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Storytelling in Winter

Updated: Jan 23, 2022

The lost art of oral storytelling and how to introduce it into your child's life.

I started this new term deciding to really dive into the storytelling theme with the kids. I've been interested in oral storytelling and myth for a long time and the importance it needs to have in our modern culture where we've long forgotten the old stories and how to listen and hear them, and also what they are able to teach us. Getting outside and into the forest is nourishing enough in terms of connection to body, self, nature and community but there's something about the quiet, pondering magic that a story creates.

Armed with a drum to invite the stories in and a big storytellers cloak, I chose to start the term with a tale from Borneo called the Half Girl which tells of a young girl, inexplicably born with only half her body, choosing to leave the village in search of answers. Finally coming across the sacred river, she meets another half girl and they have a big fight in the depths of the river, emerging as one whole being. She stumbles her way back to the village to learn that every boy and girl is born as a half boy or girl, and it's only going out into the world and wrestling in the deep sacred river that can make them whole. It's a classic story of initiation, of leaving the village to go and LIVE in the world, and return with stories and knowledge and a greater sense of self. She returns as a storyteller to soothe and reassure the people and in the end, it is told that she is the great tree that stands at the centre of the village, strong and sacred.

Through the story, I introduced the word 'sacred', asking them if they knew what it meant and describing it as something 'special' and 'mysterious'. Younger groups absorbed the story as it was, and the older ones had many many questions about what exactly happened in that deep sacred river, and why she was only a half girl and how did she turn into the great tree of the village? I always tried to direct the questions back to them, because I definitely do NOT have the answers. But no matter how sceptical some of them seemed, the response, in every age group and every session, was astounding.

I've always known the power of stories but the influence the story had over the sessions blew my mind. The younger group traipsed off to find the great tree, putting their ear to the bark to try and hear the Half Girl and her stories or describing why they chose this tree as the sacred tree. With some gentle encouragement, we asked them how we might greet this special tree or how we could honour it. The morning was spent in a much more gentle, grounded energy with some time spent whittling and hollowing out little elder pots and writing secrets on paper which were rolled up inside the pots and then hung on the sacred tree.

One of the older groups, after hearing the story, took off with the drum and choosing the biggest, tallest tree in the park, started a procession round and round the tree, with the whole group marching behind, playing with drum rhythms and taking it in turns to make the sounds and create the intentions. If I didn't softly coax them away to begin the fire-lighting, I think they could have done that all session, so in trance they were. While the fire was going, the group had storytelling in their bones so time was spent telling stories around the warmth of the fire. One young girl silently got up, taking the drum with her and as we all kept warm, I watched her in the distance walking round and round the tree, banging the drum. Toward the end of the session, she returned to us and said that while she was walking around the tree, she looked up in the branches and some sounds came to her, words that she decided were tree language for 'Thank you, old friend'. This led to the whole group, marching around the tree in the dark chanting the made-up words and coming up with more words as they went. Truly not what I had expected to come from the session but that's the beauty of Forest School I suppose, you never know what the kids are going to conjure up.

What storytelling has taught me this week alone is that a well-crafted story, which all the old ones certainly are, lead to a greater absorption and focus which sometimes can feel lacking in a forest school session when so many different energies are competing with one another. Particularly after-school when they just need to run and move and scream. Even if just for a few minutes they are able to sit and listen or commune with nature in a way they might not have without the magic of a story to take them to that place.

Kids are so disconnected to magic and mystery these days, that getting them to acknowledge the aliveness and agency of nature without thinking it's a childish notion or not real, is a huge accomplishment and I truly believe that the way we can do this is through storytelling. Below I've listed a few resources that have really helped me and broadened my mind to the absolute necessity of stories in a child's life. And in turn, as parents and teachers, becoming story carriers really benefits us too.



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