Once in the wintertime, when the snow was deep, crisp and white upon the ground, a poor boy was sent out into the forest to fetch wood on a sled. After he had gathered and loaded the wood, his feet and hands were frozen through. He decided to make a fire and warm himself a little before pulling the heavy sled home. He scraped the snow away, and while he was clearing the ground, he found a small golden key. “Where there is a key, there must be a lock” he though. He dug in the frozen ground and found a little iron chest. "If only the key fits, there must be things of great value in such a chest." He looked but could find no keyhole. He turned it and turned it until finally he found the keyhole, it was so small that it could scarcely be seen. He tried the key, it fitted. Then he turned it once and click….
(The Golden Key-the Grimms Bothers)
That’s where the story ends. We like to ask our audience, “What do you think is in the chest?” Some say treasure, others suggest gold. One little boy even said puppies! When we open our iron chest, we find… All those things and more, we find imagination! When my husband Ulf and I tell stories, it’s just the children, ourselves and the story, and in that intimate space, the lid of that chest flies open- and we are all co-creators and explorers of infinite imaginative story worlds.
Oral Storytelling is the Art of Imagination: As storytellers, we invite the children on a journey, and the children are not passive consumers, but fellow travellers. Storytellers communicate their imagination, the images they see and feel inside to others so they can see and feel them too.
Storytellers have a magic chest of tools to communicate stories to the children, as well as our imagination, we use words, vocal intonation, sound effects, facial expressions, gestures, body language and movement, rhyme, rhythm and repetition. Children with poor language skills or reading difficulties can still enjoy, participate and understand a story through oral storytelling, as all aspects of storytelling convey the meaning in a congruent, engaging and playful way. Oral storytelling is an enhanced sensory experience of literature for all children.
Oral Storytelling scaffolds children's language and literacy skills by providing a powerful pedagogical model that is imaginative, intimate, inclusive, expressive, creative, responsive and playful.
Regular exposure to oral storytelling has proven to:
• increase vocabulary and the use of more complex sentence structures.
• improve remembrance and comprehension skills
• Increase attention and listening spans
• encourage expressive language development
• develop children’s sense of story structure and predictive skills
• enhance language understanding with congruent vocal intonation, gestures, body movement & facial expressions
• expose children to different narrative forms
• develop children’s imaginations through active listening
• encourage and motivate reading and writing
• support children’s ability to express their own stories
• support children’s sense of belonging by valuing and incorporating their contributions to story making
Active Imaginations: Studies have shown that children who listened to storytelling had better comprehension than those children who were read to. This is because when children are read stories and shown pictures, they can be passive consumers, however, when listening to a storyteller they become active as they must exercise their imaginations to create inner pictures that the storyteller communicates through their words and para-linguistic cues. Children’s remembrance of the stories was enhanced too. We’ve experienced firsthand many young children able to remember folktales almost word for word after only one or two storytellings.
Heart to Heart: Another reason for the better comprehension and remembrance is the social context, that is the personal and intimate connection created between the teller and the listener. Oral storytelling provides an experience which is immediate and personal. Free from the text, the storyteller meets the listener eye to eye, mind to mind, heart to heart and imagination to imagination. When we tell stories, we are free to respond to the needs of the listeners, we can slow the story down and expand it in places where the audience interest is great, we can liven it up or calm it down and we can add participation.
Eager Explorers: We invite, encourage and support the children to participate in and contribute to the storytelling, the child becomes a co-creator and co-imaginator of their storytelling experience. In this imaginative space, the children’s contribution is valued and incorporated, there are no wrong suggestions just wonderfully wild story tangents shooting off into new territories. As their contributions are encouraged, valued and incorporated in the imaginative safe story space, the children’s sense of belonging is enhanced. The child becomes a keen explorer, eager to discover and express their own stories.
At our regular storytelling gigs, we have enthusiastic young storytellers jumping up and down to take over the show and tell their stories. We believe their enthusiastic response is testament to the powerful model, oral storytelling and the art of imagination provides for children’s language and literacy development.
All that in one small chest; Imagine That!
"imagine That" was part of a presentation I gave at The Gold Coast Libraries "Early Childhood Literacy and Language Forum" September 2019
Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there was a Kingdom hidden deep within a lush valley where a fire breathing dragon turned the very rock to molten steel. It was here, at the centre of the dragon's lair, that the clans would gather each year at the changing of the season when the leaves streamed red and gold from the trees, and the breeze scattered their richness across the land.
This magical valley was called The Kingdom of Ironfest.
That was the setting for a magical weekend of storytelling with fellow storytellers, Jill Webster and Kiran Shah. The four of us were representing the Australian Storytelling Guild, Nsw, at Ironfest's inaugural Kids Kingdom and the festival's theme this year Once Upon A time was the perfect place for storytelling. And of course, the Guild of Storytellers fitted in perfectly with the other guilds present such as the blacksmiths.
Kids Kingdom was wisely situated well away from the cannon fire and artillery but it did mean that families had to run the gauntlet of all the other activities and sights before finding the Kids Kingdom Tent and storytelling. Saturday morning was a little quiet with small but appreciative audiences. On Sunday morning, Jill donned her incredible magical forest goddess stilt walking costume and roamed the festival ushering families our way. So while Jill was on her stilts, Kiran, Ulf and I were kept on our toes as we had a steady stream of families pouring through the tent.
I always love a festival and especially one that encourages dressing up, not that I need encouragement, indeed and excuse to dress up is my motto. And the costumes at Iron Fest are fantastical!!! Inside the Iron Fest pavilion there was a Stargate and from this time traveling portal streamed Steam punks, Knights, Roman Legionaries, Spartans, Celts, Stormtroopers, Soldiers, Marines, Light Horse Cavalry, aliens, fairies, witches, mermaids, darleks and dragons. The whole festival was an absolute feast for photographers and pure magic for kids aged 2 to 102. But I have to say as much as I love to dress us, Jill Webster takes dressing up to a whole new level, literally!
Welcome to Chennai
What a spectacular welcome to the Under the Aalamaram Storytelling Festival! Our International team of storytellers was met with trumpets and drums and beautifully dressed children in their traditional clothes. Flower lays were draped around our necks and our foreheads daubed with red vermillion as we were ushered into the school like visiting royalty.
The Under the Aalamaram Storytelling Festival was founded by Kathai Kalatta in 2014 to introduce children and adults, teachers and parents, in and around Chennai, to the benefits of oral storytelling. They invite storytellers from all over the world to share their unique cultures, their values, ideas and storytelling techniques with the people of Tamil Nadu.
World Renown Storytellers
It was a such an honour to be invited to tell stories along side some of the best storytellers in the business: Dianne Ferlatte- US, Jackie Kerin- Australia, Roger Jenkins- Singapore, Craig Jenkins- UK, Mochamad Arivo Faridh Zidni- Indonesia, Giorgiana Elena Popan- Romania and of course the great team of Indian Storytellers headed by festival organiser, Jeeva Raghunath with Vikram Sridhar, Ambujavalli Nagarajan & Debjani Bhadjuri.
It wasn’t a festival for the faint hearted as we storytellers were driven all over Chennai, through the incredibly hot, crowded city streets to different schools over 10 days. Many of the schools themselves seemed like mini cities as they catered for up to 5000 pupils. We also flew inland to Coimbatore, surrounded by the Western Ghats, the city pace there seemed a little slower. Some of the Coimbatore school were nestled into the lush green foothills of the Ghats, one school had been built on a well worn elephant track through the mountains… and yes, they did find the odd elephant wandering in the school ground.
On the Hop
Storytelling at the schools kept us all on our toes, despite the organisers best laid plans, we were never entirely sure what age group our audience were going to be. One day we were confronted with preschoolers who spoke no English- or I should say; the poor preschoolers were confronted with a crew of International storytellers with limited Tamil; just as well I had my bottomless bag of Australian animal puppets with me- soon we were all hopping and singing a kangaroo song.
The children from 1st grade up seemed to have a great understanding of English, even with the International tellers’ different accents. All the children, including the teenagers, joyfully joined in with participatory stories- so if you are ever telling overseas, make sure you pack plenty of participation stories- they totally won the attention and the hearts of all our audiences (and perhaps pack a kangaroo or two just in case)
Not only did I thoroughly enjoy my experience of telling stories in the schools but it was a fantastic opportunity to observe the many differed storytelling styles of the other tellers and learn more about my craft. Besides storytelling we also conducted workshops with the teachers, which again was a great opportunity to learn from others.
The festival held two main highlights for me, the first one was storytelling with the lovely Indian Storyteller Ambujavalli Nagarajan at a new International school in Coimbatore. Ambuja and I shared the storytelling sessions, and we had great fun singing a song together.
And the other highlight was at the International Storytelling Showcase at the Chennai Conservatory of Music. It was a beautiful theatre which held an intergenerational audience of 220. The evening flowed effortlessly. I had a last minute change of story and decided that Little Fairy Fifi, an Australian rainforest fairy wanted to her story to be told. Though we had not planned it… every story told seemed to build on the one before it, there was something palpable in the air, and I felt myself fall in love with each and every story, and with each and every teller. Sitting together after the performance, we all sensed that something truly magical had happened. (I'm not saying the magic was all fairy fifi's doing but she did have the 200 strong audience all waving their fancy fairy wands and flapping their wings)
Under the Aalamaram was a fabulous adventure, challenging with the heat, humidity and noise of an Indian city, but so rewarding with the enthusiastic participation of the children and teachers and with the new friendships forged. I think that India is much like a fairytale forest… once you enter, you can never be the same again.
An Interview with Sandra from "Less Stuff , More Meaning" Wedding Guide.
It’s an absolute privilege welcoming Lindy and Ulf, Heart to Heart Storytelling, to our community of eco-ethical vendors. Theirs is a unique talent, enriched by their wisdom, environmental activism and quite simply, heart. I won’t go on, as Lindy and Ulf have explained the meaning of storytelling as part of your wedding experience, better than I ever could.
Storytelling celebrants, sounds intriguing…how did that come about?
Ulf and I were storytellers first, we had both been telling stories separately and together for about a decade and when my daughter and her partner asked us to marry them, it seemed a natural progression and another meaningful way to share our storytelling skills. So, while I (Lindy) am the legal celebrant, Ulf works with me to create & perform the ceremonies.
So why tell stories?
Aside from doing what we love and loving what we do, storytelling brings meaning & connection. In our fast-paced technical world, information is googled then forgotten, relationships may be ‘virtual’ rather than human, and we are bombarded with sounds, images and consumerism. Even our important life events such as weddings & funerals are quick, cookie cutter affairs, often with more thought for the catering & decorations, than the ceremonies. Yet people are searching for meaning in their lives and there is an innate hunger for connection and the warmth of community.
And ever since there have been words, there has been storytelling, storytelling is our oldest art form. Stories just makes sense to humans, we live stories, we share stories and we understand stories. In storytelling we find the commonalities of our humanity rather than differences. Storytelling provides the nourishment that our souls long for. Stories told eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart, gift us the sense of sacredness, the feeling of belonging and recreation of community connectiveness.
We have seen audiences deeply touched by our stories. One woman thanked Ulf for his honest, heartbreaking story of his first wife’s death. She said his story had open her eyes to the beauty that lies within the most difficult of times. A young gay man, with tears in his eyes said the creation myth we shared during a wedding ceremony made him feel truly recognised & valued. While others have wondered at the profound wisdom of simple folk tales for today’s problems. In stories, we have cried at the beauty of life, laughed at its absurdity and been inspired by the hero’s journey.
Whatever the story, and whoever our audience, whether sharing stories at a community event, a school or during a wedding ceremony, we never ceased to be amazed at the profundity of storytelling to open & connect hearts, to share wisdom, give meaning and sacredness back to modern life.
How does the inclusion of stories into a wedding ceremony add more richness to the experience?
We love to tell the story of the couple, how they met, what they love about each other, the obstacles overcome, dreams for the future, the funny stories, and the ‘ahhhhhhh’ moments. It’s these stories which we can all relate too and be inspired by… it’s the stories people remember long after the wedding cake is eaten.
Sharing family stories or cultural tales can assist the coming together of two families in understanding and appreciation for each other and their traditions. These tales can also link the past to the present and future, gifting people the security of continuity and connection, while myths and religious stories can add layers depth and meaning with their ancient metaphors.
Tell us your story! How did two storytellers meet and fall in love?
Well that’s a long story, and we are storytellers… but I’ll make a long story short; in 2014 we both attended “Storytelling as Performance Art” at the International School of Storytelling in the UK. I fell in love with Ulf when I heard his first story, a lovely, whimsical Swedish fairytale. And Ulf fell in love with me, on our long barefoot walks through the golden summer meadows. He asked me to marry him on the last day of the 5 week course. We were married in Australia 4 months later. Our very own fairytale!
We’d love to hear about your daughter’s wedding…what was the experience like for you as a celebrant?
The first time I practiced their ceremony, I cried and cried, so I had to practice quite a bit to get through without the tears flowing. It was such a celebration of love but more than that it was a celebration of their rainbow community.
I will always cherish the time that I spent with Jessie and Hayley before the wedding, talking with them, listening to their stories, and learning about how they deal with conflict, and their hopes, dreams and plans for the future. The whole process of co-creating the ceremony with them was an honour and a privilege.
Jessie and Hayley were open to any ideas about the ceremony and they were keen for stories to play an important part. When Ulf and I came across a creation myth which beautifully explains why there are men who love men, and women who love women, and men and women who love one another, we felt is was a great basis for the ceremony, Jess and Hayley loved it too. We also told the story of their meeting & adventures, some embarrassing moments and the magical ones. The ceremony was rich with laughter and tears (I did hold it together) and it was an absolute reflection of those two beautifully unique women.
How have you seen storytelling engage a sense of community and connectedness?
I co-founded a community storytelling café, Long Story Short, in 2013, where we invite storytellers and people with a story to tell to come and share their stories. We are now in our 5th year and when people arrive, they come as strangers but after hearing and sharing stories they leave as friends, as community. One storyteller, who shared her life story as a transgender woman described Long Story Short as ‘heaven on earth’ for the love and acceptance she experienced with our audience. And that’s how it is every month, through stories we find and share the bonds of our common humanity.
What would you like to see more of in weddings?
To borrow your words, less stuff and more meaning! The last 5 weddings I have been involved in have been community affairs.There is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child, well I believe it is should also be a village to create a wedding.
Give every guest a job; big, small, something that suits their talents. Get artists painting signs, musicians on the music, Aunty Flo can collect jars for table decorations. Begin a year or 6 months in advance and make a list of everything that needs doing and assign people to tasks. People love to be asked, besides sharing stories, inviting others to help on your special day creates a strong sense of community.
Your ceremony sets the intention for your married life. So, spend more time on considering intentions and meaning. Be creative with your ceremony, weave in those intentions and meaning, focus more on the internal than the external decorations. A ceremony rich in meaning is a strong foundation for a life time together.
Don’t aim for perfection. Mistakes and disaster do occur, accept them with grace and allow magic to arise.
And share more stories…. Definitely more stories at weddings!
Apart from wedding ceremonies, how else can storytelling benefit us?
Storytelling is experiencing a worldwide revival in many fields, business, heath & wellbeing, education and environment. Ulf first fell in love with storytelling as he witnessed it’s ability to build strong communities.
My first interest in storytelling was as a powerful way to reconnect people with the natural world. While you can tell people facts about why they should look after the environment, facts don’t make them care. But a well told story evokes empathy and fosters the sense of stewardship.
What other services do you offer?
Stories, stories, stories, for all ages and occasions. We share stories with schools, preschools & libraries, at music & environmental festivals. You’ll find us at children’s birthday parties, on storytelling bush walks, and keep a look out for our storytelling in local parks. Of course, we believe that any life event deserves a story or two. If you have a venue or an occasion we have a story to fit!
What’s your favourite story and why?
OOOOOhhh, tough question! I can’t go past the story Ulf told when I fell in love with him, Astrid Lingren’s ‘May My Linden Tree Play’. Ulf also still loves that one. But we do experience a love affair with whatever story we are working on… if we didn’t, we couldn’t tell it!
What can couples expect when they book you for their wedding?
Quite a few cups of tea, (herbal or bog standard) and questions to start with. We want to know all about you. We want to hear your stories, we want to know what makes you tick and how you click as a couple. Unrushed, unhurried, lets get to know each other so we can co-create a ceremony that shares the beautifully unique stories of you.
And finally, how do you (Ulf) feel about being a Roald Dahl look-alike? 😉
Ulf: Well Roald says “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, as long as somebody loves you” and that’s good enough for me.
Lindy: Roald also says “It’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle, if you aren’t twinkly yourself” and I think Ulf’s eyes are very twinkly indeed.
And here is more of Lindy’s daughters wedding to enjoy! Images thanks to Ben Wyeth Photography for capturing Jessie and Hayley’s gorgeous day.
Heart to Heart Storytelling are based on the Central Coast, NSW, and available for travel worldwide.
4/17/2018 0 Comments
There is an old Scottish saying, ‘A story should be told eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart’ and that’s just the way my storyteller husband Ulf and I love to tell our tales to children. No books and just the children, a story, and us. We have discovered that in this intimate space, magic happens…
Experts in the field of education and child development, while they may not believe in magic, are rediscovering the ancient art of oral storytelling (links to further reading below). Of course, story reading has long been recognised as a wonderful educational tool, however oral storytelling has now proven to have many extra benefits.
An oral storyteller brings their personality to the tale. The oral storyteller focuses his or her attention on the listeners, eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart. The storyteller brings not only their undivided attention but their own unique personality to the story telling. Ulf and I have very different styles of storytelling, I tend to be exuberant while Ulf has a gentle Swedish manner. The combination of personality and undivided attention gives the storytelling a sense of intimacy which children respond to.
The Storyteller is Free
A story reader is bound by the book and the text and looks back and forth between page and listeners, while the storyteller is free to respond completely to the listeners’ reactions. The storyteller may even change the story, expanding sections when the interest is great or altering the story to fit the needs of the listeners.
The freedom afforded by oral storytelling allows Ulf and I to take any story and rework it for a specific audience. When sharing stories in early childhood we always add rhymes, repetitions and actions in which the children can join in. We also encourage their contributions by asking questions like, “What would you put in the magic stone soup?” and incorporate the children’s answers into the story.
Exercising the Imagination.
Oral storytelling is a shared experience in which the child becomes an active participant in the creation of the story, while children who are shown illustrations and read to, are passive in comparison. Children listening to oral stories must exercise their imaginations. The storyteller helps them to create the pictures in their minds with words, facial expressions, tone and gesture but each child’s inner vision will be different.
There are many benefits to exercising the imagination and one crucial one is the development of empathy through learning to place one’s self in another’s shoes. Another outcome of an active imagination is the development of greater problem solving skills.
The ‘active’ nature of oral story listening also supports concentration and comprehension skills. Recent research shows listeners to oral storytelling retained more information and demonstrated better comprehension skills than children who were only read to.
A mother recently wrote to us and said that her daughter’s preschool was amazed when her daughter, Gaia, consoled a young friend who had fallen over with the 10-minute story, complete with actions, that she heard us tell on the weekend. Later that week Gaia told another one of our stories to her grandparents! Even we were amazed at how much she retained.
Enhances Emotional Intelligence
Storytelling also enhances emotional intelligence. The reactions of the storyteller to the story, the teller’s tone of voice and facial expressions, model emotions and the appropriate responses to emotions. Learning how to recognise emotions and how to express them is a vital step in child development. Listening to oral stories, also gives control to the child over the level of fear they experience, as they create the images in their minds that they are comfortable with.
Storytelling is of huge benefit to children who are not ready to read or are having reading difficulties. It is an enjoyable activity which increases their vocabulary and teaches them the sound and form of narratives without focusing on the written word. And, if children have participated in oral storytelling, they would have experienced the joy of co-creating stories, generating an eagerness to learn more literacy skills.
Research shows children remember more about a story when it is told to them, rather than read. Watching emotions play on the upturned faces of our audiences is an absolute joy for us. Their expressions tell us that they are fully engaged with the story and us, the storytellers. We are truly on the adventure together, that is the power and joy of storytelling.
Just Do It
Now that you know just some of the benefits of oral storytelling, we hope you feel inspired to put the book aside and try telling a story eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart…it’s absolute magic.
Heart to Heart Storytelling’s 8 top tips for telling tales
1 HEART: Oral storytelling is NOT telling a story by heart, it’s telling stories heart to heart. Storytelling is not memorizing words, it’s sharing images and events.
2 BARE BONES. Read your text a few times. Then strip it down to the bare bones. Where, who why, how and end. You may like to write a few words on each, or draw a bubble map or sketch a simple story board, or map. Keep it simple, keep it brief.
3 RATTLE THE BONES. Tell the barebone story to yourself or the dog. Then check, did you leave anything vital out? Then tell it again and again. Once you feel confident…
4 ADD SOME SENSES. Keep it simple and in words you feel comfortable with, describe some sights, smells, feel, sounds. Remember everyone has a couple of senses which are predominate… so it’s good to include a little of all of them to appeal to everyone in the audience.
5 ADD EMOTIONS. How is the character in your story feeling? Can you describe that in a way the children can relate to? Can you show it in your body language or facial expression?
6 FLESH IT OUT. Add rhymes, repetitions and actions or song for Early Childhood.
7.TELL IT. Tell it, tell it, tell it, tell it, tell it!
8. HAVE FUN. Play with the story and go on an adventure with the children.
REMEMBER: There is no such thing as a wrong story, just a new story!
Storytelling and Story Reading: A Comparison of Effects on Children ‘s Memory and Story Comprehension.http://dc.etsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2180&context=etd
Role of Storytelling in Early Literacy Development -- Louise Phillips http://www.australianstorytelling.org.au/storytelling-articles/n-s/role-of-storytelling-in-early-literacy-development-louise-phillips
The effects of storytelling and story reading on the oral language complexity and story comprehension of young children. http://wessonportfolio.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/46335801/Research%2520Article%25202.pdf
Storytelling engagement in the classroom: observable behavioural cues of children’s story experiences. Mundy-Taylor, J. (2013) (PhD), University of Newcastle. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1959.13/939911
The effect of teacher’s storytelling aloud on the reading comprehension of Saudi elementary stage students Nasser Saleh Al-Mansour *, Ra’ed Abdulgader Al-Shormanhttp://www.lisntell.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Storytelling-Aloud.pdf
The Magpie is Australia's Bird of the Year, narrowly defeating the Ibis in second place and poor old kookaburra in third. I do happen to love magpies, they often to drop in for a visit. Sometimes if we are up late they stand at the back door and sing for their breakfast.
This is a Magpie story I wrote some years ago.
The Magpie’s Song
Once upon a spring time, this story and a song were hatched.
As three magpie chicks pecked through their shells and spilled into their nest, it was apparent, even to the dimwitted parents that while their first two hatchlings were perfectly ordinary magpies, there was something extra ordinary about the third hatchling…and as the third chick grew feathers… her beauty became apparent for all to see. With feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight, they named her Mirrabooka, after the stars in the night sky.
And so it was that Mirrabooka grew into a bird of spectacular beauty. While the other magpie chicks were learning to catch food and build nests, Mirra was kept in the nest and taught how to preen. Mirra longed to hunt and fly like the other young birds but her parents were only concerned with her appearance so Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight stayed in the nest and preened.
Long after all the all other chicks had left the nest, Mirra’s parents persuaded her to stay behind, so they could bask in the glory of their daughter’s beauty. They even continued feeding Mirra so that her time could be better spent preening.
One day, when Mirra’s parents were sitting on the ground discussing which angle was best for viewing her beauty, a couple of neighbourhood cats pounced on the dimwitted birds and gobbled them all up. Alone in the nest, Mirra preened tears of sadness into her feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight.
Mirra was terribly lonely and she was very, very hungry. The only skill Mirra knew was preening and preening did not fill her belly. Eventually loneliness and hunger drove Mirra from the nest, but her flying was feeble and her hunting skills poor. Mirra called to the other Magpies but they thought her vain and they left her alone. Each night Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight returned to her nest to preen, hungrier and lonelier than the day before.
On the third day Mirra woke to find a scruffy, old magpie sitting in her tree. His feathers were grey rather than black and white and they weren’t smooth and sleek like Mirra’s but sticking out at rather odd angles. The old bird cocked his head and sang. Despite his appearance he had a fine strong voice and Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight listened and preened as the old bird sang.
He sang of flight and beating wings,
Of long fast glides on freezing winds.
He sang of practice and determination,
Skillful maneuvers through hanging branches.
He sang of flying for pure joy,
Of reaching heights only gods enjoy.
Then Mirra with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight, beat her wings and flew. She flew for the learning, she flew for the yearning and she flew for the sheer joy of being a bird.
The next morning Mirra was delighted to find the old magpie still sitting in her tree. Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight listened and preened as he began to sing again.
He sang of worms and early morning,
Foraging for food under leaves fallen.
He sang of patience and keen sight,
Of creeping danger and delectable delight.
He sang of hunting as employ,
Of feeding his soul with pure joy.
Then Mirra with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight, beat her wings and flew and hunted. She hunted for hunger, she hunted in wonder and she hunted for the sheer joy of being a bird.
The following day, after filling her belly, Mirra looked to find the old bird still in her tree. So Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight, listened and preened as he began to sing again.
He sang of friends and companionship,
Of lasting ties and fellowship.
He sang of friends won and lost,
Of what he gained and what it cost.
He sang of care and company,
Mutual respect and harmony.
Then Mirra with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight realised that though the old magpie’s voice was strong and clear, his body was old and his eyes weak, and so she flew and hunted then she shared her food for fellowship, and the sheer joy of companionship.
In the cool of the morning Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight listened and preened as the old bird began to sing once more.
Love & Family
He sang of passion and of love,
Of sweet young partners long since gone.
He sang of romance and delight,
Of responsibility and sacrifice.
He sang of families he loved best,
Of joy and sorrow and empty nests.
Then Mirra looked at the old Magpie and saw his eyes growing dim. As a cold wind blew up and swirled around them she stretched her wing and sheltered him with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight. Together they perched in companionable silence while the winter storm raged around them.
In the morning, Mirra listened… but there was no song, her tree was empty. Below the tree, she found the old magpie, as cold as the frozen winter earth. Then Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feather whiter than starlight flew down and kept vigil, preening the old bird’s feathers with her tears.
As the golden light of the next day dawned, Mirra felt an unfamiliar pressure building…building, building in her chest. Feeling like her heart would burst, Mirra, with feathers black as midnight and feathers whiter than starlight gave her friend a parting caress and then took to the sky.
Up and up, she flew, higher and further than she had ever flown before. Mirra flew over gardens and towns, rivers and lakes, over valleys and plains and she flew to the highest mountain and there her chest burst open… and out flew a song;
Hopes & Dreams
And she sang of her friend and his life so swift,
Of her profound love and his great gift.
She sang of her joy and of her sorrow,
Of her hopes and dreams, for tomorrow.
She sang of a young bird lost and alone,
And a friend who found her heart and home.
Mirra sang from the depth and the breadth of her heart and when at last her song was done; she found to her surprise, another Magpie listening. He was a fine, handsome bird. Mirra looked down at her own feathers...she couldn’t remember the last time she had preened. Her feathers were scruffy and dull, but he didn’t see her feathers, he saw Mirra, with heart brighter than sunlight, and heart softer than moonlight …and together they sang:
Love & Joy
And they sang of love fresh and new,
Like mountain streams and morning dew.
They sang of happiness, joy profound,
Of hopes and dreams in each other found.
They sang of life and building nests
And they sang of an old magpie, who was heaven sent.
At last our Government has recognised that all love is equal, and now it will also be recognised as legal. Ulf and I had the honour of performing a handfasting ceremony for my daughter Jessie and her partner Hayley a few days before the announcement. (love has it's own timetable) These two wonderful women celebrated their love, their commitment to love one-another always in front of family & friends. And we found the perfect story to tell at their ceremony which speaks about the awesome power of love.
Love is Love is Love
Lindy: And soon we will celebrate the day, when all love is recognised as equal and legal. For Love is love is love… and heaven knows, the world needs more love. A very wise man Plato once said;
Humans have never understood the power of Love, for if they had they would surely have built noble temples and altars and offered solemn sacrifices; but this is not done, and most certainly ought to be done, since Love is our best friend, our helper, and the healer of the ills which prevent us from being happy.
Plato said that to understand the power of Love, we must understand that our original human nature was not like it is now, Plato tells a very different creation story…
A Very Different Creation Story
Ulf: In the beginning human beings were not singular beings as we are today but a fusion of two beings into one- each of these ancient beings had two sets of arms, two sets of legs, and two faces looking in opposite directions. So of course there were not just two sexes man and woman… There were three manwithman, womanwithman & womanwithwoman. The unified beings of two men were called the Children of the Sun, the second unified being of man and woman, were called the Children of the Moon and the third unified beings of two women called the Children of the Earth.
The power of these original unified human beings was great. So great that the Gods themselves felt threatened. So they looked for a way to end the humans' power without totally destroying them.
Mighty Zeus cast down his thunderbolt and split these unified-beings in two. Alas, not only reducing their power but rendering them incomplete, so that for evermore each half would long and search for their missing part. … And if by chance they found one another again they would throw their arms about one another, desperately trying, to be one united being again.
The Ancient Desire
This ancient desire is imbued in all of us. Today We still seek to return to our original double nature, reuniting two into one, and thus healing the state of humankind. Each of us when separated, having one side only, is always seeking our other half.
Those whose original nature lies with the Children of the Sun, are men who are drawn to other men. Those from the Children of the Moon, are men and women drawn to one another. And those from the Children of the Earth are women who love other women.
And when one of us meets our other half, we are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and would not be out of the other's sight even for a moment. We pass our whole lives together, desiring that we should be melted into one, to spend our lives as one person instead of two, and so that after our death there will be one departed soul instead of two; this is the very expression of our ancient need.
For our human nature was whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called Love.
Congratulations and much love to the beautiful couple.
PS: We'll do the legal stuff after the honeymoon
Many people are still of the opinion that storytelling is only an activity for bedtime or, for entertaining the little ones but there are some who have discovered the secret power of storytelling to Educate by stealth (don’t tell the kids). Yes, all manner of educational subjects can be beautifully wrapped, delivered and wholeheartedly consumed as story. But don’t believe me, let me tell you a story…
Truth and Story
Long long ago when the world was young, Truth walked the world as an old man. Everything about him was old, his hands, his face even the remnants of his clothes. His skin was all wrinkly, his joints gnarly and his clothes so ragged and threadbare, he was just about naked.
When he arrived in a town, he would walk up to people and say hello, but people wouldn’t look at Truth, they turned and walked away. “I don’t understand why don’t people want to hear what I have to say. When I’m not around people always say they want to hear the Truth, but as soon as I am here, they avoid me”
Then Truth saw a large gathering in the town square, the people were listening to someone with great interest. He approached the crowd thinking “Surely they will listen to me too”, but as he approached the people turned and hurried away. The only person left on the street was Story. Story was dressed in beautiful robes of all the colours of the rainbow. The fabric seemed magical, it’s hues shimmered and changed as she moved.
“I don’t understand” said Truth to Story. “People just don’t want to hear what I have to say. Is it because I am old?” “No” said Story, “Look at me, I am as old as you and people still listen to me.” Looking at the state of Truth’s clothes, Story added “Perhaps the problem is your appearance, you are rather stark. Come home with me and I will give you a beautiful robe to wear.”
So, Truth went home with Story and Story dressed truth into a beautiful robe of many colours. They walked through the town arm in arm…and rather than turn away, people hurried to talk to them. Truth and Story were even invited into their homes for dinner and there, they talked with families till the wee small hours of the morning.
And that’s how it is today. When Truth walks naked in the world, people turn away. But when Truth walks with Story, they are invited into our homes and our hearts.
When Education and Storytelling Walk Hand in Hand
Today I’m writing about the “Truths” of education, teaching such things such as environmental concepts, social responsibility, emotional literacy, mathematics, science and of course history, all these subjects can be beautifully wrapped in story and delivered in an engaging & entertaining way for easy & enthusiastic consumption. Environmentalists, Educators and Scientists are rediscovering the value of storytelling, a value which has long been known by our ancestors and still practiced today by various religions and Indigenous peoples.
In the book “Storytelling for a Greener World”, they describe storytelling as “Trojan Horse”. Storytelling is offered as an irresistible gift, and once it is consumed, then the metaphors and images go to work, sneaking past the citadel of the human mind, a perfect weapon to bring important messages to environmentally jaded people today.
Not Another Lesson!
While preschoolers are certainly not jaded, some primary school children will roll their eyes and sigh, “not another lesson on Reduce Reuse Recycle and Sustainability” We recently shared two programs of stories with an After-School Care Centre, we didn’t mention the word sustainability or talk about environmental concepts, but they were the themes of our stories. After the show we had some lively conversations with children as they shared their thoughts and feelings. The stories had penetrated their inner world, evoked their emotions, sparked their imaginations and their minds. Storytelling doesn’t just teach but it encourages children to care.
That week heart to Heart Storytelling also did an environmental program for preschoolers, again we dressed everything in story. The class then planted seeds to the rhymes and songs used in our stories. The teacher later told us “the children loved it and had some lovely reflections on the experience which sparked some discussions about caring for the earth”.
Storytelling is also a fabulous way to teach character, social skills and emotional literacy. These are some of our favourite stories, the folk tales with the wisdom of the ages which speak to the values of friendship, honesty, courage, co-operation, kindness & resourcefulness. Values like co-operation, or kindness are abstract concepts to young children, but dress them beautifully in story… then co-operation is the inner image of everyone working together to pull out The Enormous Stubborn Turnip, and kindness is understood by such archetypal characters as the helpful hen in The Rooster and the Bean.
How Many Bears?
Even mathematics can be taught by stealth, how many bears, chairs, bowls & beds were there? One of the best mathematical folk tales we have come across for older children is from India, A Grain Of Rice. In this story the Raja is hording rice while his people starve. A young girl tricks the Raja into giving her one grain of rice on the first day then, doubling the amount of rice every day for 30 days. The Raja thinks he is on a good deal till he does the sums, or better yet have your class do the multiplications.
History of course, is made of stories… then why break it down and teach names, dates and events? Rewrap history in its colourful stories, the outback explorers on exciting expeditions, the outrageous escapades of early convicts, or our seafarer’s rollicking maritime adventures.
And what better way to teach about our First Nation’s People and their rich heritage but by inviting them to come and share their stories.
Ulf and I encourage you to make story an integral part of your lessons, for when Truth, or should we say Education walks naked in the world, children may roll their eyes and turn away, but when Education walks with Story, they are invited into the hearts, minds and imagination of children everywhere.
A Grain of Rice pg. 286 The Right Story at the Right Time; Changing the Lives of Children & Adolescents One Story at a Time. M deCroes.
Storytelling for a Greener World; Environment, Community& Story Based Learning. Gersie, Nanson, &Schieffelin
The Enormous Turnip pg. 47 Once Upon a Time: Storytelling to teach Character and prevent Bullying. E.L.Pearmain
The Rooster and the Bean pg. 78 The Right Story at the Right Time; Changing the Lives of Children & Adolescents One Story at a Time. M deCroes.
Truth and Story Lindy Mitchell-Nilsson’s retelling of a Jewish Folktale
This is tale I wrote a few years ago for our local Whale Dreaming Festival.
I love to share this tale and at the end of the story, ask the audience to shut their eyes and listen for the wise song of the whale as I play a crystal bowl.
Luna is one of our many original environmental tales. We also love to share traditional folk & fairy tales and ancient myths as their environmental wisdom speaks to us across the ages. Photo; Spirit of Goldcoast Whale Watching Tour
Mythical White Creatures
In cultures all over the world, the birth or appearance of a white animal holds special significance; a prophecy or a blessing. Many myths and legends have been told about these magical creatures. In North America they have The Story of the White Buffalo, in India the Myth of the White Tiger and in Australia we have The Legend of Luna, The White Whale.
Though an old legend, this story is not ancient, for in ancient times the people of Australia lived in harmony with the land and the ocean. This story took place when I was just a girl.
One cool salty night, in warm tranquil waters, when the moon was full and high in the sky, a huge humpback whale labored long then gave birth to a female calf. Instinctively, the mammoth mother pushed her calf to the surface of the sea, and there, bathed only in soft moonlight the young calf drew her first breath.
The Moon and mother whale were amazed to see that the calf shone as white as the moon herself and they named the white whale, Luna-Moon Sister.
Wise Song of the Whales
Luna grew quickly as she swam with her mother along the whale migration lines up and down the east coast of Australia. North to the warm tropical waters of Queensland and south to the icy seas of the Antarctic …and while they swam her mother would sing. Singing, singing always singing the wise song of the whales. With each migration up and down the coast, Luna learnt the wise song of the whales. Till Luna too joined in…singing, singing, always singing the wise song of the whales.
And as Luna sang, she grew wise. And though she was wise in the way of the whales, Luna didn’t understand the way of people. Why did they dump their foul smelling waste in the ocean? Why did they use such long fishing nets to catch thousands of fish only to throw many back dead or dying? And why did they kill whales? Luna asked the whale elders and, as wise as they were, they could not answer. Luna asked her pale Moon Sister high in the sky, but the moon just shone gently down.
Luna thought perhaps the people had no one to teach them the wise song of the whales and so she began swimming, closer to shore, singing, singing, always singing the wise songs of the whales. She swam up rivers and into harbours, Luna swam around boats, singing, singing, always singing the wise song of the whales but the humans’ destructive way continued till Luna thought her enormous heart would burst with sadness.
A Gift Both Great & Terrible
At last the Moon could bare her whale sister’s sadness no more and she granted Luna a gift both great and terrible. The Moon’s gift was to turn Luna into a woman for thirteen cycles of the moon, so Luna could sing the wise songs of the whales in human form. But to do this Luna had to go against the wisdom of the whales and beach herself upon the sand.
So, one night when the moon was full and high in the sky and the tide was at its peak, Luna lunged toward the beach, thrusting her tremendous body onto the sand…and as the tide retreated… Luna lay on the coarse sand bathed only in soft moonlight.
The moonlight shone on Luna until it too retreated like the tide leaving there on the beach lay a beautiful young woman with pale white skin, hair like moonlight and eyes all the swirling, twirling colours of the sea.
Luna rose awkwardly to her feet, already she missed the gentle caress and support of the ocean but her heart was happy because now she could sing the wise song of the whale as a human and people would understand.
Thirteen Cycles of the Moon
For thirteen cycles of the moon Luna walked the length and breadth of Australia, singing, singing always singing the wise song of the whales. Luna sang to many communities, she sang for business leaders, she sang for governments. Luna sang for churches, universities and schools, singing, singing, always singing the wise song of the whale. She even sang to the whalers and fishermen.
A few people did not want to listen to Luna, and some people still did not understand her song. But many people listened and understood… and they began to change their destructive ways.
Thirteen cycles of the moon soon passed. Luna knew she had to be back on the beach when the moon was full and high in the sky and the tide was at its peak but there was one last community to sing the wise song of the whales. At last Luna arrived at the beach, the moon was full but no longer high in the sky, she disrobed and lay down upon the sand. Slowly the moon retreated like the tide leaving a lonely white whale beached upon the sand.
But Luna was late, and the tide had already retreated and so Luna lay on the coarse sand dying, bathed only in the last fading beams of moonlight.
Luna was sad she would not see her mother again, nor feel the gentle caress of the ocean once more but her enormous heart was full of joy for she had sung the wise way of the whales for people and they had listened and understood.
Raw sewerage no longer flowed into the ocean, people were demanding sustainable fishing practices and they had finally halted the killing of whales in Australia…But best of all the children had opened their hearts and learnt her song and now they were singing, singing, always singing wise songs of the whales across the length and breadth of the land.
The Moon Wept
The Moon wept tears of pearl into the ocean with the death of her whale sister… She vowed never to transform another white creature into human form… instead she blessed all white animals with the ability to inspire mankind to examine how they live and remember the wise song of the whales.
Decades have past and wise ways forgotten, since Luna sang but recently… two other white whales have appeared in our ocean, the first whale, Migaloo who’s aboriginal name means White Fella, and most recently Bahloo whose name quite magically means Moon.
Have you seen the white whale?
Do You Remember the Wise Song of the Whale?
Ulf and I prefer telling stories outside under trees in parks rather than in halls or rooms.
Of course, there are many distractions outdoors and we know we will lose a percentage of our audience to mother nature, but we don’t mind at all. Connecting children to their local natural environment and fostering their sense of stewardship is one of our passions as storytellers.
We begin our storytelling with an Indigenous song and an acknowledgement of country and then we call in the nature spirits.
“I call to the fairies, I call to elves,
Pack up your flowers and leave your green homes.
I call to the pixies, I call to the elves,
Please stop your dancing, come in from the dells.
I call to the trees, ancient and wise
Shhhh they whisper, it’s story time, it’s story time.”
The spell is cast… perhaps it is the collective belief of the children in fairies, or perhaps IT IS the fairies, maybe it is the appreciative response of nature as we tell her stories, or perhaps it’s the stories themselves that create the magic. Whatever the reason, as we share our stories, the trees seem to lean in closer and so do the children, nature becomes enchanted.
Re-enchanting the natural world
Environmental storytelling is using the ancient art of oral storytelling, as our ancestors once did, to teach about the natural world, our relationship within it and to foster the sense of stewardship. Environmental storytelling doesn’t have to take place in the great outdoors, you can tell indoors then perhaps visit a small garden, or adopt a local tree.
So why tell an environmental story rather than just teach children the facts?
You can tell children the facts, you can tell them how a butterfly emerges, or who a bat hears, you can explain how bad pollution is, and how awful plastics are. You can talk about the terrible loss of rainforests, or the consequences of greed … but facts won’t make a child care.
In fact, too many doom and gloom facts about the environment shut children down – the problems are too big, too overwhelming for one person, especially a little person, to do anything about.
Facts appeal to the left-hand side of the brain, the left is the mathematical and logical brain but the left side of the brain doesn’t make children care. That’s why we need to appeal to the right side of the brain, the centre for language, imagination, creativity, emotions, empathy and connection.
Storytelling, along with art & music are the language of the right brain. Connect with the right side of children’s brains and you connect to their hearts.
Sprouting new environmentalists
When you tell children a story, you evoke their wonder & imagination, you engage their hearts & elicit empathy. Empathy is seeing with eyes of an another, hearing with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another and that is one of storytelling’s greatest gifts, giving listeners the opportunity to the experience the world through another, whether an animal, mythical creature or someone from another culture or time.
A well told story will take root like a seed in the heart of a child. When their imaginations and wonder are engaged then curiosity follows, and then they will ask questions and demand facts because, now they feel connected, now they have a relationship with the subject, now they care.
And by following up the story up with an activity, such as an art & craft activity, a visit to a tree or park, then that story seed will sprout, perhaps even growing into tomorrow’s environmentalist.
Simple tales of complex issues
Stories, such as folktales, fairytales and myths use metaphorical truths to help us understand and connect to and care about our local environment and our natural world. And there are many wonderful stories, suitable for all age groups, from cultures all around the world which still speak to every environmental concern of today. Some of these tales are not set in a particular place and time and these tales lend themselves to being transposed into our local landscape. Others add a layer of multicultural richness to their environmental themes.
There are many wonderful collections of folktales covering the whole gamut of environmental themes, with many of the stories either perfect for or very adaptable for the Early Learning Setting. Even the most complex of environmental concepts can be shared simply and effectively in a story. We love to tell the Grimm’s tale of The Fisherman’s Wife, it’s a fun story which metaphorically speaks about sustainability, but even the youngest of audience members has said at the end,“She just wanted too much, she was too greedy”
Now it’s your turn
So, we encourage you, when teaching environmental concepts start with a story, add some rhymes, repetitions, actions and follow up with an activity. Storytelling will ignite their imaginations, spark their curiosity and stoke the fire in their hearts to care for their environment. In today’s world of disconnect, virtual reality and electronic media, the planet needs us to help restore this connection, the relationship between child and nature, for the future wellbeing of all earth’s inhabitants.
Story Collections with Environmental themes;
Earth Care; World Folktales to talk About- Margaret Read MacDonald
Eleven Nature Tales: A Multicultural Journey- Pleasant De Spain
Spinning Tales Weaving Hope; Stories of Peace Justice & the Environment- eds Brody, Goldspinner, Green, Leventhal & Porcino
Tales with Tales: Storytelling the Wonders of the Natural World- Kevin Strauss
Tell Me a Story: Stories from the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America
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