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.
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.
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 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.