By CELA on 12 Oct, 2017

You’ve heard people say food tastes better outdoors? Well stories sound better outside too! Lindy Mitchell-Nilsson of Heart to Heart Storytelling returns to Amplify as a guest writer this week to share the experiences she and her husband and fellow-storyteller Ulf Nilsson enjoy when they tell tales to children in nature and about nature – a wonderful way to engage young people in caring for their world.

Ulf and I prefer telling stories outside under trees in parks rather than in halls or rooms.

Of course, there are many distractions outdoors and we know we will lose a percentage of our audience to mother nature, but we don’t mind at all. Connecting children to their local natural environment and fostering their sense of stewardship is one of our passions as storytellers.

We begin our storytelling with an Indigenous song and an acknowledgement of country and then we call in the nature spirits.

“I call to the fairies, I call to elves,

Pack up your flowers and leave your green homes.

I call to the pixies, I call to the elves,

Please stop your dancing, come in from the dells.

I call to the trees, ancient and wise

Shhhh they whisper, it’s story time, it’s story time.”

The spell is cast… perhaps it is the collective belief of the children in fairies, or perhaps IT IS the fairies, maybe it is the appreciative response of nature as we tell her stories, or perhaps it’s the stories themselves that create the magic. Whatever the reason, as we share our stories, the trees seem to lean in closer and so do the children, nature becomes enchanted.

Re-enchanting the natural world

Environmental storytelling is using the ancient art of oral storytelling, as our ancestors once did, to teach about the natural world, our relationship within it and to foster the sense of stewardship. Environmental storytelling doesn’t have to take place in the great outdoors, you can tell indoors then perhaps visit a small garden, or adopt a local tree.

So why tell an environmental story rather than just teach children the facts?

You can tell children the facts, you can tell them how a butterfly emerges, or who a bat hears, you can explain how bad pollution is, and how awful plastics are. You can talk about the terrible loss of rainforests, or the consequences of greed … but facts won’t make a child care.

In fact, too many doom and gloom facts about the environment shut children down – the problems are too big, too overwhelming for one person, especially a little person, to do anything about.

Facts appeal to the left-hand side of the brain, the left is the mathematical and logical brain but the left side of the brain doesn’t make children care. That’s why we need to appeal to the right side of the brain, the centre for language, imagination, creativity, emotions, empathy and connection.

Storytelling, along with art & music are the language of the right brain. Connect with the right side of children’s brains and you connect to their hearts.

Sprouting new environmentalists

When you tell children a story, you evoke their wonder & imagination, you engage their hearts & elicit empathy. Empathy is seeing with eyes of an another, hearing with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another and that is one of storytelling’s greatest gifts, giving listeners the opportunity to the experience the world through another, whether an animal, mythical creature or someone from another culture or time.

A well told story will take root like a seed in the heart of a child. When their imaginations and wonder are engaged then curiosity follows, and then they will ask questions and demand facts because, now they feel connected, now they have a relationship with the subject, now they care.

And by following up the story up with an activity, such as an art & craft activity, a visit to a tree or park, then that story seed will sprout, perhaps even growing into tomorrow’s environmentalist.

Simple tales of complex issues

Stories, such as folktales, fairytales and myths use metaphorical truths to help us understand and connect to and care about our local environment and our natural world. And there are many wonderful stories, suitable for all age groups, from cultures all around the world which still speak to every environmental concern of today. Some of these tales are not set in a particular place and time and these tales lend themselves to being transposed into our local landscape. Others add a layer of multicultural richness to their environmental themes.

There are many wonderful collections of folktales covering the whole gamut of environmental themes, with many of the stories either perfect for or very adaptable for the Early Learning Setting. Even the most complex of environmental concepts can be shared simply and effectively in a story. We love to tell the Grimm’s tale of The Fisherman’s Wife, it’s a fun story which metaphorically speaks about sustainability, but even the youngest of audience members has said at the end,“She just wanted too much, she was too greedy”

Now it’s your turn

So, we encourage you, when teaching environmental concepts start with a story, add some rhymes, repetitions, actions and follow up with an activity. Storytelling will ignite their imaginations, spark their curiosity and stoke the fire in their hearts to care for their environment. In today’s world of disconnect, virtual reality and electronic media, the planet needs us to help restore this connection, the relationship between child and nature, for the future wellbeing of all earth’s inhabitants.

Story Collections with Environmental themes;

Earth Care; World Folktales to talk About- Margaret Read MacDonald

Eleven Nature Tales: A Multicultural Journey- Pleasant De Spain

Spinning Tales Weaving Hope; Stories of Peace Justice & the Environment- eds Brody, Goldspinner, Green, Leventhal & Porcino

Tales with Tales: Storytelling the Wonders of the Natural World- Kevin Strauss

Tell Me a Story: Stories from the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America

Related story on Amplify

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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