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.
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. We typically had story time at bed and during circle time, but this was different. While it was intentional and took a bit of planning, it was also more free. I followed their interests more, perhaps guided by what conflicts they had been having during the day or something we saw on a walk.
At this point you might be thinking, “I am BAD at telling stories and making up my own”. 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 immersed in their history and paintings. We truly are a people of stories. We are still griots.
A Few Ways to 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 proceed in whatever way makes you feel most relaxed.
Pick an introduction or an anchor point that you repeat every time you tell a story. This cues the children to think, “oh!, it’s story time”. I begin all my bedtime David stories with:
Once upon a time,
There was a little gnome named 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 a 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. Not every story needs to be a full production, but if you are telling a story about an owl, pull out your owl puppet or figure. This is especially helpful for little boys.
It is normal for children 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 Tell Stories
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, perhaps 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. 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 out. We might 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.
Weaving Storytelling into Other Areas of Your Life
Keeping seasonal books 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 to having them put on their own plays based on your story but it is more simple and self-directed. If I happen to be telling a gnome story, I make sure to pull out a gnome house and playthings and set it up in the playroom. I do the same thing if it’s a farm story with their barn or a valentine’s story. 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 even if 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.
I hope this leaves you with confidence in your ability to tell stories to your children. You can do it any way that best fits in your family. How my family tells stories will 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, that they’ll share with their children, and on and on.
Nicole Justice-Kleemann is a stay at home mother to her three young children as well as a rotating group of animals. After graduating with her Masters degree in Teaching, she has decided to homeschool her children in the Waldorf tradition. Her journey to Waldorf and her family’s daily adventures can be found at her blog. Also her favorite food is pineapple!