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Teaching & Storytelling

“Everyone has imagination: it is something great which reflects the light and asks for expansion.”

Maria Montessori

Planning time. Any teacher likely will say that she spends a lot of time planning, planning individual lessons as well as group lessons. Quite often in the Montessori Primary and Kindergarten class, planning any lesson or activity also revolves around the seasons and corresponding holidays. And still, a teacher will find herself with time with the children but no specific activity planned.

I recently found myself in this predicament during our closing Circle Time. So, I dug in my tool box. (Yes, I remembered!) Storytelling. I could tell a story. Of course, as soon as I say that I am going to tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood, I hear many of the children say, “I know that story!” Then I share that they haven’t heard MY version yet.

Over the years, I have learned that the big bad wolf can be quite frightening, yet he is a crucial character in the story, so I make him a bit silly. Also, I have felt the need to represent families differently: Little Red has two moms. I have learned to keep it current: Little Red also carries a cell phone to call home once she arrives at Grandma’s house with her basket full of comfort foods and treats. Luckily, Little Red is also good friends with wolf scientists whom she is able to call for help to “rehabilitate and release” the wolf back into the wild.

The children love this story. They ask for it to be re-told quite often. And while it is a fairy tale, I have lined it with learning, openings for conversation, and hopefully inspiration for their imaginations. What does a family look like? Do all families look the same? What do different looking families have in common? Can a cell phone be a helpful tool? How do we help one another feel better? Isn’t it exciting that there are wolf scientists in the world? Do you ever wonder what other scientists there are?

Mortimer & George

I also tell my version of the Three Little Pigs and sometimes just for fun – without ever having read the book – I tell the story of “Mortimer” by Robert Munsch. The children not only love hearing this story but also enjoy acting it out.

I have discovered through storytelling that I can engage the children in brainstorming solutions to various situations or dynamics that are observed in the classroom without naming the individuals involved. I often talk of George who lives with his grandfather and goes to a school like Mountain Sun.

George’s grandfather and I regularly talk on the phone about different things that happen at George’s school. My stories are grounded in concepts that the children have experience with and engage their imaginations while also teaching about kindness, friendship, inclusion, helpfulness, sympathy, and empathy to name a few.

Fairy Tales

As a teacher in a Montessori classroom, I have been directly and indirectly taught that fairy tales and imaginary play aren’t appropriate. Thankfully, I am learning through a professional development webinar provided by the Center for Guided Montessori Studies that storytelling can be such a great way to teach! I am reading The 1946 London Lectures (The Montessori Series Volume 17) where for the first time in my education (Yes, I am an on-going learner too!), I hear Maria Montessori speaking about imagination.

A line that resonated with me the most is, “Everyone has imagination: it is something great which reflects the light and asks for expansion.” (p.185). She also says that “if we employ the same method used by fairy tales, we can communicate with the mind of the child. So, instead of giving just any teaching, we must prepare short stories along these lines. They must include a few, clearly drawn characters with unusual qualities. Their environment must be limited, yet full of attractive and new things, because a child’s interest is drawn to the fantastic, the unusual.” (p. 184). 

Finding these lectures has assured me that storytelling has value in the Montessori classroom. While I will continue to create and tell stories that teach important lessons and concepts, I will also continue to tell stories “just for fun.”

Helpful Links

If you are interested in reading more about the value of and how to use storytelling, here are a few links:

4 Tips for Using Stories in the Early Grades ~ Edutopia

7 Ways to Enhance Your Storytelling Skills ~ Trillium Montessori

What Kids Learn From Hearing Family Stories ~ The Atlantic

Written by Tina Leonard