By Heather Steinman (November, 2012)
Some of my most vivid memories from my childhood are of stories that someone told me. Not stories in books, but real stories about my family members, friends of the family and even me! Sitting around the table after dinner, on a long car ride or even strolling through the grocery store the stories always warmed my heart. They would start, “Well when I was a lad…” (my grandpa), or , “You used to wake up in your crib and tell us all about the weather!” (my grandma). Sometimes they would be stories about friends of friends, neighbors or co-workers who always said funny things.
Children between birth and six are in a sensitive period for language. By living in the world they pick up on and mimic our language. In the Montessori classroom we give the smallest of children new vocabulary and help them to hear specific sounds in the words we speak. However, we also do something that seems to be missing in our world today. We use rich language with the children, we speak with them clearly, and we model pronunciation and tone in conversation. And we tell true stories that they can relate to and that might stretch their minds just a bit. Here is an example.
Imagine it is November and you are in the primary class downstairs at OakHaven Montessori School. We are beginning to sing our Thanksgiving themed songs and today we are learning the one that goes, “Over the river and through the woods to grandfather’s house we go…” We learn the words and sing it through, and then Miss Heather stops to tell you all a story.
“Now I want to tell you all a little story about my grandmother. She is my mom’s mother.”
At this point someone must blurt out, “You have a mom???” I smile and nod and continue.
“When my grandmother was your age she lived in northern Maine. Who knows where that is?”
Now there will be a 5 or 6 year old who can come up and point out on the map of the United States where Maine is and we look at how far that is from here and talk about that for a minute, then I continue.
“The song we were singing describes going to visit family for Thanksgiving. I am sure a lot of you do this too, right? My grandmother used to tell me about what it was like for her to go visiting with family where she lived when she was little. In Maine, it gets VERY cold in the fall and winter time because it is so far north. There is a lot of snow and it stays on the ground for most of the whole winter season! My grandmother’s family did not have a car so they used to get around in a horse drawn sleigh on occasions such as this, just like in the song!”
Here you can imagine some oooh’s and aahhh’s from the crowd.
“She said that it was so cold outside, and she can remember that they would bundle up in many layers to keep warm. They would also line the bottom of the sleigh with hot bricks that her family had warmed in the fire to keep their feet warm. My grandmother and her brother would hide under heavy blankets for the ride. They would peek their heads out to catch big snowflakes with their tongues and then dive back under the blankets to get warm again. Isn’t that lovely? My grandmother told me this story many times and I thought I would like to share it with you today. Can you imagine going to visit family and friends in a sleigh? Thank you for letting me share that story with you!”
Now I will tell you as adults reading this, this story is 100% true to me. It was told to me by my grandmother every year around the holidays. She would close her eyes when she would talk about catching snowflakes with her brother and her cheeks would flush when talking about being so warm under the blankets. And not only is this story rich with nostalgia but it brings opportunity for conversation in geography, history and science to name a few!
I encourage you to take the time to tell your children stories. Tell them about something you remember from when you were little. Remind them of something they did when they were a baby. Relate to them a story you heard someone else tell. Remember it in detail. Use rich adjectives and exciting facial expressions. Let your cheeks warm with fondness and let them see how much it means to you. In the hustle and bustle of every day, I encourage you to slow down and get back to the basics of life. Before there were books, there were stories told aloud and passed down generation to generation. Let’s make sure that this human tradition does not go by the wayside as we move along in our “information age”. Everything is a story; it just takes someone to tell it.