Storytelling, The Forever Story

Imagining a world and telling its story using felted dolls, scarves, and doilies.

Imagining a world and telling its story using felted dolls, scarves, and doilies.

Vivian Gussin Paley tells us, “The classroom that does not create its own legends has not travelled beneath the surface to where the living takes place.”

Recently I had a chance to reflect on this idea as the children compiled stories inspired by our “Forever Story” circle meeting practice. We have so many ways to develop story at our school. We have a blank page, leather-bound, magical book called the “Book of Tree.” The stories found inside are boundless and very-much imagined. We scaffold dramatic play (giving children a voice and to establish the “agree to agree”). This past year, I introduced storytelling as part of our circle meetings. The results are captured in a year-end gift of the children’s “Forever Stories.”

Here is sample and then I will share how this works;

When the cloud animals turned to mist, the big girl and the little boy floated down on the mist to the lava land. They saw a ladder and climbed up.

At the top of the ladder they came to a volcano filled with fire. There was a blue cat at the top of the volcano.

It was scared and crying, “Meow.”

The big girl and the little boy jumped into the volcano to rescue the cat. Their heads caught on fire and got stuck together. The cat got stuck to their heads, too.

All of a sudden, seventeen knights came with swords they had bought at a shop. Four more good guys came with swords. They took the fire away and saved everyone.

The Ice Dragon arrived just in time. He congratulated the big girl and the little boy and thanked the knights. Everyone celebrated. The kids put up a tent and went to sleep.

Another example of one of the “Forever Stories” Illustrated by the author/storyteller..

Another example of one of the “Forever Stories” Illustrated by the author/storyteller..

How it works is that I made a set of tiles with images on the front (there is an example included here, scroll down) which would “signal” or direct the child running circle meeting to a routine/action. The idea is that the children would gain autonomy and confidence would grow through practice. This was introduced this year and it was so successful. I measure this success in how the children would express interest when it was their turn to do this choosing, excited to choose one tile over another. This new practice upheaved what I was doing before during circle time. I was inspired by a bit of daisy-chain professional development after talking with Kierna Corr about her observations from a visit to Sweden for the ErasmusPlus and her Winston Churchill Memorial Trust projects.

This particular class of three- and four-year olds really enjoyed the math stories and clapping out syllables of names, but occasionally children would choose this “Forever Story” option. When this was chosen, we would start the story at the beginning, working our way through to where we had left off at the last telling and adding a line, a character, a problem . . . The construction of the story supported with felted dolls, a glowing felted wool mushroom (I had to learn how to make that really quickly!), and silk scarves to indicate motion and place. We had to add a bit of lacy doily to represent the cloud animals. Note: The story bits and pieces were collected from stories and books, I have read or heard, and once introduced, the children began adding their own twists and turns.

Since the children did not offer their own additions (OUT LOUD — the story was often whispered to the dolls themselves) to the story when they were holding the dolls — it seemed to be easier for these children to offer snippets from the vantage of audience. That is how we added details, props, and dolls. Noticing this, I realized that the children were holding the stories closer, their eagerness in the watching and using the dolls was evident, but it seemed to be harder to tell the story out loud when holding the dolls. We needed a more effective way of pulling these stories out and with the year coming to a close, we had to hustle, hustle.

Each year, one of our parents coordinates a class journal. The theme of these journals changes each year and the content is generated at home. This year I asked for parents to encourage their children to add or finish “The Forever Story.”

The stories were illustrated and then collected in a journal. The stories are in a word, “AMAZING.” There are those moments when, as a teacher or parent, when you look at something and think, “Aha, this worked and look what we have accomplished!”

The accomplishment revealed so much. The children embraced the story and took it to many different places, but you can also see bits of other stories, how we share and connect to these stories and illustrations, AND even parts of our conflict resolution language woven throughout.

For example, we talk a lot about “signaling” — the words and body language we use to signal our intentions.

And the Snow Dragon and the Ice Dragon came and saved the humans. In space they found some aliens. They decided to go visit the aliens that they found. The aliens were not friendly. They signaled “Fight.” The boy and girl goed back home.

And this story which also features that idea of “signaling” along with this idea that there are other languages spoken that, “ice dragon language” was a feature of the story. We “signaled” this language by clinking together blue glass gems and once the characters ate the feast at the Ice Dragon’s lonely castle, they could then understand and speak that language.

We also see children embracing other features of narrative construction, namely the ellipsis, something we pull out from the books we read, the way we build suspense and how to listen for it in stories we tell . . .

Never ending story . . .

The lava land is a volcano. When they got to the volcano, they saw the lava and didn’t know what it was.

The fire dragon, in fire language, said, “You cannot come in here unless you are a dragon.”

Then, a bunch of fire dragon’s friends came and signaled “battle.”

The girl and the boy left the volcano to get a ticket. And then came back in to show them. And then the volcano erupted . . .

We also told math stories. These blocks offer choices for how the children would like to tell their math story, through matching, patterning, or counting. We also have blocks for clapping out names, choosing a a settling breathe for all, and then, of course, the “Forever Story.” The children in this class really enjoyed the math stories and the clapping.

We also told math stories. These blocks offer choices for how the children would like to tell their math story, through matching, patterning, or counting. We also have blocks for clapping out names, choosing a a settling breathe for all, and then, of course, the “Forever Story.” The children in this class really enjoyed the math stories and the clapping.

The class journal, “The Forever Story” is amazing from the first page to the last. It’s so interesting to read how the children embraced this method of collective story telling and offered their own, unique and lovely additions to a story that goes on forever.

It is definitely a practice I will use next year as well.

Today’s choice? Patterning! The children used glass shells, fish, and pebbles to create patterns.

Today’s choice? Patterning! The children used glass shells, fish, and pebbles to create patterns.

The girl, boy, and kitten were at the top of the ladder. Then the kitten rolled down the mountain into the lava.    She had to go to the doctor. The girl and boy walked with her to the doctor.    Meanwhile . . .    The dragon breathed out ALL his fire, then breathed it all back in, including the lava. Then it was cold.    The girl and the boy noticed something. It was a little doggie who didn’t have a person. So they took the dog to be a friend with the kitten. Then the girl and boy found Grandmother Twilight and her baby.    They all left together.

The girl, boy, and kitten were at the top of the ladder. Then the kitten rolled down the mountain into the lava.

She had to go to the doctor. The girl and boy walked with her to the doctor.

Meanwhile . . .

The dragon breathed out ALL his fire, then breathed it all back in, including the lava. Then it was cold.

The girl and the boy noticed something. It was a little doggie who didn’t have a person. So they took the dog to be a friend with the kitten. Then the girl and boy found Grandmother Twilight and her baby.

They all left together.

I added the characters and props to the front of the journal so that children could see them when they return to the school in the Fall.

I added the characters and props to the front of the journal so that children could see them when they return to the school in the Fall.

The children also embraced their moment to change the story and add their own embellishments, like in this example;

The cloud animals sink into the lava.

The boy and girl knock on the Fire Dragon’s door to her secret cave.

The fire dragon opens the door. When she talks, lava comes out of her mouth. She has a purse full of lava. It’s very dark in the cave. The children can understand her and she’s saying, “Come in here.”

The children don’t go in, so they turn to mist.

They’re gone.

The fire dragon lets Grandmother Twilight and her baby go free.

I would like a purse full of lava! Who wouldn’t?!?! Sorry about the turning- to-mist problem, but Grandmother Twilight is going to save herself, thank you very much.

They climbed a rope ladder to the ground and they climb up to a mountain that was very high and they jump.    And they land in a ball pit and they could reach Grandmother Twilight and the baby dragon in the ball pit. And they climbed up.    The Fire Dragon rode home with them. And they had to reach the Fire Dragon how to be nice and not be mean and not stealing people from the Ice Castle.    In the end, they live happily ever after.

They climbed a rope ladder to the ground and they climb up to a mountain that was very high and they jump.

And they land in a ball pit and they could reach Grandmother Twilight and the baby dragon in the ball pit. And they climbed up.

The Fire Dragon rode home with them. And they had to reach the Fire Dragon how to be nice and not be mean and not stealing people from the Ice Castle.

In the end, they live happily ever after.