Once….Not Twice. Not three times, But Once….upon a time, on a cold and drizzly January day deep in the dank Sussex woodland, 30 Forest School Practitioners gathered around a fire to hone their storytelling skills!
I was lucky to join my Forest School friends for a Storytelling day this week, hosted by Jon Cree and Circle of Life Rediscovery. There is something deeply primal and comforting about sitting around a cracking fire hearing old tales – and making up new ones. An ancient pass time that we’ve lost along the way somehow – like playing outdoors from sun up to sun down!
Stories make us human. We all have a story. Everything around us has a story. There’s a story about the chair you’re sitting on, or the food you eat. Most stories are left untold, but when stories are told – magical things can happen! Storytelling has been shown by brain experts to activate the ‘mirror neuron’ in our brains – which is the area linked to empathy, language and self awareness. So telling a story invokes more emotional literacy and empathy than reading one. A told story is also more memorable – especially when told by a great storyteller.
However, you don’t need to be a ‘great’ storyteller to enjoy telling a story. Helping children to tell their own stories can not only strengthen language development, literacy and creativity, but it can have a healing use. Giving them the language or self awareness to deal with big emotions. The right story at the right time can have a powerful effect.
As a parent I found that a story gives you license to play together, build on each other’s ideas and bond with silliness!
I rushed home after the storytelling day to practice with my boys (3 & 5). Instead of books at bedtime, I followed up on some of techniques and ideas we had tried that day and we made up a tale of The Penguin. The Elves and The Goonies – with the boys adding characters and actions as we went. Their imaginations fired up and they loved it. It started like this…
I started by drumming my hands on my knees. Dum da dum da dum
Me: What’s that sound?
Big bro: A Penguin!
Me: (Ah of course. A penguin! We have our Character!) And what’s he doing?
Little Bro: He is riding a horse to the North Pole. He’s got no clothes on.
Me: Brr – sounds cold. Why is he going to the North Pole?
Little bro: To look for Father Christmas!
Me: And maybe a scarf?
Big Bro: No. (Of course not mum. Penguins don’t wear clothes!) To find the Crystal!
Me: Ooo – so the Penguin is on a horse, travelling to the North Pole to see Father Christmas and look for The Crystal! Why is the Crystal so important?
Big bro: Because it’s a shape-shifting Crystal!
…And so our story started. We had a naked horse-riding Penguin on a mission to find the Crystal from Father Christmas. He had problems finding the Crystal because it had been stolen by the Goonies who were using it to shape-shift and cause all sorts of mayhem. The Penguin asked Father Christmas’s elves to help…
I suspect the story will be continued tonight…and probably tomorrow night… and maybe the next, but that’s ok. Jon Cree mentioned that one story he and his daughter made up on long walks went on for two years! So I’d better buckle up; this scarf-shirking, equestrian Penguin might be here to stay…