Stories Inspire Stoires


For years now, I’ve witnessed the amazing way in which stories inspire stories.  When I tell stories to children, they often respond by telling me stories in return, and in most cases they tell true stories from their lives.

This week after telling the story, Stone Soup, a 6 year old boy told me that he had gone to a steak house with his grandparents.  After I told the Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood, a 7 year old girl told me that her dad heard wolves howling outside their house in the middle of the night.  Today, after telling the story of Hanukkah, a 5 year old boy told me that I had made a mistake and that he knew the right way to tell the story and began telling it to the whole school.  Unfortunately, I had to ask him to wait to finish his story until I finished the assembly and then we would talk, which we did.

Tomorrow, I get to tell stories with a sign language interpreter and can’t wait to hear the stories the students share with me.

Happy Storytelling!

Cheryl Thornton

Pull Up Your Pants and Get In Line


During a full day of storytelling yesterday, my second assembly was attended by 175 kindergarten students.  After an hour of sitting in the gym listening to a variety of stories, the teachers lined up their students and began leading them back to their classrooms.  As the lines of 4 and 5 year olds slowly snaked their way out of the gym, I overheard the most extraordinary sentence that could only be spoken in a nursery school or a kindergarten class, with the exception, my husband added, of a senior’s nursing home.  A young student teacher noticed that the end of her line was not moving because two small boys were frozen in place in what could only be described as a stand up wrestling match. One boy had the neck of his classmate’s shirt in his mouth and his pants were half way down his backside.  The 19 year old student teacher, seemingly experienced with such shenanigans, looked at the tableaux and said in a bored voice, “Pull up your pants and get back in line.”

I’m so grateful that I get to witness these moments and wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Happy Storytelling!

Cheryl Thornton

 

Scary Stories


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Yesterday was Halloween and I told ‘scary’ stories’ to my Thursday group of 5 and 6 year olds.

After telling the Chinese folktale, The Brave Girl and the Monster Snake, a little boy told me he had a video showing a capybara being eaten by a python and thought it was too bad the capybara hadn’t  heard this story about how to survive a monster snake attack!

Happy Storytelling!  

Cheryl Thornton

Were They REAL Before I was Born?


LexmarkAIOScan56Last week, after telling the story of The Ghost Dog and the Milky Way to a group of grade 1 students, a six year old little boy raised his hand and said, “I know dinosaurs used to be real, but they are extinct now.  I think ghost dogs were real too.  Were they real before I was born?”

The spoken word is so powerful.  Stories seem believable because listeners actively participate by creating mental images of the narrative.  If you can imagine it, it becomes real, right?

Happy Storytelling!

Cheryl Thornton

Encore for Aesop and Hercules


Halios_geronEach Tuesday I tell stories to a class of 2 and 3 year olds.  We had our first class this week and as always, I was amazed to see the powerful effect myths and stories have on young listeners.

When I stepped into the classroom on Tuesday morning, one little boy was crying for his mommy.  Having seen this sort of thing many times before,  I knew it was best to get started right away, before they all started crying.  I began telling the fable of the Lion and the Mouse.  After establishing the jungle scene, the weeper stopped crying and started listening.

When I finished the fable, a bright-eyed little 3-year-old girl said, “Do that again!  Start from the beginning!”  She wasn’t sure what is was that I had done, but she wanted more.

Next, I told the first labour of Hercules, and the little boy who’d been crying, shouted, “More,” with gusto!

By the end of the 30 minute period, they were all sitting silently, fully engaged in listening to stories from long ago and far away, like old hands.

Happy Storytelling!

Cheryl Thornton

The Storyteller’s Journey Includes Bringing in the Hay


hired boyLast week, school started in our part of the world and I was asked by a principal to help kick off the new school year with a storytelling assembly.

At the beginning of the presentation, I invited the gym full of students to join me on the Storyteller’s Journey, to discover their own voice and learn to tell their own story.  Throughout the hour, many eager children helped me dramatize ancient world myths and even on  the first day of school 200 children sat attentively engaged in the mysterious narratives of long ago and far away.

After the assembly, I suggested that they practice their new skills by re-telling one of the stories at home.   I asked which story they might like to tell and several children raised their hands and answered my question.

Ten minutes or so later, as I walked from the gym to the exit passing various lines of students snaking their way down the hallway in search of their classrooms, a willowy 6 year old boy spotted me, stepped out of line and said, as if continuing an interrupted conversation, “It is hard for me to decide which story to tell because I liked them all!  I might not actually get the chance to tell one because I’ve got to get the hay in before winter, but I’ll try.”   The principal had mentioned that the school was located in a strong farming community.  With that, the young farmer and newly christened storyteller, waved good-bye and set off in search of his long gone classmates.

Happy Storytelling!

Cheryl Thornton

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‘The Hero’s Journey’… Through Elementary School, Part 1.


“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”  – Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell identified the stages of ‘The Hero’s Journey’, as found in archetypal stories from around the world, to equate to those found in our own personal lives.

He stated that the transformations of childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle age, old age and even death all hold the potential for us to awaken to our greatest, most ‘heroic’ selves.

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We live next door to an eight year old boy named Kayden. Whenever we see him playing outside he is wearing either a cape or a sword. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Kayden just ‘be Kayden’. He’s a fireman, a train engineer, a police officer, Batman, Superman, Robin Hood, Harry Potter, King Arthur, a mail carrier, a ship’s captain, an airline pilot…

To Kayden, every day is a hero’s journey. He is busy internalizing the heroic storyline through his own creative interactions with life. With the support of his patient and insightful parents, he’s setting the tone for his own journey.

supereroe

By all accounts, it will be heroic…

Like most kids, Kayden spends most of the day in school, acquiring the necessary information needed to matriculate through an educational system that is less about ‘heroism’ and more about facts, standardized testing and working within a shrinking budget.

Is this any place for a superhero?

– Matthew Giffin

 

Storytelling and the Art of Inference


Sorrow of the King by Henri Matisse‘Sorrow of the King’ by Henri Matisse

One of the greatest artists the world has ever known created the above image. The assemblage of cut paper is lyrical and melodic, using an inspired choice of colour that infers a kind of story. If we take a moment and are so inclined, we might well be curious about what is going on here.

The arts invite us to play with possibility; to wander in and around what the artist has created, to think and feel and come to our own conclusions.

Looking at Matisse’s work posted above, if we let ourselves, we might even imagine hearing the music and wonder at the source of the king’s sorrow. We can follow the inferences to see where they lead; possibly to a new and interesting way of seeing the world.

Or not! 

Each year we hear from many educators about how challenging it is to ‘teach inference’ to children and how difficult it is for modern students to draw parallels between their own experience and what they are learning and experiencing at school.

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The question is, ‘why is this so’?

‘Art imitates life’, as the saying goes. As storytellers and artists (and educators), our job is to inspire as well as to inform. Like the painting by Matisse shown above, the world does not explain itself through factual information alone; it requires participants to ‘play along’ to create something original from the raw materials of experience.

Interactive Storytelling is one of the most effective ways of bringing children (and adults) into that realm of profound creative play where inference comes naturally, as a result of deep engagement. It offers a way to play along with the world, to uncover a deep relevance that encompasses both fact and fiction.

It all comes down to engagement. As we have seen countless times, enthusiasm for learning (and the ability to make personal connections with information) comes out of hiding when children are engaged.

The art by Matisse shown above is such a vibrant, joyful image. It seems odd that the King is sorrowful, but perhaps he’s just not been inspired to see the creative possibilities that exist all around him.

Nothing a well-told story can’t cure!

-Matthew Giffin

The Shared Fire of Inspiration


Detroit Industry‘Detroit Industry’ by Diego Rivera. Conceived in 1932 and completed in 1933, this amazing mural tells a story – many stories, in fact – to communicate the vitality of American manufacturing, centered as it was in Detroit at that time.

pacino di buonaguida

‘Appeal of Prato to Robert of Anjou’ by Pacino di Bonaguida, from the 14th century. Subject matter differs from era to era, but the intention of telling a story runs throughout history.    Mithila Art

Sacred art from the ancient kingdom of Mithila, in present day Nepal. Visual storytelling that blends the sacred and profane. Styles vary from culture to culture, but the impulse to create and communicate spans all of humanity.

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Composition II by Piet Mondian.

Art is a fundamental way in which humanity leaves its mark.  Like graffiti on the wall of existence itself, each image tells a story that we can experience,  interpret and share in our own creative way.

As storytellers and artists, our job is to inspire others with the richness of life and a sense of possibility. For adults, the effect can be personally and professionally transformational. When applied to children, the results are often a wonder to behold. There’s nothing like witnessing a person discover their own ‘voice’, or visual language, and in so doing, the voice of others.

Visual literacy… An aspect of education (and life) too easily overlooked.

Happy (visual) storytelling!

– Matthew Giffin

The Ancient Secret of Student Engagement


“Tell me a fact and I will learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” – Indian proverb.

Each year we bring our live interactive storytelling performances to over 100 elementary schools in the Greater Toronto Area. Most of the performances, regardless of the age of the audience, last about one hour. Almost invariably, after each performance, the adults in attendance express amazement at how engaged the children were during the show.

Cheryl Thornton performs at a Storyvalues Literacy Night Event in Toronto, 2012.

Many of the shows involve audiences of up to 400 children, spanning all the ages of elementary school. It is a rare thing indeed when there are disruptions and it is amazing to see so many kids engrossed and engaged with the dynamics of what is happening during the show.

What exactly is happening during the show that accounts for their rapt attention and willingness to participate? What is it about the performances that children find so compelling?

Having witnessed this phenomenon for over ten years, in literally thousands of schools, it is clear that stories speak a language children understand. By encompassing both fact and fiction, stories offer a compelling bridge to the imagination that inspires children to interpret the information they are receiving in their own unique ways, to arrive at their own creative conclusions.

In other words, the stories give them something interesting to think about. Their minds become engaged in creative thought. Once that happens, they learn. Simple as that.

Of course, for this to happen you must have the right stories and a storyteller who knows how to tell a story in a compelling way. Fortunately, hidden in the vast collection of folktales humans have created since the beginning of civilization, there  are stories that so poignantly express essential truth that, when effectively told, resonate very deeply even today.

Concerning the ability to tell a story, all professionals can benefit from learning the techniques of effective storytelling. Storytelling is an essential part of effective communication and being tasked with the challenge of engaging a classroom full of young children is no small thing. They are a tough crowd to win over and are not often shy about expressing their disengagement.  Having the ability to tell a story can make a big difference.

This is why interactive storytelling is such an amazingly powerful educational tool. A well-told story provides a context for learning that goes way beyond the mere transmission of factual information. Stories not only teach; they also embody why the information being transmitted is relevant. Interactive storytelling makes education active, creative and fun.

And that is why effective storytelling engages students. Once so engaged, the sky truly is the limit.

– Matthew Giffin