Storytelling is a gift that every child should be given. The creation of an imaginary land, adventerous characters, and a freedom of exploration. Today we are joined by David and Lisabeth Sewell McCann, creators of the amazing Sparkle Stories, to discuss the art of storytelling, and just what it takes to craft a story.
What makes something a story?
In life, things happen. An egg drops from a nest and is caught by a gathering of moss. A hummingbird flies alongside a child on her new bicycle. A baker writes the wrong name on a cake. Then the story follows. Someone tells the story and it grows and ages and matures. Once told, the story is set free to find other tellers to other communities.
How do you create the characters in your stories, and what keeps your ideas for their adventures fresh?
All the characters in the Junkyard Tales and So Many Fairies story series are born out of the the intuitive stories I tell my children every night. When I tell them stories, I begin with an image – say, an overgrown lilac in front of an abandoned church. I start the story with an image and then pay attention to what calls me moment by moment. The characters simply “arrive” and I follow them along. I find the affection for the character and then let that affection guide my description. Then I let go. In every moment, I am paying attention to the story, finding affection for the character and then letting the story be told without getting in the way.
The Martin and Sylvia stories are told the same way, however, the characters resemble our own life at home. They were created long ago with the intention of helping my boys meet the challenges and events of our life. When we knew we were going to move house, Martin and Sylvia moved. When our dog was going to die, Martin and Sylvia’s dog died. It helped them with the big transitions as well as normal everyday things like bossy older brothers and picky eaters.
For families who want to bring the art of storytelling to their children, how would you encourage them to begin?
The hardest part of telling stories is starting. And yet all it takes is saying “Once upon a time…” and then you’re off. The rest usually tells itself, but that first step can create a lot of anxiety in an adult. They doubt their abilities and tell themselves they have no skill or experience – and yet, storytelling is a natural gift. We all have it. What stops us from telling stories is the fear that we will do a ‘bad’ job. The truth is your children are a lot more forgiving than you think. I have told a lot of clunkers only to have both children sigh with satisfaction and and say “That was a great story – thank you Daddy.” They hear and appreciate the effort. And they will thank you.
What do you see as the greatest benefit for children learning to tell their own stories, and how do you encourage them to do so?
When we tell stories, we step out of our own lives and enter the deeper world of metephor and archetype. We ‘spin a yarn’ not knowing that we are actually tapping into ancient wisdom and guidance. When a child tells a story, they often tell a story about themselves and those around them. And when they finish, they have inevitably learned something about themselves and the world.
What do you believe is the connection between imagination and storytelling?
Storytelling is the weaving of images. It is like a waking dream. When we hear stories, many of us can surrender and actually go into a dream-like trance. When I tell stories to children, their eyes gloss over and their jaws slacken and their consciousness leaves the room. They are fully in their imagination, ‘watching’ the story as it is told. The best part is when I can join them, and we all trip through our collective imagination together.
What is the role of storytelling in a child’s education, and what advice would you give to parents who use this method in educating their children? (For instance, using storytelling to explain the American Revolution.)
As far as I am concerned storytelling is the only effective way to teach. I have taught elementary school children for years and have managed to deliver every part of the curriculum – even long division – with a story. And stories can be a sentence long. It is the image that is important because children make sense of the world with the images they generate within. The teacher tells a story and the child creates the images. Those images remain with the child and can be recalled years later. And history is simply stories that we think best describe what happened. That is why history is so alive and is always changing. George Washington has biographies coming out every year because his story keeps developing.
How do you encourage children to develop their own character, a person who they can relate to and may use to express their lives?
Pedagogical storytelling is a skill every parent and educator should build. It comes in handy every day and offers a direct line to a child’s emotional life. If they are experiencing anxiety around an impending event, or they have a sick family member or a fear of dogs, you can tell stories to help them find peace, resolution or simply know that you are seeing them and love them. You can create a story about a child that is similar to them in many ways but different enough to keep it separate. Then you can tell them a story about this character every night. In time, your child will begin to suggest ideas – things the character might be ‘dealing with’. Then the storyline offers healing for both of you.
As storytellers, what is the greatest gift you see come from your stories?
The stories are not ours. They come from the present moment with fairies whispering in our ears. When it is told and then written and then recorded, it is never clear how the story came to be or who it might be for. But inevitably we will get an email or note from someone in Maine, or Calgary or Sidney saying that it was just what their child needed in that moment. It is a gift to be a part of that eternal exchange.
David and Lisabeth will be bringing a story to life each season here at Rhythm of The Home, and their summer story, Catching Crayfish, can be heard here.
David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade — the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through art, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf class teacher and parent, he has developed a method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through this website. Lisabeth Sewell McCann loves to bring words to life. A playwright and director, she has worked with people of all ages on and off the stage. Lisabeth and David live in Charlotte, Vermont with their two sons. Together they have created Sparkle Stories.