Thursday, October 29, 2015

Stories in the Woods

Anyone who knows me knows I worship Vivian Paley. I have asked children to tell me their stories for over 25 years, and we have acted them out in the classroom.

This school year I have a new job teaching young children half days where the playground includes a wooded area that provides children with the opportunity to do what children love to do in the woods. Running through, staying still, gathering natural items in their hands and pretending these items are supplies for soup or ice cream, they are free to do what I loved to do as a child. They are free to be children. So how does this relate to stories?

I have a new friend I will call Opal. Inexplicably, Opal has adopted me and made me a member of her group of friends who gather in the woods and tell stories. Much of the time the stories are more like newspaper headlines such as, "Do you know what wonderful thing I am going to do? I am going to Disney on Ice!". Today Opal found me on the playground and asked me to come into the woods and tell her and her friend, Annie, "scary Halloween stories". So I went. We sat in our usual place, a crossroads of tree roots, covered with fallen leaves. Here I began recounting the story, The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything. Opal and Annie didn't know the story, so they were trying to "help" me by including monsters and ghosts, then, when they understood the nature of the benign evil in the story, underwear that walked on its own. I offered that maybe they would like to tell a story of their own. "I can't tell stories", Opal wailed. "We don't do that in my class". So I started a story about one of the many children who had come over to us to see what the fuss was. Soon each child was adding part of the story, and even more interestingly, an item from the woods. Children came and gently laid bark, berries, sticks, and leaves in my open palm as if conferring  a sacrament. With each item we named the next character of the story.

I couldn't write it down, and with so many children coming and going with pieces of nature in their palms I don't think I'll ever remember what we said. But we left the items in the "story circle" for another time. The next time I'll come with paper and pen.

Story offerings