Wintertime has always been a time of drawing inward for me. Emotionally and physically. I grew up in a beach town and spent most of my days outside except during the winter. The shift was a drastic one for me each year and I found myself slowing down and resting. Winter is a time of rest, and still is. My children and I are all on such a seasonal cycle now when it comes to our playing, living, and learning.- just like I was as a child and a teen. The main difference now is that I lead them into our resting cycle. I set the tone for our home and what we’ll be doing.
Now naturally we find ourselves inside more in the winter. We lose our post nap outdoor time due to the dark. I found myself three years ago struggling to fill that void of time with something other than television. It seemed that their indoor play, while usually rich and harmonious, was not flowing well during this time of the day.
So I took to storytelling. Now we usually had story time at bed and during circle time, but this was different. While it was intentional and took a bit of planning, But it was also more free. I followed their interests more. What conflicts they had been having during the day. Something we saw on a walk…
At this point you might be thinking, “Um well I am BAD at telling stories and making up my own”. Well to be honest, so am I. But to my kids, they think it’s pulitzer prize material. I have a few tips on how I do it, a few different ways I do storytelling, and then how I use it in other areas of our life. I’ll share those below but first I just want to reiterate, we are storytellers. All of us. It’s in our genes, literally. We’ve been telling stories much longer than we've been writing them down. So let’s just dispel the, “I can’t and I am no good” idea right now. Take it from me. I’ve been to a few Paleolithic caves in Northern Spain and been surrounded by and seeped in their history and paintings. We truly are a people of stories. We are still griots.
(Jonas enjoying a story time snack of gingerbread while I tell my version of the gingerbread children)
A few ways to help you begin…
-First, be confident in yourself. If you aren’t then you’ll pause and get lost in your own words. This is fine though, if you do, because your audience adores you! I find that I am my own worst enemy. Exude confidence.
-Decide upon your subject or topic ahead of time. Plot out your story points in your mind- beginning, middle, and resolution. Keep them short and sweet when you first begin. All of this will come easier the more you do it. And if you feel better at first writing it out, then do it. This should be stress free, so do it in whatever way makes you feel less stressed.
-Pick an introduction or an anchor point that you repeat every time you tell a story. This lets the children know, oh!, it’s story time. I begin all my bedtime David stories with:
“Once upon a time
There was a little gnome names David
Who lived at the base of the old oak tree
And every morning when he wakes up
He puts on his red pointy hat and walks downstairs to eat his breakfast
And every morning for breakfast he has a hard boiled egg in a little blue egg cup
When he is finished he gives his wife Lisa a kiss good-bye and puts on his boots and walks outdoors into the forest
You see, David is a forest helper gnome
His job is to help and protect the animals of the forest from trouble.”
- If your stories build upon one another or are related, make sure to recap your last story at the end of your introduction or anchor point. It helps the children not to feel lost if they forgot bits of the last story.
-When the children are young, try to keep the stories simple. What might seem boring to you, is not to them.
-I find serving warm drink, like tea or cocoa, helps set a nice cosy tone for winter storytime. We pile up pillows and blankets. I usually light a candle too.
-Use props for your stories. Now not every story needs to be a full production, but if you are telling a story about an owl, pull out your owl puppet of figure. This is especially helpful for little boys.
-It is normal for children, especially boys, to fidget and move around a bit while you tell a story. This is fine. They are paying attention. It is just how they learn and how their brains are wired. if you are interested in this, please pick up a copy of Michael Gurian's book on how boys and girls learn differently.
Different ways to storytell…
In the tips above I mainly discuss storytelling aloud with your own original stories. This is not the only way to story tell or the only way we do it. Here are a few other ways we do winter story time.
Naturally because it gets darker sooner in the winter, it makes for great shadow puppetry. This will take a bit more prep time, but it is worth it. But be ready. Once you’re done with your story, the kids will want to do many of their own! A great way to make your own shadow puppets is to just google image search for a silhouette of whatever you want, say a dragon. Then print, cut, and paste your dragon silhouette to dark cardstock and… you've got a free shadow puppet! Also if you want to make your own theater, an easy way to do this is just use an old shipping box. Cut out the bottom and tape white drawing paper over it. Viola! Yes it is that simple. That is how we made ours in the photo.
Books with Props
Sometimes my creative juices get tired and are not flowing. It is during those times I turn to our favorite books. Usually I will read the story aloud, but I have props on hand to use. Many times I will even make up my own version of the story using the props to act it back out. One we love to do in the winter is tell about what happens the next time the Snow Children come to play with Poppy or what the three Kings would do if they could not find the star.
This is another favorite of ours. Once I am done telling my story I encourage the children to go act it out on their own and then to come back and put on a play for me. I set the stage and help with costumes of course, but the storyline is all their own. My favorite was when my son, who is three, came up with an ingenious way to use a red play silk as dragon fire. Also from a teaching point of view, this is a good tool to help children internalize the story or material that they’ve just learned.
As with any season, even in the cold winter, we still like to go outdoors to do some storytelling. We love to start a fire in our fire pit and snuggle up to a David story. We also have a few favorite outdoor classrooms at local parks that we love to go to for story time.
Ways to weave storytelling into other areas of your life…
Keeping out season book in a little nook of your home is great fodder for story telling. Adding a few story props as well make it all the more alluring to little ones. Throw in a comfy sheepskin and a little candle and soon they’ll be in heaven.
Story inspired play
This is similar having them put on their own played based on your story but it is a bit more simple and self directed. If I happen to be telling a gnome story, I make sure to pull out their gnome house and playthings and set it up for them in their playroom. I do the same thing for them if it’s a farm story with their barn or a valentine’s story. Also the upside to this is that they will usually play for an extended time, which allows me spend some more one on one time with our baby.
If you homeschool or do weekend school- or truly even your kids attend school- you can tailor your stories to what you are currently teaching them or what they are learning. As I am writing this, even though it is not the winter, we are currently on our Fall pumpkin theme. So naturally I am telling more stories about pumpkins and I have lots of pumpkin books out in our nook. During last winter we did snow and animals in the winter. Having themes for each month helped me to limit the scope of the stories I was telling but in a good way, not a stifling one. I also was able to include crafts that related to our stories and even a few outings, which helped make the stories come more alive for the children and enriched their experiences.
Planting seedlings while telling my Imbolc story
I hope this leaves you with confidence in your ability to tell stories to your children. You can do it anyway that best fits in your family. How my family tells stories should look different in your home. That’s the beauty of oral storytelling. We make it ours. We change it to what is most meaningful to us. And it leaves a lasting mark on the souls of our children.
The little ones and I have been enjoying some down time this January. I and half of my department are on furlough from Colonial Williamsburg- so we get some more time together!! That time has been spent crafting, playing, and day tripping. Last weekend we were lucky enough to go the Baltimore aquarium. It was so lovely. By far our favorite things were the Dolphins and jellyfish. As always Jonas adored the Sharks.
This extra free time has also allowed to use our new Christmas art supplies and the shadow puppet theater that the elves brought. Shadow puppets have been a favorite for years now. The plays that the kids come up with are riotous. They never cease to make me laugh.
All and all we're loving January, despite not being the biggest fan of the cold and recovering from the flu that we all got right before Christmas. Hopefully we'll squeeze in more day trips before the furlough is over. Regardless I am treasuring our time together. I am continually awed by the blessings that my children are and filled with such immense gratitude for the life we've carved out here for ourselves.