands sinking into the ocean at the horizon line to add more visual interest. Used white chalk to show moon light/highlights on the sides where it would naturally be brightest (ask yourself - where is the light in my drawing coming from?) And of course, more black chalk ;

 

 

 

Light blue wash. Layer it right over the orange...it's nighttime, it's dark, and water hardly ever looks blue in real life anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting the foreground. More white for highlights, and black to emphasize where things overlap + shadows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this point I stepped back and realized I was neglecting the right side of my drawing. I'm saving room in the middle of the ocean for the boat, but when I stood back I could see that there was room for a couple of middle ground rocks. I intentionally drew the blue one so that it crosses over the horizon line. Again, visual interest....it helps to break up that line a bit.

 

 

 

 

Speaking of boats....

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Notice that the ship also crosses the horizon line....)

 

 

 

 

 

....yes, this isn't a completely accurate representation of a Roman ship. During our second Roman History block, later in the year, we got into vivid stories involving the newly formed Roman navy & their spectacular ships. However, I figured this was safe for the first block. (For the second block, I did a chalk drawing of Hannibal crossing the Alps). 

 

 

Look back at the last image, and then at this one. In the previous image, the boat sort of looks like it's in the water....but in this drawing, it really looks like it's IN the water, yes? Using white chalk to highlight the tops of the waves as well as the water right around the boat itself helps to "ground" the boat. This same principle is true when drawing trees, or anything resting on the ground, really. Adding some small plant or grass details around the base of a tree, really helps to solidify its' place in the drawing.

 

 

All done! As an afterthought, I added a bit of the moon's reflection in the water, behind the boat.

I hope this is helpful!

We offer a variety of other (video) tutorials...covering block crayon drawing, chalkdrawing, geometry, storytelling, watercolor pencils & crayons, and clay. They are available here.