One of my strongest memories from childhood is listening to stories told to me by my favourite aunt, and fellow Montessori guide. I can still recall the details of her stories which were often adventures form the ‘old days’ when she and my dad were growing up, or other stories she would make up on the spot to answer my questions and keep my imagination satisfied. We would often come up with stories together and put on puppet shows and plays. It is only recently, since becoming a Montessori guide myself that I began to understand how powerful and necessary storytelling is for children at the elementary age.
Dr. Montessori recognized this innate interest in the elementary child for listening to and creating stories. She developed much of her curriculum around the power of storytelling to explain concepts and appeal to the strong imagination inherent in children this age. Oral storytelling is one of the oldest of human traditions and is present across all cultures throughout history. It has always been a way of passing knowledge onto successive generations and can make details easier to remember. Many of the lessons in the elementary program begin with a story. The great stories explain the formation of the universe, the development of life on earth, and the progress made by humans. They act as starting points for further investigation by the children. Shorter stories introduce and explain concepts in other areas and help to create interest in learning more about the topic. The elementary child has the characteristic of having a vibrant imagination and is at a stage where he or she is attempting to understand and make sense of the world around them. Stories help to ignite this imagination and to visualize and retain abstract concepts more easily in their minds. They love to hear stories from other cultures that explain past understandings of the world and also stories of humans throughout history that have overcome challenges and made positive impacts on the world. These stories can inspire them to take on their own challenges through the use of their own imaginations. Children of this age also love to retell stories and make up their own versions or explanations for things
Developing the imagination is a critical skill that children of this age need in order to be successful. Dr. Montessori described the imagination has being the greatest tool that humans possess. Unlike other animals, we have no real physical advantages to protect us and allow us to survive. What has allowed us to thrive on Earth is our imagination and ability to come up with new ideas and inventions. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need a future generation who is able to maximize the use of this imagination to improve the state of the world we live in. We need global citizens who have an understanding of and appreciation for the world, a desire to protect and better it, and a strong imagination to come up with new solutions to the problems we are facing. The development of the imagination and an appreciation for the earth must be cultivated in the child. W
Storytelling can be a powerful way to explain concepts to children in a way that will engage their imagination and interest in a topic and inspire them to understand and care for the world they live in more deeply. Here are some ways you might implement some storytelling at home:
– Tell stories from when you were a child. How were things different from today? What problems did you face and how did you overcome them? Encourage grandparents to share stories from when they were children.
– Use old family photos or pictures of interesting people and activities from magazines to inspire stories. Before reading a picture book, have children tell the story in their own words using only the pictures.
– Find stories about famous people that have made a difference in the world and read them together. The library has a section of biographies for children. Think of people that you admire and tell children about their lives in a story like way.
– When children have questions about the way things are, encourage them to come up with their own stories or explanations first. Then check the facts. Read different cultural stories that explain the reasons for things such as the seasons, astronomy, features in plants and animals or other natural phenomenon.
– Play games to create stories together. Take turns adding lines to make up a story while in the car or on a walk together. Pick a topic or a collection of words and give each person (or pair/team) a few minutes to prepare a story to tell to everyone else. Note how different ideas can be created on the same topic with different imaginations.
– Use fables and other stories with morals or lessons as a starting point for discussion about personal challenges and experiences. Ask children if they have ever felt like the characters did. Highlight the positive ways that the characters were able to overcome their challenges. Share your own experiences with similar problems and what you have learned about dealing with them.