Nature as Inspiration for Oral Storytelling with Preschoolers
by Nicole Fravel
I’m a big fan of oral storytelling in early childhood. I enjoy retelling stories from memory and making up original stories based on real past events or pure fantasy, and I encourage the children to engage in storytelling as well.
Benefits of Oral Storytelling
Picture books are fabulous, and of course we use them daily in the classroom. Oral storytelling without the aid of print to read or pictures to look at activates different set of skills. Oral storytelling develops strong listening skills, builds vocabulary, enhances memory recall and builds community. When children listen to a story, they need to use their imaginations to create their own pictures. Practicing creating pictures in their heads while listening to stories will aid comprehension in later grades, as reading material shifts from picture books to chapter books and nonfiction.
When children tell their own stories, they practice grammar and learn how to create tone and theme. Storytelling is a social activity. Children must recognize the needs of their audience and adjust their vocabulary choices, plot, and pacing for maximum understanding – and a positive reaction. Both the children and I use names of children in the classroom as characters in our stories, and the children catch on pretty quickly to what types of stories and humor engage their fellow preschool listeners.
Many stories that children tell are variations of picture books, stories I have told or particularly successful stories from their classmates. Even though these stories are not quite “original,” they require the child to listen to and recall other stories and to put their own creative spin on the tale. In these variations, they are playing around with story language and conventions (once upon a time, repetition of words or events), practicing sequencing and learning a bit about plot.
We work storytelling into many facets of the outdoor program. We use natural elements as props and manipulatives to enhance our tales. We use things we have observed in nature as the inspiration for original stories. And sometimes, nature becomes the backdrop for a story we act out.
Dramatic Story Retelling in Nature
One way for children to practice storytelling is to retell familiar stories. The children like to use the woods as a stage for dramatic retellings. A favorite story is “The Three Little Pigs.” The children pretending to be pigs set up house by leaning sticks against a tree or huddling under the boughs of a tree. When the child posing as the big bad wolf knocks on the door, it always has a deep voice and always blows the house down. Then, all of the pigs run to a new area of the woods to build a new house. Any story with a repetitive structure and a bit of the outdoors in it works well for outdoor dramatizations. Some other favorites at Wildwood Nature School are “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” “Roxaboxen,” and “Going on a Bear Hunt.
Create New Adventures for Old Characters
Another idea to get the children started with storytelling is to “riff” on a familiar book, letting children come up with new adventures based on familiar characters or settings.
At the beginning of this school year, we read “The Stick Man.” Afterwards, each child made his or her own stick-man to place outside in various settings to narrate its new adventures. Even at this point in November, children will still sometimes spontaneously tell a story about a stick they are using. Someone might be in the sandbox and say, “The boy picked up stick-man and put him on the pile of sand. I’m not a stick! Then the other boy took stick-man and threw him out of the sandbox. I’m free!” “Leaf Man,” by Lois Ehlert also lends itself to extending characters’ adventures using natural items as props.
Telling Stories Inspired by Natural Observations
Each child has his or her own “sit spot” in the forest. I have written previously about these self-selected spots that children return to again and again for observation and reflection.
Sometimes i ask children to share a story about something they observed while sitting in their spots> these stories can be factual or imaginary< but usually are a bit of both> they may take something they observed _ a spider< maybe _ and spin a yarn that equates what the are seeing in the natural world with their own lives and routines> that spider might be on its way to make friend or we might tell a story of a spider eating breakfast< heading to school< getting a bedtime story or feeling protected by parents> we might imagine what the tree is feeling and thinking while it stand watch over the plants and animals and experiences the change in seasons>
Oral storytelling is easy to implement indoors or out, using whatever is at hand for inspiration and props. The activity is not only fun for children, but gives them skills to add with decoding and comprehension as they are learning to read in early elementary school and learning to glean information from what they are reading in later grades.