Google+ bakers and astronauts: How to Tell Stories to Children

10 January 2012

How to Tell Stories to Children

I got a very thoughtful gift from my Grandmother this holiday, and I'm excited to share a few photos and quotes.  This book is called How to Tell Stories to Children, and it was published in 1905.  The book belonged to a relative of mine 100 years ago.

I am an avid reader outside of teaching, and I loved looking through this book.  As I read about the writer's personal philosophies about storytelling and thought about why she thought it was so important, her justifications were not too different from what I, or others, see as the reasoning behind using storytelling as a tool in the classroom.

"...storytelling is first of all an art of entertainment; like the stage, its immediate purpose is the pleasure of the hearer,  -- his pleasure, not his instruction, first."

The book is mainly focused on the art of oral storytelling.  So many of us encourage children to tell us stories - to dictate stories, to write their own stories - but I know that in my case, the stories that I tell are usually in picture books.  There are often anecdotes and small stories, but not planned in a way for an audience.  I put a lot of energy into reading picture books and engaging children through those, but I have not attempted the oral story.  I have seen children's engagement with stories on tape during rest times, so I'm not sure why I have not considered modeling storytelling and bringing it into the classroom as a more respected art, and as a larger part of the curriculum.  One quote in particular has me thinking about storytelling as an art:

"A story is essentially and primarily a work of art, and its chief function must be sought in the line of the uses of art.  Just as the drama is capable of secondary ses, yet fails abjectly to realize its purpose when those are substituted for its real significance as a work of art, so does the story lend itself to subsidiary purposes, but claims first and most strongly to be recognized in its real significance as a work of art.  Since the drama deals with life in all its part, it can exemplify sociological theory, it can illustrate economic principle, it can even picture politics; but the drama which does these things only, has no breath of its real life in its being, and dies when the wind of popular tendency veers from it direction."

The "classics" that we know any group of children will love might be different for each of us as teachers or parents of just people who love books, but the same underlying reasons define why children like and love them year after year and want to read and reread them.  There are universal and timeless messages in those stories, and themes that children crave.  Sara Cone Bryant (the author of the book) shares that "no one can think of a child and a story without thinking of a fairy tale."  They are the perfect stories (for reasons we can delve into another day!)

The stories that I hear children tell in the classroom are not so different from fairy tales.  Even if they are about the car ride to school or a movie they saw, they are important to the children, and contain themes and ideas that are important to every children who is listening to me read a dictation or to a child reading a book they have written.  Sometimes it is more about trying literature on for size, sometimes it is about trying characters out or working though anger.  We know what children's faces look like when they are engaged, and there is no time of the day with as much full group engagement as when there is an excellent story being shared by an adult or a child.

I'm thinking a lot about the role that storytelling and imagination plays in the classroom.  Not just mine - I think there is something universal about it.

"The message of the story i the message of beauty, as effective as that message in marble or paint.  Its part in the economy of life is to give joy.  And the purpose and working of the joy is found in that quickening of the spirit which answers every perception of the truly beautiful in the arts of man.  To give joy; in and though the joy to stir and feed the life of the spirit: is this not the legitimate function of the story in education?"
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