Today Maaike Geschwindt takes the stage to tell Bristol Mum readers about Little Storytellers; creative storytelling sessions for 2 – 5 year olds which she runs in Henleaze, St Werburgh’s and Bishopston.
In this post, Maaike explains the importance of stories for young children and tells readers about Little Storytellers.
Whales with Wings and Hiking Boots
By Maaike Geschwindt
It all began 28 years ago with the imaginary worlds I created as a child, vivid in colour and rich in characters, and a place where anything was possible.
Then I discovered I could take these worlds and share them through writing until school literacy lessons nearly destroyed them with their arsenal of crosses and ticks, leaving darkness and smears of red ink in their wake, bleeding into the teen-angst poetry that followed.
From studying English Literature and Creative Writing, to working in Early Years, to becoming a Therapeutic Play Practitioner, the common thread has been my love of those bright, vivid story worlds, and deep respect for those dark, scary ones.
The more I have explored and studied story worlds the more I have come to realise their immense power. Take away the narrative and we have nothing. Stories actually thread through the lives of all of us; we make sense of them through narrative, understand abstract concepts more easily through metaphor, and each of them is a story in itself.
This is why wherever you find children you find rich story worlds, sometimes nonsensical and often filled with conflict as they seek to understand the world around them. This is why developing children’s confidence in their own capacity to tell stories and hearing and cherishing their symbolic forms of expression, develops not only communication and language skills and promotes early literacy, but is also incredibly self-empowering.
I hope that children can then build the confidence necessary to be resilient to those red ticks and crosses that may rain down in later life.
There are already quite a few brilliant groups with adult-created stories at their core, but I couldn’t find anywhere the children get the opportunity to create the stories.
So I developed the concept of Little Storytellers – story creating sessions for 2-5 year olds, with the idea of also trialling it in schools as an intervention for children with low personal, social, emotional, communication and language skills.
Great, I thought, now I just need to get it off the ground…
The sessions have been running since early-January. During the early stages, while working as a Therapeutic Play Practitioner and studying for my Diploma in Play Therapy, I have felt like an octopus – each arm is busy doing something different.
I’m not the most co-ordinated octopus. Sometimes I find myself all tangled up, spinning in different directions. Exploring how we feel is how I begin each story-creating session, first with an inclusive song about what animal, weather or movement we might feel like today, and then each child is encouraged to use a metaphor to identify how he or she feels and to bring it onto the story stage.
There is neuroscience behind this method because emotions are more easily expressed through metaphor as they originate in the same side of the brain. This especially applies to children for whom the ‘word-side’ of the brain is still in early development. Last week we had a tiger cub, Darth Vader, a tornado worm, a train, a mole.
Being able to recognise how we feel is a vital life skill, and the more they do it the easier it becomes. Empathy is also essential for positive relationships and ethical decision-making, and is thought to be developed in early years through the embodiment of another character, which leads us to the next step in the sessions.
What we do varies each week but the aim is that the children get to create their own character using different media of expression, such as dressing up or making puppets. Exploring the senses first and then finding the words is what early years is all about – physically connecting to the world around us and then finding the words to convey it.
So we create and then we talk about what we have created, expanding language skills while also valuing each child’s unique creation. For those who don’t have words, they can show me and I help them find the words. Then we all come together and create the story on the story stage, which I then transcribe.
I email the stories to parents and hopefully the children get to hear them at home and begin to recognise themselves as authors of their own story.
Yes, I often feel like an octopus spinning through the ocean, but this story world I am plunged into is filled with depth, mystery and currents that carry me to places that never fail to surprise me. I have had a snowball fight inside a Christmas castle, met Foxy Rude who is only rude if you are rude to him and has chicken pox on his head, and I have eaten chocolate eyes.
It’s for this reason that I am no longer keen on the name Little Storytellers. The possibilities of the children’s imaginations are vast, extensive, and do not deserve the title ‘Little’. They are whales with wings and hiking boots and a turbo rocket too!
Little Storytellers sessions are term-time only on Tuesdays at The Eastfield Inn, Henleaze 9.30 and 10.30 and at The Wildgoose Space, St Werburghs 14.00. Wednesday sessions are at St Michael’s Church, Bishopston 9.45. Holiday sessions also run for 2-7 year olds and holiday clubs for 4-11 year olds.