Storytelling Arts' mission is to preserve, promote and impart the art of storytelling to develop literacy, strengthen communities and nurture the human spirit.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Story Work and Play

by Gerald Fierst

Gerry Fierst telling to pre-schoolers at the Zimmerli Museum
Gerry, hi Gerry, the chirping voices of three and four year olds fill the halls as they and I arrive at Stokes Early Childhood Learning Center. Four storytellers from Storytelling Arts have been in the school through the winter into spring, and the impact of our work rings in the corridors as the children call our names in delight.  Today is a storytelling day.  

Preschool storytelling is a holistic experience, involving body, mind and imagination.  Stories teach numbers and sequencing, vocabulary and conceptualization, history, social studies and science, but also values and awareness of the world around us. 

One of my favorite pre school stories is a Brazilian folktale of Monkeys in the Rain.  Swinging through the trees the monkeys play.  When the daily rain falls, and they get soaked, the monkeys decide to build a house, but the sun soon comes out and the monkeys never build the house that they will need tomorrow.  Lesson:  Build Your House Today.  The words are simplistic, repeated n patterns of three.

Hand Over Hand Over Hand, Its Fun!
Hand Over Hand Over Hand, Its Fun!
Hand Over Hand Over Hand, Its Fun!
Brrr, Im Cold
Brrr, Im Wet
Lets Build a House.
Tomorrow, Tomorrow. Tomorrow.
Next Day Lets Play

But the language is only one ingredient of the experience.  Hands moving above ones head in rhythm to the chant of the words.  Fingers falling to make the rain.  Clapping palms on the lap to make the sound of the rain forest squall.  Fingers connected to make the roof of a house.  Opening arms to make the returning sun.  Joyful hands in the air to proclaim play.  The whole child is involved in unison with his/her whole community.  Words, rhythms, and images are intimately connected to the affirming experience of organized and energetic activity within the classroom.  Emotional and cognitive experience is associated with verbal skill, and play becomes a basis for learning.

A story like this provides multiple beginning lessons: about environments- in this big world where do we live and how do we live; about the science of weather;  about the geography of the earth; about biology and the diversity of life.

Storytelling in the classroom is not entertainment.  Children who are placed into a rich verbal environment learn abstract thinking and become more self directed.  Storytelling is really about process, not product.  Most stories have familiar plots, but the experiential journey of listening and responding is the spark of invention that eventually can light a whole life.  An anthropologist once told me that the moment we became human was when we could imagine as if it were real and then set off to make it happen.  Every pre schooler should have a resident storyteller, not to read a book, but to tell stories and play and dream with words.