Fairy tales, not necessarily in their scholarly definition, but allowing for a few other folktales and the occasional legend or myth, are the life's blood of childhood. Fairy tales give us a map for the journey of life, and if parents can see through the time-bound elements of societal values and lessons, they can help children to navigate the treacherous waters of learning to live as a human being with wisdom and courage.
That's a bit of a weighty introduction. Still with me? Of course you are. Here, then, are five of my favorite fairy tales to share with children who are stepping through the doorway from early childhood dreaminess into the open-eyed world of learning to know things for oneself. These stories are perfect for older five-year-olds right up to middle school, but six and seven might be the ultimate age for enjoyment.
So, there you have it. Five of my favorites. The websites these links take you to are worth exploring -- so many great stories to share with the kids in your life! Read aloud, or learn to tell them yourself in my upcoming Be a Storyteller ecourse! (details coming soon!)
And remember, when you come to something that makes you unsure about telling a particular story, whether it's a turn of phrase that rings false in your ear, or a character who meets an end that seems too harsh, take your time. If it's not the right story for you or for your listener, then just let it go, and find the story that's your Goldilocks moment -- Just Right!
Learning to tell stories can be daunting. I get that. Even seasoned Waldorf teachers or homeschooling parents can feel that fear, and the Waldorf grades curriculum is built on storytelling. Letting go of always reading to your child, or turning on an audio book or Sparkle Stories story, or a movie, can be really, really scary.
So start small. Here are three easy ways to start telling stories to your children.
1. Puppets. Don't panic. Puppets can be really easy; everyday objects can be magical. Ask Dan Hurlin, whose puppet theater full of forks and spoons enchanted my college classmates. Pick something up -- a toy, a cup, a mitten -- and let it speak and move. This type of story can charm three and four year olds to stillness. Puppet wakes up, has a tiny adventure, and goes to sleep. Fin. Your lap, maybe draped with a playsilk or scarf, makes a perfect stage; so does the kitchen table, or the dashboard on the freeway-turned-parking lot. There can be an epic adventure, or there can be next to nothing. Just try.
2. When I was a kid. Can you remember anything from your childhood? Stories from your family or longtime friends? Children love real, true stories of your own experiences, especially when the story opens up a new perspective on you. Stories where you got into trouble, where you made a bad decision, where things didn't work out so great, these are a real gift to your child, who will find in them permission to fail, to learn, to try again. You become human and whole through these stories. Tell stories of your triumphs, too -- spelling bee victories, hard-won first fruits of your own garden, the Big Game. Humor and compassion for your young self and for the other characters in your story will feed their need for goodness. Tell these stories. They become part of your legacy.
3. Movies, Books, TV shows. My mother told me the entire plot of Anne McCaffrey's The White Dragon on a road trip to Nebraska to visit my grandparents. She later told me she'd done this to keep herself awake on the long, straight highway through the cornfields, but at the time, I only knew that here was a fantastic, beautiful story. So tell your favorite plots; re-enact favorite scenes with voices and gesture. Of course, there are limits, and you know what your child will enjoy and what will be unpleasant or scary for them. The best part is this: if you forget, make it up. This is your chance to fix the ending you hated, to fill in the details your mind has let go. Your imagination and intuition may create just the pieces your child needs most.
I believe deeply in the power of stories to heal, help, and guide. Pick any one of these, put down the book, turn off the radio, and let your own voice and the magic of the story sweeten your time with your child.
Bedtime comes up in a ridiculous percentage of my blog posts, Facebook status posts, and web searches from a couple of years ago. Sleep is such a big issue with little ones, and there are so many opinions and theories and so much advice. I am not going to get into that part of it. I'm thinking about the stretch of time between dinner and sleep, however and wherever it happens. I had planned a while back to make an ebook out of all this advice, and sell it to you. That's more work than I have time for, and frankly, I'd rather share this with you here and now. So, imagine we are having a cup of tea or coffee or hot buttered rum, and I'm telling you what is working, and has worked for us.
Your milage, as they say, may vary.
So, there you go. Five things to try, to make bedtime smoother. "What about bedtime stories?!" you cry. "What can I read to little Cerulean? What story should I tell little Candelabra?" That's coming soon, folks...
We are listening to the radio, and the boy, who is no longer a baby, is sleeping.
Today, I roasted a chicken, and made the car fit into the garage.
We are waiting for winter to begin, as it must.
The little tasks are as done as they will be. The windows remain un-plasticated, but the hose is detached and coiled over my sagging bicycle in the garage, and there are milk and eggs and bread enough.
Tonight, I am grateful for the house, sighing as the temperature slowly sinks.
For the chicken in the pot, for fat, warm cats lounging around the living room.
For the gas and electric and water and sewer and cable internet, still working.
for the million, million little graces that make up my life.
If you are reading this, chances are, you are somewhere safe enough, warm enough.
Be glad of it, as the snow comes, and the wind and bitter cold.
Martinmas is this week. Think of Martin, who cut his regulation-Roman cloak of heavy scarlet wool into two pieces with his sword, which probably scared the wits out of the shivering beggar in front of him. Martin, who stabbed his sword through the security and complacency of power and offered not only warmth, but humanity, and who saw the divine flame burning lighting through the skin of the beggar in his dreams that night.
It's colder in Scotland than in England, or at least, it was when we took the train north together. I was spending my junior year of college at Oxford, and my mother flew out to visit me after Christmas. It was a visit I look back on and wonder at -- it was that year that literally changed my life, the best year of college, the year of self-discovery and adventure, and my mom took the long plane trip over the ocean to visit me during the ten months I was away. My grandmother had left her some money, and she was determined to enjoy that trip to the fullest. I met her at Paddington Station, full of confidence in my understanding of the UK after three months of living in the terrace house in Marlborough Road.
The first night, we stayed in a student-rate hotel in Belgravia or something like that, and I don't think either of us slept a wink. We saw Cirque du Soleil in the Albert Hall. She got to hear me sing in the chorus for Mozart's Requiem at St. Martin in the Fields. We toured the Tower.
A dear friend was in England, visiting family, and had extra days left on her BritRail pass. When she headed home, she gave us the pass. What does one do with free time, some inherited cash, and free rail travel? One goes to Scotland, to Glasgow.
It was my mother's second trip to Scotland, my first. We arrived at night, but it could have been late afternoon. It's dark in January in Scotland. We found a hotel, settled in for the night, and planned our adventure. We had a few days before I had to be back for the start of term, when she'd meet my friends and choir mates and drink with us in the college bar and endear herself to everyone.
I can see our visit in flashes -- the extravagant meal in a beautiful restaurant, rose pouchong tea surrounded by Charles Rennie Mackintosh design, the dark stone of the cathedral -- but what came back to me full force this weekend as I listened to the Battlefield Band on Prairie Home Companion, was that we attended a concert with bagpipes and fiddles and a full orchestra. I think it was Phil Cunningham's Highlands and Islands Suite, maybe? I don't know for sure. All I know is that the moment when the band fell away and the pipes took over, that characteristic change of rhythm from skipping to skirling, sounding through my car's stereo on Saturday made me break down in sobs, as January, 1997, slammed back into my mind. Funny, though, that it was that memory, and not the dozens of other times we listened to the pipes together. Mom loved bagpipes; we shared that love. I was glad to find a piper for her funeral last spring. How could we send her onto the Low Road, without the sound of mourning and battle and victory and longing that the pipes have?
My mother's birthday is this Saturday. My stepdad is hosting a dinner in her honor, and some of us who loved her will gather and eat and drink and laugh and cry. She was loved by, and loved, so many -- there were not enough chairs in the funeral chapel for everyone who came to her funeral -- and I wish I could call her and ask about that concert. Instead, I guess I'll buy a recording of the Highlands and Islands Suite, and let the music carry me back again to the darkness of midwinter Glasgow, and to the brilliant light and warmth of my mother's love.
Halloween was magical and lovely. We fell in with a newly-discovered group of neighbors with little boys who live on the other side of the block, and my Wild Kratt Bat joyfully demanded treats from every house with a porchlight on, accompanied by Harry Potter, a soldier in desert camo, and a very sweet turtle. It was cold, the bat ears didn't make it more than a quarter of the way (darn that low-temp glue gun!), but there was CANDY at stake!
That candy has been sorted now, examined, and considered. A small bag of chosen treats have been carefully saved, and the rest have gone to the Sugar Sprite. Sugar Sprite, also known as the Switch Witch or Halloween Fairy, collects children's treats and leaves a present in place of the goodies. Our Sprite then takes the candy and cooks it down into pure sugar syrup to sweeten the maple sap and provide the flowers with nectar for next year's bees. She tends to bring books to our house, but some families report a toy or game being left as a thank you for the candy. So, just in case you want to lessen the sugar load, she can visit any time she's needed.
As for me, I feel a need to pay closer attention these days to what I'm eating myself. I find that there are evenings when I look back over the day, and I can't remember eating a vegetable or any non-dairy protein. On the worst days, I eat an entire bag of Lundberg's Brown Rice Cakes, and forget to eat dinner. Or lunch. Maybe Sugar Sprite needs to visit me, too. But what might she leave in place of my starchy crutches? What would she leave for you? What would she take?
Perhaps the replacement will be real food, for me, and time to read and write.
It's November, and you know that means NaBloPoMo! So, for my bloggy version of NaNoWriMo, I look forward to your comments and questions. What do you want to know about? Here is my renewed commitment to daily posts for the month.
Also! More Storytelling is coming soon! I'm working on some downloadable stories, and local peeps will be able to catch me at the Linden Hills Winter Market and at Heartfelt's Preschool mornings. More info will be forthcoming...
As you may know, I left full time teaching around 2 years ago. It was painful and hard, and in retrospect, the right thing at the time, but my God, it was awful. My story now, is that I left being a class teacher, because I needed to spend more time with my family (true!) and wanted time to pursue storytelling (also true!) and to find my own direction again. However, it is also that I was really, really struggling as a teacher. Being in a lot of other classrooms over the past months as a substitute, I have learned so much about what I was missing.
I spent my first eleven years as a teacher working in one small, developing school. I knew the families I was working with, and they knew me, and had watched me grow from a fresh-out-of-college girl to my full stature as a teacher and leader in the school. My classroom style was tuned to working with small groups of students, 12 at the most, who came to me with a really strong early childhood foundation. They could be left alone in the classroom for a few minutes while I stepped into the office to take a few deep breaths and check my mailbox. I had the freedom to throw out lesson plans and walk to the beach with my class when the weather was fine, and to construct my day-to-day curriculum as each year unfolded. I am proud of my work at that school, and so very proud to have taught the amazing young people who came out of it -- if you know them, you know how fantastic they are. It was hard work, with many, many long meetings. The school brought out the best and worst in all of us, and it was like a big, noisy, argumentative family in many ways.
I stepped into an established school, where I soon learned the school I came from was viewed by some as "not a real Waldorf school", and I tried to make it work. Waldorf teacher training is focused mainly on understanding the development of human consciousness throughout childhood and adulthood; my training as a teacher was heavy on the "why" and intentionally sketchy on the "how." I carried with me an assumption that any classroom issues stemmed from either a lack of proper inner attitude on my part, or on some constitutional characteristic of the child in question. The cultural differences led to a huge number of mistakes on my part, and the larger class and wider range of skills and temperament demanded a very different approach than I knew how to take.
I lacked some key skills in classroom management, planning, and workplace etiquette. On top of this, I had a child who was still nursing, and I slept around 5-6 hours a night. This was a recipe for disaster. My colleagues and I were not working from the same playbook; I was exhausted and ill; there was a disastrous "mentoring" visit from a master teacher. In short, we all could have seen the writing on the wall from the beginning. I needed another 5 hours in my day -- three to sleep, two to plan.
So, here is what I wish I had understood four years ago:
I want to elaborate more on some of these, but I'm tired, and trying to get more than 5-6 hours of sleep a night. My son finally started sleeping through the night 2 years ago, so I'm off to enjoy sleep interrupted only by cats, the dog, and my own ridiculous dreams...
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.