For millennia, cultures around the world have used stories to teach and to heal. Jesus’ parables
are an example that many people know. Others may be more familiar with Jataka tales, stories
of the Buddha’s incarnations. Still others have learned from the stories of Anansi, of Coyote, of
Why have our elders and teachers chosen stories as the best way to teach and to illustrate so many lessons that cannot be taught solely through direct experience? Why not just say, “Treat the poor kindly,” or, “Don’t trust someone unless you see what they value?” or, “Honor those who came before you?” Those are important things to say, but they aren’t enough. They aren’t
enough, because we are storytelling creatures, and we construct meaning through images, experience, and emotional connection.
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Waldorf teachers will talk about “pedagogical stories” as if that is a term in common use.
What the heck is a pedagogical story? It sounds either weird and esoteric, like you need years of schooling to understand it, or else like something horribly distasteful, like castor oil or whatever food you were told as a child was good for you, that tasted like feet.
It’s neither. A pedagogical story is a story that leads. Pedagogy means “leading a child” or “teaching,” so these are stories we share with children in order to teach something specific.
That teaching can be something like, “people don’t like it when you hit them,” or “don’t leave
your shoes in the middle of the floor for me to trip over,” or it can be a support for times of
struggle or change.
The questions I hear most frequently about pedagogical stories are, “How is a story going to
help?” and, “How on earth can I come up with a story about THIS?”
My quick answers are as follows:
• A story is going to help in a number of ways. First, when you take the time to tell a story, to tell it out loud, without a book, without a script, you are giving a gift of time. This in and of itself is healing. It says to the person or people hearing the story, I am with you, here, now.
• A story is going to help YOU, the adult, because it will allow you the space to step back and see the situation from another perspective. When I told my class stories about my (imaginary) friend Janet and her class at Whispering Winds Waldorf in Walla Walla, Washington (also imaginary), and all the problems they were having, it gave me the chance to find humor and
lightheartedness in the challenges my students were facing and creating.
• Another way a story helps, is by giving the listener the freedom to take in the message of the
story as deeply as they are ready. That might not be very deeply at all, and that has to be okay.
It might also reach them on a profound level whose effects will not be fully appreciable until
adulthood. And, of course, it can be both of these at once.
How do you come up with a story?
There are so many, many answers to this question. One easy way, is to go and get Susan Perrow’s wonderful book, Healing Stories for Challenging Behavior (Hawthorne Press, 2008). Susan’s work with parents, teachers, and counselors in South Africa, Kenya, New Zealand, Australia, and other countries has fed into this jewel of a book, which gives many, many story examples as well as instructions and inspirations for creating and telling stories.
As an introduction and overview, this is necessarily brief and cursory. There is so much more to be said.
In my next article, I’ll talk specifically about how we can use our own lives as a source
for stories, and how reconnecting with family stories can yield a wealth of material for guiding
and teaching the children in our lives.
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.