Circle Times

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Transformative Storytelling...and Story Crafting! A Workshop with David Sewell McCann

I try to couch most of our lessons, at home and in class, in a good story.  At first I was intimidated by trying to memorize stories.  It has always been hard for me to memorize - poems, prose, piano pieces - memorization is hard for me!  But I notice how much more intimately a story connects with the boys when I can tell it, instead of reading it - how it comes alive and how their eyes sparkle at the telling of it - and how they remember it and refer back to it weeks and months later.   I believe in the need for kids to hear stories with no pictures...so they are building those strong muscles in their minds, creating their own mental images.  More and more studies I read are stressing the importance of laying this strong foundation with kids before beginning to teach them the "decoding" part of reading.  Still, it is hard for many of us to take that leap of faith away from the picture book - we almost feel naked, telling a story with nothing in our hands!

What has helped me lately is to create a simple outline of a new story on paper, and to hightlight any key phrases that I want to keep as they are.  Going over this once or twice usually plants the story in my mind firmly enough that I can then be freed up to have some fun telling it to the children, adding any details as they come to me (I feel, in many ways, I'm still learning to create those pictures in my mind, too!)

Until a few weeks ago, that was my relationship with stories.  I liked learning good ones written by other people.  I never dreamed of creating my own.

But then our community was blessed by a rare treat - one I never imagined I could host in my own town!  David and Lisabeth Sewell McCann (creators of Sparkle Stories) were visiting and David offered this incredible storytelling workshop for the parents in our town.  Our focus for the morning was How to craft your own fairy tale.  The process was so enlightening to me and has given me courage to begin telling our boys my own tales.  So I wanted to share some of my notes from the morning...maybe you will find some good stories hiding somewhere inside you, too!

David started with a powerful story he had created for his son when he had a difficulty in school.  He told it so vividly, I saw it like a movie in my mind, and I noticed how P's active little body just melted into the pew when David started speaking.  Everyone, really, was riveted by it - several of the mamas later told me how moving it was for them, too.  When the kids went out for their play and we started our parent workshop with him, he told us about the transformation that had happened, not only in his own son, but in the entire class the next day after he told his son this story - how his son's new-found bravery helped his entire class to be brave in the face of difficulty.  When the seed of a story is planted, it can take root and grow far beyond what we imagine!   

We learned in the workshop a creative process to use when creating a story.  It's simple to remember with 4 A's:   



  • Attention (This is presence and full attention on the moment - and on the reason you want to tell a story...on what you hope your child will gain from it.)  David shared an idea here about focusing in one one picture, one smell, one sound around you....and giving that image or smell or sound your full attention.  This can make a great launching point for a story.  After he lead us through this exercise, I felt that the image itself was not so important as the centering and presence that we gained from focusing in on it...so we were then in a good, grounded and creative place for going forward.
  • Affection (For the listener and what you want for them.  It is your love that carries the story forward.)
  • Approach (This is simply the boldness to begin, to say "Once upon a time"....not knowing where the story might lead.  David pointed out that children recognize the bravery this takes on your part, and respect it.)
  • Allowance (This is the ability to set judgment aside...to let the story unfold as it is...to realize the story is already complete, and only needs to be told.  He says it is important to save your criticisms for later, because the creative process will end the moment you start to judge your story as you tell it.)

I love this big idea he shared (one common among the native people of Australia), that the sky above us is swirling with all the stories of the world, complete, and ready to be told or lived.  And among these are stories of great transformation.  All it takes is an individual with enough boldness and presence of mind to reach up and grab one of these great stories - to tell it, to live it, and to begin to unleash the power of that story on the world.

When I used this creative process at home, I realized that I wanted a story to encourage my boys to take care of those smaller than them - to protect those weaker than them - and to protect each other (yes, we have a little sibling rivalry in our house!)  I'm now 5 or 6 tellings into a Knight Story that we are really enjoying.  It's been a good experience for me and for the boys, and I'm thankful to have had this workshop to give me the courage to try it.  I'll try to write a bit on it soon.

What stories are you telling these days? 
What do you love about them?  What are the biggest obstacles for you to jump into an original story?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.






1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your notes. My daughter has started asking me to tell her stories, at first I started with ones I knew. But now I'm trying to reach and be creative. We tried taking turns telling the story. That added a lot to the telling, we did it like passing a ball, I would tell a piece and then she would tell the next piece. It really was fun. I have also been finding that it's easier to tell a story when I have a moral for that story. Goodluck with everything.

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