Spontaneous Storytelling with Children, Part Three: On Receptive Children

(Part One / Part Two)

Credit: Deviant Art

A few weeks ago, Clare and Kate came up with a story that only tangentially involved Princess Annabelle and Princess Judy.  They told a story about Heracles. Yes, that Heracles.

You see, Heracles knocked over a bunch of buildings up on Mount Olympus, and all the female goddess – Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis – were furious.  The goddess called in Princess Annabelle and Princess Judy, to ask their advice on punishing Heracles.  The Princesses said, “Have him watch eight children for a day!  And two sets of twins!”  The goddess agreed.  Heracles spent a day watching eight wild children, feeding them, changing diapers, rescuing flying dishes and porcelain from imminent peril…

Moral of the story:  No matter how strong Heracles might be, he’s no match for a woman!

I didn’t give the girls this idea.  They’re homeschooled and learned about the Greek gods from their parents.  They came up with the premise, the conflict, and the complication.  And you should have heard the giggling as they told it!

If parents read good books to their children regularly, their imaginations will have breadth and depth.

Children who have ample opportunity to explore nature, who haven’t had their imaginations crushed under the weight of sarcastic TV sitcoms and violent video games will enjoy stories.

But a child must have more than knowledge and experience, in order to become a storyteller.  Trust is necessary.  Before a child can tell a story, he must trust himself, his story, and his audience.

Children who know kindness can more readily trust him or herself to a land of fantasy and make-believe.  And when we show them the kindness of letting them participate in creating those stories, they will respond, as best they can, wholeheartedly.  A show of mutual kindness allows the child to feel safe in taking the risk of storytelling.  There is no fear of judgment.

As they – we – grow older, it becomes harder to take the risk of storytelling.

That’s not all that changes at they grow older. At some point in development, our taste in stories changes.  I taught middle school students for a few years, and while my students read as much fiction and more as might be expected of pubescent American teenagers, I found that, on the whole, their imaginations were more greatly engaged by non-fiction reading – “real” stories.

For example, one book I was asked to teach, Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton’s Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savannah, was a huge hit in the seventh grade.  The conversations we had about this book were enthusiastic.  (Reading it requires some maturity on the child’s part – I would recommend parental guidance.)

My students enjoyed stories, but their first concern was figuring out what was real and what was not real.  Hence their enthusiasm for a non-fiction story.

But “real” or “make-believe,” the imaginative world is a child’s playground.  How shall we cultivate it?