“Tell me the astronaut story,” she says. The air is crisp and whips our hair in our faces. Plum hops onto her swing as I buckle Little Bear into the baby swing. I look up and her face is beaming. Her shoulders and arms shiver in excitement. I was hoping for a few minutes of quiet while I pushed them in their swings. But I should have known better. Plum’s giddiness is infectious and irresistable. So I begin.
“Once upon a time there was a little girl named Plum. And she grew up to be an astronaut…”
Swinging in the backyard is now equated to me telling adventure stories about Plum and her little brother. It began a couple months back, when the winter weather was starting to wane. I was looking for a way to get her interested in listening to audio books. She was fiercely resistant. Our first try was a picture book story – one that she knew – and we listened to it on her pink cd player in the kids’ room. Before the story was even midway through, she abruptly turned the whole thing off. A few weeks later I tried a different story in the car. There was much complaining. We also tried a few during her quiet time. Again, she turned it off.
How can a girl who loves books so much not want to listen to stories? I wanted a good activity for car rides and quiet times that wasn’t a TV or a screen. Quiet time bins of special toys and activities take effort to rotate and organize and plan. I go through spurts of being really on top of it. Then there are times of exhaustion and other things take precedent. I wanted something easy and wholesome and didn’t require a ton of work from me. But the audio books were not working.
So I started telling stories while pushing Plum on the swing. “Once upon a time there was a little bunny named Plum. She lived in a burrow underneath a fir-tree in the woods…” It was pretty much the story of Peter Rabbit with Plum as the star character. She loved it. We went on to make up stories of astronauts, and giants, and frog families.
Plum started giving her input on how things should happen. She protested and cheered in different turns of each story. And now, she tells her own stories. A story about a lonesome mouse. A story of a lost raccoon and a superhero who saves the day.
The story telling idea was partly a nostalgic tradition from my own childhood (my dad told silly stories about my brothers and I). Oral story telling is not some revolutionary concept, nor anything new. With all the technology and access to visual and dramatic stories, the basic oral story telling seems to have been forgotten. But oh how important and effective it can be! (Shared experience, listening to vocab and rhythm and pronunciation, just to name a few.) When I started, I wasn’t thinking about any of this really. My secret agenda was to build up Plum’s listening skills to eventually enjoy oral stories (i.e. audio books). My motivations did not prepare me for the actual outcome of this simple experiment.
Plum still is not much interested in recorded stories. (I think this will change as she gets older, though.) What she is learning are the cadence and elements of a story line. She is listening longer and more patiently to books. She pulls books off the shelves and sits down to “read” them to her dolls and friends. She can recite (nearly word for word) at least five of her picture books. We’ve tackled our first chapter book with great success!
In her play, Plum pretends elaborate scenes (which usually involve birthday parties and someone in need of being rescued). She uses words like “distracted” and “congested” and “consequence”…usually in the correct context. She imagines and explains to me what it would be like if she were a squirrel climbing a tall tree. She is constantly repeating the events of our days in some form of a story, either played out with toys or drawn with crayons.
With all the story telling she’s been doing, I made up some blank books for her to “write” them down. A few folded and stapled pages, but it makes this girl feel so important! Plus, it promotes writing and literacy! Win-win!
It is amazing to witness the rate of absorption these young minds have. The impact a story can make. We all have stories to tell if we can only find our voice. It can be as simple as one small invitation to try something new. It can have a ripple effect.