Hello my friends and Happy Friday! I am so glad to be back here at the blog with you all! I know my posting has been quite slow these past few months, but I hope - as we move forward into this bright and beautiful new year - I will be able to pick up a little blogging steam. So to begin with ... how are things in your corner of the world? How is Old Man Winter treating you? Are you reading any wonderful stories these days? I'd love to hear how you are if you have a moment to say hi ...
I am so excited to sit down with a cup of tea and dive back into our Mitten Strings for God book study. We left off last autumn with the chapter on "Wants and Needs" and so that brings us to the eleventh chapter, "Stories" and I'm quite eager to hear what you think! (And just as eager to tell you what I think!)
(Note: for those just joining us, here is the MSfG archive. All are welcome to participate as we read (and in some cases, re-read) this lovely little gem of a book about mindful mothering, slowing down, savoring life, and nurturing our children's ever-widening world. Feel free to chime in at any time and on any chapter!)
I should warn you though, this was, perhaps, my favorite of all the chapters, so this here post is a little *ahem* wordy ... but before we get into the chapter itself, I'd like to talk a little about my tea shown above. (Longtime readers know I love to "serve tea" whenever possible alongside my post!) My tea today ("English Teatime Decaf" - one sugar, whole milk) is served in one of my BIG ol' sturdy kitchen mugs. I enjoyed it at my sunny kitchen table this morning with my Mum (her tea is the rather bracing "American Breakfast" - no sugar, low fat milk). And, as you can see, Archie was not to be left out. ;)
So here's the thing about this chapter ... when I first read it (back in the early 2000s) I had a whole different concept of "storytelling" in mind, though I do love how it re-shaped my ideas. You see, I grew up listening to family stories told by my maternal grandmother, usually around her kitchen table - or sitting in her den, or in the car, or on the screened porch. Actually, it didn't matter where we were, she was always sharing stories from her life ... and I just loved them. I loved hearing her talk about her eight brothers and sisters and her beloved parents - one from Ireland, one from Scotland - and the way life was back in her day ...
The big old house near the train station and the cousins that lived all over town. The animals they raised and the visiting they did and the personalities of each sibling. School days, work days and even a few family tragedies which to this day still haunt me when I think on them. But I especially loved hearing about my grandmother's life as a young mother and housewife ...
I was enthralled by the simplest stories about how she managed her home back in her day: the mending and tending, the cooking and cleaning, the serving and preserving and the storing and saving, etc. My grandparents came through the depression and built their own home in the 40s - a house still owned by my family today -and I was intensely fascinated by the cost-saving methods she used and continued to use in present day. She was, without a doubt, the best home-keeper I've ever known and even when I was a young girl I savored these homey bits of wisdom. I felt privileged (and proud) that she shared them with me, her eldest granddaughter.
(To this day, I just relish books that are full of these kinds of domestic details. Admittedly, I could read a whole book about one woman's housekeeping through the year. I'd find it so soothing and fascinating! Wouldn't you?)
My Gram also introduced me to tea (along with my Grampa who was just a big a tea drinker as Gram, if not bigger!), so in my memory, all these family tales were spun at their kitchen table over cups of black tea served in Gram's best Irish china. (Grampa, of course, would take his tea in a giant porcelain mug.) I know this is where my fondness for tea drinking began - and to this day I connect my favorite beverage with comfort, love, inspiration, contentment ... and stories. ❤
But I'm getting wildly off-track and I think it's time I started in on the chapter at hand!
Stories for me as I've said were rooted in family and so that's where I began with my children. When I first read MSfG (a fortunate find through the Chinaberry catalog if I recall) I was so taken by many of Ms. Kenison's ideas. As new and fairly eclectic homeschoolers, I found Waldorf education appealed to me deeply, and much of the ideas Ms. Kenison describes in this book resonate with this methodology. (She even references Waldorf Education resources in her final notes to her readers.)
At this time my children were small - we had just a couple of boys at the time - which was kind of fun for me because the Kenisons also had two boys, though when I first read the book they were a bit older than my own small lads. But a big part of my enjoyment of this book back then was the sense of reading another "boy mom's" thoughts, and one who seemed to find the same things important that I did. A mom who was trying to gently shape her family's world in a way that made sense and felt right ... and who seemed to truly have it all - or mostly - together.
So when I first read that eleventh chapter, I immediately thought, YES - yes, of course! Stories! Our boys will grow up hearing stories.
I already knew of course they'd be surrounded by good books and that we'd work on our observation skills and staying connected with nature ... but the concept of telling stories - not just reading them - was fascinating to me! Eager to jump in (I was already looking up local storytelling groups I might join) I instead started small with familiar tales (of the folk and fairy kind), plentiful at the library but also firmly in memory. Then as I stretched my creative muscles I found I especially enjoyed creating nature stories - little tales that brought the world around us alive. Tales that marked the changes in weather, the flora and fauna in our surroundings, the sky and the earth and the four seasons themselves. Over the years I've told stories of all kinds and from all kinds of prompts, but nature stories still remain my very favorite. :)
Storytelling was going quite well for some time, but then our third son was born with special needs and one of his challenges was an intense dislike of being read or (worse) sung to. So fingerplays were out - as were puppets and most overtly imaginative play. I scaled back on the weekly group storytime and tried to slip in tiny bits of story magic where I could ... and leaving things open-ended seemed to appease him:
"Look! That crafty spider in the stone wall is peeking out of his home today ... I wonder what he's up to?"
"Hmmm, the apples are hanging very low on this tree ... who might come along and take a nibble?"
"The air smells a bit like woodsmoke today ... I wonder who's tending a fire?"
Sometimes these tiny prompts would garner a short answer or brief look-see - but sometimes they sparked some real interest and we were able to expand a bit on the theme. I had to watch how far I took it though - often I'd get a: "MAMA! That's enough!!!"
And then, as life happens, the older boys got older and EB got older too, and less interested in hearing anything resembling a story. So we kind of put storytelling on hold ...
But then along came Little Bear ... ❤
So storytelling, I'm very happy to report has been revived in our family once again! And not just for LB (though at 4 yo, he's clearly my biggest fan) but for Earlybird, too. He's becoming less rigid and more open to listening activites - though I still have to do sing-songy things with LB when EB is out of the room. (I won't get into this too much right now, but blessedly three years ago we began a new and daily therapy routine with amazing caregivers who are working with EB to help him relax and allow for more creative experiences. But that's a post for another time!)
Storytelling for the older boys has continued through the years but in ways that are more similar to my own childhood experience - via family tales at the kitchen table. :) To this day supper is always a family affair though Earlybird is excused to eat in the other room because the sound of chewing is too much for him. So the older boys and Little Bear and Bill and myself gather at our kitchen nook table every night (and at lunchtime often too) and naturally we often find ourselves sharing stories. Shared memories, old memories, interesting tales we heard somewhere, sometime ...
I think for many families, storytelling seems easier when the children are younger and I agree that's true ... but I don't think stories have to go away once kids are old enough to own a phone or a computer. Once upon a time families gathered around the hearth to while away the evening hours - nowadays of course people are busy with activities that more often than not take them outside the home or pull their attention away from the family circle. But if your family is used to gathering together at recurring times of the day or week, it's relatively easy to begin sharing memories or reliving fun times. I think the family table makes for a comfortable storytelling space and the enticement of good food never hurts! I love the habit of Sunday dinner with the expectation that all who can make it will ... and with the promise of a delicious meal the audience will be even more receptive! Car rides, too, are a good opportunity for story-sharing as are neighborhood walks.
If storytelling appeals to you as much as it does to me, you might find this book a worthy read, as it expands on the ideas in this chapter and is just chock-full of storytelling inspiration!
Storytelling with Children by Nancy Mellon is another one of those books I've had for many years and as you can see, it's quite battered - but beloved! (I share a few pics of the insides further down in this post.)
Now, I'm pretty sure I could quote this entire chapter, but I tried my best to narrow it down to a few favorites. ;-)
"Years ago, parents told stories to children both to entertain them and to teach them about the world's complexities. But we lost the art of storytelling when we lost that sort of open-ended time with our children, the reflecting, wondering, watching time that gives rise to stories." (71)
Speaking of wonder then, I had to snap a picture of Little Bear today in his rather fitting sweatshirt:
"Never lose your sense of wonder." A cute and comfy Target find! Stories will percolate in your mind and trip off your tongue if you leave yourself open to wonder. That's the cool thing about wonder - the urge to share it is powerful! :)
(Little Bear's in mid-story himself here. Something about a Lego ship and a very stormy sea.)
As I read through this chapter, I was amazed by how easily storytelling seemed to come to Ms. Kenison - but then I realized she was intentionally opening herself up to the experience - by paying attention to the world around her, "observing the minute particulars of a season, a day, a moment ..." (p. 73)
She goes on to admit:
"... whenever I feel that my story well has run dry, it is only because I have not been paying enough attention to my life."' (p. 77)
I think this is a wonderful example of why this book has so many ideas that make sense for all of us - not just parents. Making time in our life to pay attention to the world around us - practicing mindfulness, connecting with others, reflecting - is something that tunes us all in to our inner voice. Children benefit from this certainly, but so might we all:
"And so for my own sake, as well as for my sons', I stop then, and breathe deeply and look more closely." (p. 77)
Whether or not we go on to tell stories I think it's a worthy practice to cultivate: to slow down and be fully present with ourselves and our loved ones.
Another quote that clicked for me:
"The stories that seemed most satisfying were often the simplest ones - they made us feel alive and part of things, they fed us and made us happy." (p. 73)
I have found this to be true. Sometimes I spend a good chunk of time crafting a potential storyline to go along with a seasonal theme - for example, it's "snow" week so I'm cobbling together snowflake tales - when in truth, the quick impromptu tale I spin as we notice something in the here and now delivers the most sincere and memorable lesson. I find this kind of storytelling more honestly connects us with the world around us at that moment, and what a feeling it is to be part of the here and the now!
In truth, this kind of storytelling takes very little time - I think sometimes we make things out to be a bigger production than they are - but time is such a hot commodity these days!
"Real stories take time. They require, first, that we lay our own concerns aside for a while and open ourselves to the present moment." (p. 71)
Another lovely lesson to take from this chapter - perhaps the best of all - is that in storytelling we are first and foremost, making time to be with our children. We are doing something specifically FOR them with nothing more than the efforts of our hearts and minds. (Finger puppets and story props notwithstanding.) I think most parents are well aware of the need to make time to be present with our children, but let's be honest. Even when we're not doing anything else but sitting alongside our children, our minds aren't totally turned off. Maybe they're just set on pause, perhaps unconsciously listening for that ping or that ring ... for any reason that we might be recalled to the "adult" world where serious things need to be done. These days we are all so mentally busy, concerning ourselves (sometimes overly so) with what we need to do, where we need to go, what to read, watch, and yes - even post on social media. Even when we're not doing any of those things, they're percolating there in the back of our minds. It can be a real challenge to just turn all that off and give our kids the kind of time we know would deeply benefit them.
That's getting a little heavy though, so here's a lighter thought:
"A candle helps create that ritual space; somehow, a flame invites inspiration while also reminding teller and listener alike of the sacred nature of this work." (p. 71)
This was the storytelling candle I bought EONS ago when my older boys were quite young ...
I'm pretty sure I bought it at a local Waldorf School Holiday Faire. It's a heavy thing, made of solid beeswax and so very sweet-smelling! Just the whiff of it brings me right back to those early years with my older boys. I had always meant to decorate this with symbols of the four seasons, but never mustered up the courage to do it! (Modeling wax and me have never been the best of friends. It requires warm hands and a very patient nature!) Well, I brought this candle out of retirement recently after re-reading this chapter and then lit it late this afternoon just ... well, because. I was alone in the room as I cleaned up the worktable ... but as you can see, the sky was growing dark outside. The wind was picking up and tree limbs were shaking ... the hen light was on in the coop ...
Not surprisingly, I felt a story forming!
The use of a candle in storytelling is touched upon in the aforementioned Mellon book as well:
I can't help but share a couple more pictures from her wonderfully illustrated book, this first was the page I was reading today, soaking up some wintertime inspiration ...
And this one shows how lovely the illustrations are in this book!
This chapter was where years ago I got the inspiration to make this ...
My storytelling apron. :)
I started with a plain (inexpensive) crafter's apron, and I thought to add some pretty iron on patches (representing nature) but I have yet to get around to that part! I use the pockets for the elements of my story - often finger puppets, but also, wooden toys, natural items such as acorns or feathers, or perhaps a painted story stone. I use cute wooden clips to attach extra things like the wooden snowflake and felt leaf shown here. Tucked inside the large pocket is some white woolen felt ... all these items were part of a story I formulated for this week's seasonal theme, "under the ice." I imagined a wintry pond and the creatures that live in, and around, it having to handle a particular harsh winter. (Of course, had we encountered mild temps this week I would have tweaked the plot to include a January thaw!)
I love to come up with my own stories because I like to tap into our own home habitat, but I do find inspiration in lots of places! These books are longtime favorites:
I bought these through a Waldorf education website, but you can easily find them at Amazon. They are filled with poems, verses, songs and stories for young children (kindergarten I believe is the target audience, but I think they work well with all ages). As you can see, they're organized by season and I find them invaluable when writing up lesson plans for our seasonal homeschooling.
Here are some of my favorite storytelling prompts:
Story stones - sometimes painted with words, or simply with pictures.
Wooden toys - lots of animals, from all different kinds of habitats!
Fairy tale books such as these beautifully illustrated examples are wonderful storytelling resources! (Waldorf education has a whole schedule for which stories match up with which grade levels.) I also have many hardcover collections of traditional fairy tales: English, Russian, German, Scandinavian, etc. I just picked up a wonderful retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff at the library today, because we are studying Norway this month and this is a great example of that country's rich folktale tradition.
Speaking of this old tale, look who popped up in our learning room mailbox this week!
This mailbox has been a fantastic tool for storytelling in our homeschool! I enjoy coming up with different prompts to match our weekly seasonal theme, but these goats went along with our library book this week. Often I tell stories while the boys are working on a craft of some kind ...
Other prompts I use: our nature shelf treasures, our backyard - bird feeders and gardens, the scribblings in my own nature journal, a large collection of finger- and hand- puppets (as I've shown you all many times before!). If you'd rather not paint stones as I do, you could write words on cards and use them to inspire your children's creativity. Or how about starting story ... and then asking your children to work on the next part? A fun activity with a collection of picture stones - sit around the fire on a soft summer's night and pass around a bag of story stones. Each storyteller takes a turn creating a new page in the tale!
Well, as you can see, I have a real soft spot for this chapter, and if I could, I'd go on ... but I am going to stop now because I've kept you all here so very long! I hope you enjoyed my post and I hope you are enjoying this book if you are reading along! I'd LOVE to hear from you if you have a moment. Please share your thoughts on this chapter (or topic) or just pop into the comments to say - hey! It's always lovely to hear from you. :)
Before I go a final word about storytelling. I have found it to be one of the most rewarding activities I've done with my children. It has created for us so many tender moments, and for me, so many treasured memories. These are dear times when we are quiet together, the boys listening only to their mama's voice and their mama pushing herself outside her comfort zone ...
It's humbling to ask my young fellas to stop, listen and appreciate the words I'm offering ... the story I'm crafting. It's an honor to have such a rapt and sincere audience. Most of all, what I love about telling my children stories is that I'm sharing a glimpse into my own imagination and the great love I hold for this world. For in every story told the teller reveals a little (or perhaps a lot) of themselves. When my children remember our storytelling days, that's what I hope they best remember.
"Telling a story is really a way of breathing deeply with our children. Taking that deep breath, exhaling, and putting ourselves at the mercy of something universal, we allow our own voices to become instruments of our souls." (p. 72)
I wish you all a lovely weekend! I'll be back again soon with a long-promised planner post and details on our next MSfG discussion!