Each one of us is a storyteller (whether we choose to believe it or not is another matter). We all have a plethora of unique and interesting stories to tell. Any time you pass along information about something that happened, and it has a beginning, a middle and an end, then that’s a story. This is the message I am continually conveying to the children I get to spend time with every day in Children's House. I like to remind them that even though some of us are more dramatic (so telling a story feels easy and natural), and some of us are more reserved (so telling a story feels a bit more uncomfortable), we are ALL still storytellers are heart!
I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that stories happen every single day at White Bear Montessori. Sometimes the stories are elaborate and organized with a large group, and sometimes it is just an excited child telling me about breakfast. Both of them are still stories! If you ask the child in your life to tell you a story, you might not get very far, but that same child might one day come to you, beaming from ear to ear, burst at the seams with excitement to tell you about a sleepover at Grandma’s. When this happens in Children’s House (and it happens a lot!), I always listen with enthusiasm, ask questions and comment when appropriate, and I try to end the conversation by saying, “Thank you for sharing that story with me!” This helps the child understand just what a story is, and reaffirms that each one of us has so many stories to tell.
Bonding Through Storytelling
Storytelling is a great opportunity for boding and learning more about each other’s lives. The children in my class LOVE to hear stories about my own childhood. Sometimes they will even ask me to repeat a story they’ve already heard. It’s sweet to know that they find my life interesting, and that they can remember details about my life, and I am sure they feel the same about their own stories. It helps us all feel connected to one another, and to realize that we all have similarities in our lives. We can learn about one another, then relate the story to our own life, which creates strong and lasting connections.
The Art of Storytelling
In the Children’s House environment, we have some materials that help foster storytelling and create a feeling of ritual about storytelling. To begin our storytelling work I would gather a small group of children to sit around a chowki (it’s a small table), gently cover the chowki with our special storytelling tablecloth, and present our circle of friends candle holder, which depicts four people holding hands in a circle. By the time the battery-operated candle is lit, the children are usually sitting in awe, waiting patiently to see what my next move is and eagerly awaiting my story. This is my favorite part! I tell the children a story using lots of rich, descriptive words, facial expressions, and vocal fluctuations. The more dramatic the better! When I’m done, I remind the children that each of them is able to do this any time they want. I think surrounding ourselves with these beautiful, fragile, symbolic materials is a wonderful reminder that every story is valuable. Storytelling has been at the heart of human culture from its very beginnings, and this work helps the children prepare to take their place in the time-honored tradition.
Montessori Encourages Storytelling
Storytelling doesn’t just happen during the organized work I just described. Stories are a constant part of the day in Children’s House. I might be working with a child at the sandpaper letters, and when we are tracing the R and listening for the RRR sound in the word rabbit, the child might be off and running, telling me a story about the time a cousin’s rabbit named Cotton Ball got out of her cage…you get the idea. The Montessori environment encourages this kind of interaction. I might be trying to give the child a presentation on multiplication, when suddenly a story pops into the child’s mind that just has to come out. I never want to squash this enthusiasm, and because of the way Montessori is structured around individual lessons, I have the freedom to let these impromptu stories take place without worrying about it getting in the way of what I am trying to teach the child. Both the multiplication presentation and the story are important, and we can make room for both.
The children will practice storytelling in ways that surprise even me! Just this year I witnessed a group of children take out our cultural folders (one folder for each continent that contains pictures of people, places, and life on that continent), carefully select a few pictures, and then use them to tell a story about what they saw. This was definitely not something I’d ever shown them how to do! The cultural folders presentation involves looking at the pictures and describing what is shown. Listening to the children create a rich fictional story using these pictures was so exciting!
Building a Foundation for Creative Writing
When a child is between four and six, the work of writing stories begins. First the child will use the movable alphabet, and then paper and pencil. In order to write creative, descriptive stories, a child must first have experience with telling and hearing many stories. (Working with the Farm Game helps with this, too! Nouns, adjectives, and articles---Oh my!) Listening to and then telling stories helps the child understand the structure of a story, helps expand vocabulary, and then provides are larger pool of words to use for self-expression.
Whether you consider yourself to be a great storyteller or not, remember that we all have a story to share! Take the time to tell the child in your life about something they might not know, about you, about your grandparents, about something you loved to do when you were a child, or something funny your child did as a baby. Your child will be entertained, you will be bonding with one another, providing your child with new and rich language, and helping to pass on the age old tradition of storytelling.
We understand how hard it is to see the benefits of a Montessori education from a blog post. If you would like to visit White Bear Montessori to see storytelling in action, please schedule a visit to see the difference for yourself.