Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Storytelling

I'm not sure if I have the right temperament for homeschooling, even if it were an option for our family. I'm afraid my teaching style would careen wildly between unschooling, Waldorf-inspired, Montessori-inspired, nature-based and Portuguese-immersion, with the occassional dose of authoritarian readin', 'ritin', 'rithmetic thrown in for good measure, so that my kids would grow up not only very confused but also completely illiterate.

When M started school, I figured our evenings, weekends and days off would be homeschool, and he would get the best of both worlds. I think I kind of envisioned this as us walking through the woods, teaching him the names of trees and birds, going to museums and studying the works of art or history, sketching on a hillside, and generally just being a very cultural, genteel family (a bit like becoming an accomplished young lady in a Jane Austin novel). It hasn't exactly worked out that way. Our moments and hours and days at home are split between a mad-cap rush to get everything done we need to get done in a limited time and lazing around doing very little. I suppose this could qualify as unschooling.



In any case, I have been recently inspired to both learn more about Waldorf school philosophy and techniques, and get ideas for ways to implement some of what I learn at home from this free lecture series offered by Waldorf Connection. (Three of the lectures have already taken place, but I think you can still sign up to hear the remainder, or purchase the entire series for a reasonable price).



The first lecture was on storytelling by Susan Perrow. Storytelling is something I've been wanting to learn and incorporate into our lives for a while (if you think a "writer" would be a natural-born storyteller, think again!). In the fall, I learned the story "Abiyoyo" from Pete Seeger's Storytelling Book for my Toastmaster's club ('cause I'm a geek like that) and practiced it with the boys every night for a few weeks. They loved acting out the different roles (Z always played the giant and M liked being the people whose saw, glass of water or chair were whisked away with the magic wand). We then did "Abiyoyo Returns" somewhat less thoroughly, but they didn't want to hear any more stories from the book that weren't about giants, and then the holidays set in and we became distracted by other things.



For our New Years Eve movie (which got moved to another day since we actually went to a party!) I got Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, since it is one of the few movies they haven't already seen at daycare, and even though I hate Disney, it is a classic. After we watched it, we made some little dwarfs (M whittled, E and Z painted--under strict orders as to color) and we all made faces). Then I read them "Little Snow White" from Grimm's.




















I have mixed feelings about fairy tales. I received the Pantheon edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales for eight grade graduation from our bookmobile librarian, and I can remember many long hours sequestered in my cold basement room reading it. I think I actually read all of the fairy tales in the book (there must be hundreds) and read over and over my favorites. Yet, I am super-bothered mostly by the gender bias contained in most of the stories--women are either pure young virgins or wicked witches. The stories were collected by the Brothers Grimm, I believe, either during or not long after the genocide of women through the witch hunts of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. This cultural madness must have seeped into the stories that are supposed to be so ancient. Yet the language of the stories is so beautiful (whenever I read the introduction to my edition of the book I am convinced of the goodness of that olden time when the "rhythm of the night" took over, when the storyteller plied his or her skill to keep the wheels spinning, or to fill the dark hours before bedtime when there were not electric lights or TVs and no one could read), and do I want my children to be the first generation to not know "Hansel and Gretel" and "Cinderella" and "Jack and the Beanstalk" by heart?

So one night after hearing Susan Perrow's storytelling lecture, lying in bed between E and Z, with M on the bunk above, I decided to give it a try. I told "Snow White," though employing the phrase my sister and I used to use when we would pretend the baby gate at the top of our grandparents' stairs was the Magic Mirror, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" "Lips blood red, hair like night, skin like snow, her name, Snow White!"

Of course any departure from either Grimm or Disney was commented upon, "It's supposed to be a looking glass, Mom," and "You forgot the strings that tie her clothes and the comb," (I had decided to shorten it to just the apple) said M. E and Z wanted to know why she didn't fall off the cliff. M, of course, remembered the burning hot iron shoes. Tough audience.

I then read this article about storytelling, and saw the wisdom in sticking exactly with Grimm (to quiet the peanut gallery). So I set about trying to memorize "The Frog King or Iron Henry," and asked the boys to please not interrupt when I told it to them Sunday night. M was very perturbed with the ending (which, admittedly I did not learn as well as the beginning, although I do have to agree it is very weird). "When do they get married? Why don't they live happily ever after?"

Last night the asked me to tell a story but they all protested hearing "The Frog King" again (because the article said tell a story at least three times, and because I'd gone to so much trouble learning it), , but I promised the next story would be about a wolf, but they had to listen to this one for a week first. M interrupted to point out something I'd left out from the first telling (though I'm sure I said it...he wasn't paying attention) and again after it was done said, "That's just a dead ending!"

Let's home "The Three Little Kids and the Wolf" is more exciting! The amazing part was, that they all asked for the story and listened quietly throughout. Now by telling it in the dark we miss the "eye contact" bit the Waldorf article mentions, but I guess I don't really care. By telling it in the dark I'm also ensured of a captive audience of three (if the light was on, M would be reading Tin Tin). I am finding through these lectures and some articles I've read that Waldorf philosophy is quite rigid (perhaps even more rigid than public school!), and dogmatic (I don't know why storytelling must be considered "better" than reading a book--can't they both be wonderful?), but the nice thing about having an evening and weekend homeschool, is that we can pick and choose the bits we like and throw out the dogma. Sometimes we can even just hang around in our jammies playing (the horrors!) Lego's.

2 comments:

Lone Star Ma said...

You are such a nice Mommy. I much prefer to just read.

Amy Whitley said...

I'm inspired.

I love the idea of storytelling, but often come to the party unprepared, scrambling in my head for the next bit (made up, of course) while my kids wait in their beds with baited breath.

And I had the same fairy tale vision of homeschooling in the off-school hours, but then a friend of mine who homeschools told me to cut myself a break, because one major advantage of homeschooling is that the kids are not in school for 6-7 hours per day, giving you time to teach. If they're in school as well, how can we expect to carve out more hours? In other words, everyone has that scramble to get stuff done; it's unavoidable. What matters is that you've taken the time to pursue a project like fairy tales, and you've made it interactive with the project and the storytelling and the different mediums of learning. Like I said, I'm inspired.

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