Storytelling 101

Storyteller 6“Thought of in terms of the painter, the voice is the pigment which gives color to the story-teller’s pictures. He paints in spoken words, and his canvases are the minds of his listeners. So the story-teller needs the painter’s love of beauty, the writer’s command of words, the actor’s sense of the dramatic, the orator’s adaptability to his audience, the psychologist’s knowledge of the mind, the philosopher’s interpretation of the meaning and purpose of life.”1

At the heart of a Waldorf Education is the art of storytelling. Not surprising, as man is made in the image of God and God is the Word, who spoke the universe into existence. Spoken words have power.

God designed his message to be handed down from generation to generation through storytelling.

“We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.

He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,”

Ps 78: 4 – 6

Jesus taught through parables, simple stories about familiar things which taught eternal truths. Shouldn’t we do likewise?

storytelling 1Storytelling is beneficial. WHY?

  1. Brings Joy
  2. Creates of a love of art and beauty

“The imagination of the pupil can be led by means of the classical works of creative imagination to the formation of a good taste both as regards ethical merit and beauty of form.” 1

  1. Satisfies a child’s sense of wonder and awe

“Little children are in this same wonder-stage. They believe that the world about throbs with life and is peopled with all manner of beautiful, powerful folk.” 2

  1. Forms a powerful bond between the teller and the listener

“Beyond this advantage, is the added charm of the personal element in story-telling. When you make a story your own and tell it, the listener gets the story, plus your appreciation of it…The longing for the personal in experience is a very human longing. And this instinct or longing is especially strong in children. It finds expression in their delight in tales which take their personal savour merely from the fact that they flow from the lips in spontaneous, homely phrases, with an appreciative gusto which suggests participation.”3

  1. Fundamental for Learning2 & 4
    1. Develops accurate observation
    2. Strengthens emotion
    3. Trains the memory
    4. Exercises reason
    5. Concept of past, present, and future is taught
    6. Horizons are broadened
    7. Understanding of and empathy towards other races and cultures is increased (Cultural literacy)
    8. Auditory processing skills are developed
    9. Increases listening practiced
    10. Decision-making skills are discerned are built into stories
    11. Builds confidence in public speaking
    12. Writing skills are strengthened
    13. Vocabulary is “caught”
    14. Difficult subject matter is introduced (math, science, history)
    15. Increases phonetical awareness
  1. Cultivates Imagination
    1. Creating a mental image of spoken story is vital to creative thought
  1. Uses Both Sides of the brain5
    1. Left Side – language, storyline, sequence of events, cause and effect
    2. Right Side – symbolic, intuitive, imaginative truths
  1. Develops Character

storytelling 2So now we’ve established WHY to tell stories, WHAT should we tell?

“A true classic is one which enriches the human mind, has increased its treasure and causes it to advance a step which has discovered some moral and unequivocal truth or revealed some eternal passion in that heat where all seemed known and discoved; which is an expression of thought, observation, or invention, in no matter what form, only provided it be broad and great, refined and sensible, sane and beautiful in itself; which speaks in its own peculiar style which is found to be also that of the whole world, a style new and old, easily contemporary with all time.” 6

  1. LOVE the story. Only tell stories you personally love to tell.
  2. Interesting to children (familiar, adventure, humor, poetic justice, animals, relationships, rhythm and repetition, mythical creatures, sense of wonder)
  3. Stories that shape Character (suggests right ideals, morals and ethics, characters make wise and noble choices)
  4. Thus … Fairytales

“First, perhaps, in their supreme power of presenting truth through the guise of images. Elemental truths of moral law and general types of human experience are presented in the fairy tale, in the poetry of their images, and although the child is aware only of the image at the time, the truth enters with it and becomes a part of his individual experience, to be recognized in its relations at a later stage. Every truth and type so given broadens and deepens the capacity of the child’s inner life, and adds an element to the store from which he draws his moral inferences.”3

Characters two dimensional – good or bad

Character traits are brought to fruition – good is rewarded and evil punished

5. Tell Age Appropriate Stories7

three little pigsa) 3 & up

Simple repetition (3 little Pigs)13

Accumulative tales (The House that Jack Built)13

Animal tales (Chicken Licken)13

Realistic tales (Three Sillies)

Humorous tales (Goldie Locks)

b) 4s & 5s

slightly more complex

mood is usually cheerful and without too much sorrow or struggle

Cinderellac) 5s & 6s

Traditional Fairytales (Cinderella)

Main character sets out in world and must perform task

Characters facing obstacles, but not too heavy on the soul

d) 7 & up

Tales with harder stuggles


True Stories of heroes

Kay 3HOW to tell a tale:3

  1. LOVE the story.
    1. Feel the story yourself. You must be emotionally invested in the story.
  2. Know the story.
    1. Read, read, read. At least three times – possibly different versions.
    2. Do not memorize.
    3. Analize the story for basic plot line – strip it bare of style and description
    4. Talk it out to yourself – either out-loud or audibly
  3. Gain the Child’s attention
    1. Gain eye contact
    2. Be physically close
    3. Don’t break the mood to correct squirminess – use story to draw them back
    4. Don’t be afraid of props or movement or singing – whatever keeps attention
  4. Tell it simply 
    1. Don’t talk down or use baby voice
    2. Be natural
    3. Be yourself
  5. Tell it directly
    1. Stick to chronological plot line
    2. Don’t moralize or explain – will destroy interest
  6. Tell it Dramatically
    1. Let go and throw yourself completely into the story
    2. Use voice dynamics
    3. Use facial expressions
    4. Remember the students must see what you say – in their heads
  7. Tell is joyously
    1. Enjoy the story as you tell it!
    2. Be enthusiastic
    3. Share your love of the story with the child

Storyteller 7

I am new to the art of storytelling. I’ve written and performed speeches, even interpretations of literature. I’ve read out-loud for years. I was even a theater major in college. But for some reason storytelling makes me slightly uncomfortable. Then I remind myself it is an art form. And like any painter – you don’t create Picasso pieces the first time you pick up the brush. I am growing in my ability. I enjoy the twinkle in Rose’s eyes when I tell a story, and love hearing her say, “Again, Mommy, again.”

I like the idea that storytelling has been around for thousands of years and I am not allowing this beautiful art to die.

“It is a very old, a very beautiful art. Merely to think of it carries one’s imaginary vision to scenes of glorious and touching antiquity. The tellers of the stories of which Homer’s Iliad was compounded; the transmitters of the legend and history which make up the Gesta Romanorum; the travelling raconteurs whose brief heroic tales are woven into our own national epic; the grannies of age-old tradition whose stories are parts of Celtic folk-lore, of Germanic myth, of Asiatic wonder-tales,—these are but younger brothers and sisters to the generations of story-tellers whose inventions are but vaguely outlined in resultant forms of ancient literatures, and the names of whose tribes are no longer even guessed. There was a time when story-telling was the chiefest of the arts of entertainment; kings and warriors could ask for nothing better; serfs and children were satisfied with nothing less. In all times there have been occasional revivals of this pastime, and in no time has the art died out in the simple human realms of which mothers are queens. But perhaps never, since the really old days, has story-telling so nearly reached a recognized level of dignity as a legitimate and general art of entertainment as now.”3

I’ll keep practicing the art. Join me, then post and tell me how it goes.

1 Esenwein & Stockard, Children’s Stories and How to Tell Them

2 Kready, A Study of Fairy Tales

3Bryant, How to Tell Stories to Children and Some Stories to Tell

4Storytelling in Education? YES! The Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance (YES!) A Special Interest Group of the National Storytelling Network A Statement Concerning the Importance of Storytelling in Education August 1, 2006

5Gere, “By Word of Mouth: Storytelling Tools for the Classroom, Pacific Resources for Education and Learning”

6 Sainte-Beuve, “What Is a Classic?” Literary and Philosophical Essays. The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.

7 Almon . Choosing Fairy Tales for Different Ages



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