The following is shared by Marsha Johnson. You can join her group, Waldorf Home Educators, by clicking here.
Telling Stories - Grades One to Four
How shall we tell stories to the children? Can we read them? Should we avoid the scary parts? What story resources do we need? Does it require special talent or dramatic ability? How often should we tell stories? Can I make up stories, too?
These are some of the many questions posed by parents who begin to develop home educational programs using Waldorf inspiration, as well as beginning teachers in Waldorf teacher training programs.
Storytelling plays a large role in the educational method given by Rudolf Steiner in the early 1900s. Telling the many stories over the years of teaching can be a joy for the student and the teacher, as both gain from the experience, immeasurably. It is only in recent years that we see the loss of storytelling in communities, where group events have been replaced by movies, videos, etc that are often segregated by age and preference.
The Native Americans told many stories, in gatherings, in celebrations, in mourning, and in the passing of the seasons. Adults never tired of hearing those stories, as each telling brings new meaning, new ideas, new intonation and depth. Oral history traditions were carried in those tales, in the figures, in the geography, in the natural events of the story. Flood stories are common all over the globe and probably point to a major cataclysmic natural event. Stories of creation bear many similarities with fire, heat, water, and light. Shared primeval
memories are marked in the oldest stories and the oldest histories of human beings.
Telling stories is quite different than reading stories. In reading, the person is following another’s cadence, word choice, and feelings. In telling, we can see the personality and individuality of the raconteur, rather than the script. Eye contact is also important and a story teller establishes a personal connection with the listeners, rather than placing the barrier of the volume between people. In Waldorf, even the poorly memorized story will far outweigh the ‘recited’ version in many instances, especially with younger children.
Having said this, it does not negate the need to read good quality literature to your children! Wonderful activity and should happen at least once a day! Read at lunch or rest time, read at family time after dinner, read aloud and enjoy the great works of brilliant minds and poetic writers. But TELL the stories, for the sake of the children, during school time.
It can be challenge for the new educator to fathom memorizing a story. Once you get started, though, you will be hooked! Remember that in a home program, using a 3 Day Rhythm, you will be telling one main story each week. If you choose to use two 3 Day Rhythms, laid over one another, you will be telling one story on Mondays and one story on Wednesdays. Personally, I think it is good to try for one a week at the start.
The best way to learn a story is to read it over and then let sleep be your friend!
To tell a story on a Monday, read it aloud or to yourself on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. With three nights of reading it and then digesting it in sleep, you will be able to tell it very well on a Monday. With longer stories, i.e, the history blocks in grades five to eight, it is wise to make a small journal for important dates, then write them on the board during the lessons. But in grades one-four simply use this easy three-night method and you will remember the stories beautifully.
STORIES FOR THE GRADES – SUBJECTS
Grade 1: Fairy Stories from Grimm’s, can mix in a few other cultures, Nature Stories
Grade 2: Fables, Saints or Venerable People, More Fairy Stories from different cultures, More Nature Stories, Jataka or Buddha Tales
Grade 3: History of the Hebrew People (Old Testament), Farming Stories, Still a few Fairy Stories from Russia or Africa, children like fairy stories
Grade 4: Stories from Asgard, the Norse Myths, The Kalevala Epic from Finland
Small Nature Tales for the Man and Animal Block
(Grade 5: Ancient History: includes Babylon, Persia, Eqypt, India, Greece, can include China as well…this is the shift from STORY TO HISTORY….and children at this age enjoy a story-cultural walk and can also read quite a lot on their own.
Grade 6: Roman History to the Middle Ages
Grade 7: The Renaissance, Age of Exploration
Grade 8: Industrial Age to the middle of the 1900s, include modern times)
A copy of Grimm’s will carry you through the first year all by itself! It is good to add, then, a copy of the original Fables and the Jataka Tales. For the Saints, there are several good volumes from the library about Saint Francis and if you can find it, a good volume about Saint Columba. Other saints often studied include Saint Emma and Saint Christopherus. There are several good resources for these saints through Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore, too.
Old fairy tale books abound! You can buy them at garage sales and thrift shops: avoid commercialized modern ones, go for the old volumes with only a few pictures (use the pictures to create lovely board or chalk drawings with the children). You can often find sets of 9-10 volumes from the early 1900s that literally walk you up the path of Waldorf curriculum, even including one volume of nature tales where animal behaviors are described in great detail and rich word use.
I prefer Pearl S. Buck’s The Bible—Old Testament for grade 3. It is inexpensive and you can spend the whole year telling those stories. There have been some other creative fictional accounts used by some educators but I don’t believe Steiner intended us to fix-up the original: he intended for the wisdom present in this ancient written history to come through.
In Grade Four, you can find many various books about the Norse Mythology, again at sales and so on, and I would start collecting these in advance as I found them. Books about folk legends, histories, what life was like type books, art history books from various cultures, and more can be picked up here and there for a dollar or two and on hand for when that year comes rolling around and you need a story from the Nile or Troy or Venice……it is good to build up your teaching library and one good sized bookshelf can hold just about everything for all the grades.
In grade five and older, the teaching involves more biography tales, focusing on particular people and what that person did, set into their culture, i.e. Allexander the Great, Gilgamesh, and so one. Children find it interesting to learn all about someone else and how this person’s life shows qualities or achievements that can inspire us. Or sicken us, too. In grade six-eight, we really need to tell the stories of figures that we select from their cultures: who can represent the Middle Ages?
I also enjoy using internet resources as there are so many and you can access information that perhaps might be hard to find elsewhere: roman recipes from 400 CE? How does a 3 mast ship actually work? Lines of poetry from Shakespeare that include the word starlight?
TELLING THE STORY
Story telling needs to have a threshold placed between it and the rest of the day! Set aside some time to think over how to bring about this shift of mood and setting in your home school space. Maybe for story time you leave that space and sit on a couch or soft chairs. The child should be comfortable, if sitting, feet should be on floor, head up, arms on desk or hands in lap.
For a grade one child, I would bring a little ceremony like this: Finish the work that has gone on before, probably practice work, or drawing, clean up the tools and store the book away, say aloud a little end-of-main-lesson verse….like this…
Clap clap clap
Tap tap tap
My work is done,
I have done my best
And now my hands
Can take a rest!
Then the child sits down with hands at rest. Ring a small bell to signal the start of story time. Do not talk! Put out the special candle with the pretty matchbox and the candle snuffer, onto the table, perhaps on a special table mat or woven mat that is used just for this purpose. Settle yourself down in a seated position, gather your thoughts, light the candle and say a verse if you like….although the verse is more common in the K world…..and start………………..Once upon a time………..at the end of the story, take a breath, rest a moment and do not rush it, and ring the tiny bell again and the candle can be snuffed out (come up with a system for doing this so that there is no sibling arguments, make it clear at the start of the day, who is to do this, make a chart, etc etc.)
Then time to wash up and have a snack. Often children may have a question and that is ok but don’t talk about the story much at all. Also, train your children to hold their questions and comments during the story telling: they are in listening mode, and this is a critical skill. Remind them gently by putting a finger to your lips to keep quiet until the end of the story.
I think this can be a challenging time for younger siblings: often a 2 year old is not able to sit and listen and follow instructions, etc. and this can spoil the mood for the avid eager grades child or children. One idea is to have a special set of toy items that only come down during story time, for that smaller child, and disappear when story is over. The trick, with young ones, is to avoid toys that the older ones really want to play with, too! Another trick is to create a cozy space for the little ones to play BEHIND the listening child (out of sight, out of mind). Or you can also set aside the younger ones’ nap time for telling the older ones the story.
When you tell a story in grades one to four, you should show warmth and interest but not drama! Don’t change your voice around for the various characters, don’t Disney-fi the story, leave it an a meal, a telling of events, and avoid forming judgments in your own mind as you tell the tale, betraying with tone or cadence distress or worry, fear or hatred. Laugh a little at the funny parts, naturally, but do not over do emotions or feelings about the material as the young child will simply imitate you.
Try to include five-ten new vocabulary words for the children and do not explain them unless you feel you should, children do not learn language in that abstract way, they simply absorb it. Use those words as spelling words in grade 3 and 4.
Think over the grammar concepts you are bringing from grade 3 and up, or sound blends you would like the children to recognize in grade 2 and 3, and more.
Also include all four of the temperament qualities: sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, and melancholic. Sanguines flit about, make long lists of things, delight in shifting activities rapidly; phlegmatics enjoy slow moving scenes, endless feasts, rich and comfortable surroundings; cholerics are organizers, do-ers (people of action who forge ahead and nail that box shut!), also enjoy righteous anger and retribution; and melancholics worry about things, people, wring their hands, are perfectionists, and earth-bound.
These four temperaments reflect the four elements: air, water, fire, and earth. We can bring these elements into our stories for all ages. Recall that the child of seven to 14 lives through their feeling life, their imagination, and enjoys exercising these feelings, through the stories.
Experiment with your family constellation and see what works best for you, in terms of telling the story. You will be helping the child recall the story and focusing on specific parts as time goes on, and this is enjoyable if you select the best stories you can find for your intentions.
SELECTION OF STORIES
I think this is where the fun and art of teaching enter into the school life!
The first rule of thumb that I would keep in mind, is that the story is for the children or child, and not for you, the teacher! Guidelines and books are just that: roadposts along the way, but you must try to see your children and see what they need! What are they asking for? They show you with their words, bodies, faces, behaviors, fears, the way they walk, the style of their speech, and the color of their cheeks, where they are in the world right now! We must be awake to the needs of these incarnating human beings and respond as best we are able, then check to see, how did that sit? How did that digest? Did I make them laugh and cry today? Were their faces responsive, eyes sparkling, quick intake of breath at that part, did I reach them or bore them? Aha.
Now we come to a critical aspect: each day, the educator must reflect on these questions: how did the lesson go? How was my story? Did the lessons breathe together well today? Was the story balanced in the elements? Then the next day, you can bring new insights into your teaching. I remember in a grade 3, after wading through quite a unit of OT stories: some of the children came to me, surrounding me, and said, Can we please have a STORY? We have heard a lot about these Hebrews, but we are wishing for a STORY! And so, in a day or two, I brought a complex Swedish Fairy Tale one afternoon, and it answered the question very well!
Nonetheless, here are some good choices, I feel, for the grades one to four, and stories that I would surely try to include during the years:
Grade One: The Sea-Hare, Rapunzel, The White Snake, The Fishman and his Wife, Mother Holle, Little Red Cap, The Six Swans, The Water of Life, King Thrushbeard, The Golden Goose, The Water Nixie, The Goose Girl, Iron Hans, The Turnip, Star Money, Snow White and Rose Red,, The Twelve Brothers, The Wind Boy is a good read aloud book.
Grade Two: Many Aesops’ Fables, prefaced by a little talk about the animals and their ways, from Anna Comstock’s Handbook of Nature or other nature resources, told lightly and easily, as if the animals were just there! Jataka Tales, and St. Francis, St. Jerome, St. Emma, St. Patrick, St. Columba, and others as you like. King of Ireland’s Son is a good reading book.
Grade Three: Pearl S. Buck: Old Testament. From beginning to end, creation to the judges……..all the great stories with all the great figures of history: Noah, Joseph, Esther, Solomon, David, Moses, and so on…Farmer Boy is a good read aloud book.
Grade Four: The Nine Worlds of Asgard, Ymir and the Frost Giants, Ygdrassil, each of the nine gods and nine goddesses, tell of each one and explore their characters, drawing on the myths to round out the imagination: Idunna and the Golden Apples, Thor as a Bride, Odin Give up his Eye, Loki and the Giant, the Three Norns, and so on. Many many fine tales to tell and read aloud or silently.
Thorkill is a good reading book, also Captured by Vikings.