Published by CELA on 13 Nov, 2017

Lindy Mitchell-Nilsson of Heart to Heart Storytelling returns as one of your favourite guest writers with her thoughts on cloaking dull truths in the beautiful colours of story.  In an article that reminded us a little of the 1990s ad for Sultana Bran, Lindy invites you to consider just how valuable stories are for embedding helpful facts and concepts in young minds.

Storytelling as education

Many people believe that storytelling is only an activity for bedtime or for entertaining young children but there are some who have discovered the secret power of storytelling to educate by stealth (don’t tell the kids). Yes, all manner of dry educational subjects can be beautifully wrapped, delivered and then wholeheartedly consumed as stories.

Don’t believe me? Let me tell you a story…

Truth and Story

Long long ago when the world was young, Truth walked the world as an old man. Everything about him was old, his hands, his face even the remnants of his clothes. His skin was all wrinkly, his joints gnarly and his clothes so ragged and threadbare, he was just about naked.

When he arrived in a town, he would walk up to people and say hello, but people wouldn’t look at Truth, they turned and walked away.

“I don’t understand why don’t people want to hear what I have to say. When I’m not around people always say they want to hear the Truth, but as soon as I am here, they avoid me”

Then Truth saw a large gathering in the town square, the people were listening to someone with great interest. He approached the crowd thinking “Surely they will listen to me too”, but as he approached the people turned and hurried away.

The only person left on the street was Story. Story was dressed in beautiful robes of all the colours of the rainbow. The fabric seemed magical, it’s hues shimmered and changed as she moved.

“I don’t understand” said Truth to Story. “People just don’t want to hear what I have to say. Is it because I am old?” “No” said Story, “Look at me, I am as old as you and people still listen to me.” Looking at the state of Truth’s clothes, Story added “Perhaps the problem is your appearance, you are rather stark. Come home with me and I will give you a beautiful robe to wear.”

So, Truth went home with Story and Story dressed truth into a beautiful robe of many colours. They walked through the town arm in arm…and rather than turn away, people hurried to talk to them.  Truth and Story were even invited into their homes for dinner and there, they talked with families till the wee small hours of the morning.

And that’s how it is today. When Truth walks naked in the world, people turn away. But when Truth walks with Story, they are invited into our homes and our hearts.

Education and storytelling

Today I’m writing about the “Truths” of education, teaching such things such as environmental concepts, social responsibility, emotional literacy, mathematics, science and of course history, all these subjects can be beautifully wrapped in story and delivered in an engaging & entertaining way for easy & enthusiastic consumption. Environmentalists, Educators and Scientists are rediscovering the value of storytelling, a value which has long been known by our ancestors and still practiced today by various religions and Indigenous peoples.

In the book “Storytelling for a Greener World”, they describe storytelling as “Trojan Horse”. Storytelling is offered as an irresistible gift, and once it is consumed, then the metaphors and images go to work, sneaking past the citadel of the human mind, a perfect instrument to bring important messages to environmentally jaded people today.

Not Another Lesson!

Stories carry us away

While preschoolers are unlikely to be ‘jaded’, by primary school some children will roll their eyes and sigh, ‘Not another lesson on Reduce Reuse Recycle,’ or ‘Not more Sustainability’.

Ulf and I recently shared two programs of stories with an Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) service, we didn’t mention the word sustainability or talk about environmental concepts, but they were the themes of our stories.

After the show we had some lively conversations with children as they shared their thoughts and feelings.

The stories had penetrated their inner world, evoked their emotions, sparked their imaginations and their minds. Storytelling doesn’t just teach but it encourages children to care.

That same week we also did an environmental program for preschoolers. Again we dressed everything in story. The children then planted seeds to connect to the rhymes and songs used in our stories.  Their teacher later told us, the children loved it and had lovely reflections on the experience which sparked some discussions about caring for the earth.

Story for social skills

The enormous turnip, image credit BBC School Radio

Storytelling is also a fabulous way to teach character, social skills and emotional literacy. These are some of our favourite stories, the folk tales with the wisdom of the ages which speak to the values of friendship, honesty, courage, co-operation, kindness & resourcefulness.

Values like co-operation, or kindness are abstract concepts to young children, but when you dress them beautifully in story then co-operation is the image of everyone working together to pull out The Enormous Stubborn Turnip, and kindness is understood by such archetypal characters as the helpful hen in The Rooster and the Bean.

Storytelling for maths concepts

Maths taught by stories

Even mathematics can be taught by story: how many bears, chairs, bowls & beds did Goldilocks encounter?

One of the best mathematical folk tales we have come across for older children is from India, A Grain Of Rice. In this story the Rajah is hoarding rice while his people starve.

A young girl tricks the Rajah into giving her one grain of rice on the first day then, doubling the amount of rice every day for 30 days.

The Rajah thinks he is on a good deal until he does the sums!

Even very young children can see how this trick works when you start the mulitiplication with your own grains of rice or groups of beads.

Stories teach our past

History of course, is made of stories, which are much easier to remember than basic names, dates and events. Rewrap history in its colourful stories, the outback explorers on exciting expeditions, the outrageous escapades of early convicts, or our seafarers’ rollicking maritime adventures.

And what better way to teach about our First Nation’s People and their rich heritage than by inviting them to come and share their stories?

Ulf and I encourage you to make story an integral part of your lessons, for when Truth, or should we say Education walks naked in the world, children may roll their eyes and turn away, but when Education walks with Story, they are invited into the hearts, minds and imagination of children everywhere.

Resources:

  • A Grain of Rice pg. 286 The Right Story at the Right Time; Changing the Lives of Children & Adolescents One Story at a Time. M deCroes.
  • Storytelling for a Greener World; Environment, Community& Story Based Learning. Gersie, Nanson, &Schieffelin
  • The Enormous Turnip pg. 47 Once Upon a Time: Storytelling to teach Character and prevent Bullying. E.L.Pearmain
  • The Rooster and the Bean pg. 78 The Right Story at the Right Time; Changing the Lives of Children & Adolescents One Story at a Time. M deCroes.
  • Truth and Story Lindy Mitchell-Nilsson’s retelling of a Jewish Folktale

Meet the author

Lindy Mitchell-Nilsson

Lindy Mitchell-Nilsson is a children’s author and storyteller. After a career in horticulture, Lindy completed a degree in English Literature and combined nature with literature by writing two children’s books set in the Australian bush. Lindy became an accredited storyteller with the Australian Storytelling Guild NSW, telling stories under the name Lindy Lady of the Forest. In 2014, Lindy trained further at the prestigious International School of Storytelling in England, where she met her Swedish storytelling husband, Ulf Nilsson. Now based in Australia, the couple are Heart to Heart Storytelling, with storytelling programs and workshops for all ages.

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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