Michel Blumberg, M.Ed, is the author of, Why A Visit To The Saturday Morning Story Club is SO Good for Your Child. Michele is the educational and homeschool advisor and consultant for StoryValues. She gives monthly talks fro the parents of The Saturday Morning Story Club. Michel wrote this article in December 2020.
Why A Visit To Cheryl’s Story Club is SO Good for Your Child, by Michele Blumberg
I have been watching Cheryl tell stories for many, many years. I have seen her tell them to children of all ages, I have seen her tell them in huge auditoriums in big cities and in tiny little rural schools. Every time Cheryl tells stories to children (and the adults who sometimes accompany them) I see the same things happen- rapt attention, a kind of enchantment, and a complete enjoyment of the whole experience- it happens every single time. As an educator and a teacher of educational theory, I have found this phenomenon fascinating and have long wanted to write about what I think is going on in these moments.
Three things leap out at me immediately. First, there is the obvious literacy connection between stories and the child’s developing mind. Second, because she often adds a hands-on element such as drawing or acting out the story there is a mind/body connection. Third, there is the psychological and emotional aspect to the stories that are selected and then dramatically told. These three aspects provide potent and important food to the young child’s mind and spirit.
So, let me flesh-out these three observations in a little more detail.
This is the most obvious component to the magic- of course stories promote literacy! But it is more subtle than that if you ask me. The particular stories that Cheryl tells usually have complex language, often contain words that a child may not yet know and are very descriptive. Also, the way she speaks gives a child’s mind access to the sound of the English language spoken well and clearly. Young children are in a what Maria Montessori would call a “sensitive period” for language. Hearing the language spoken beautifully has an enchantment all its own to the mind in that sensitive period. The timbre, tone, and rhythm of the words themselves are of interest. I have seen children moving their mouths as she speaks as if just the act of speaking fluently is itself interesting to them. Also, listening to a good storyteller or reader places a kind of ‘voice’ in the mind of a child that will help them when they begin to read to themselves. They will have an example in their minds of what a good reader/speaker sounds
like. This is very valuable.
Next, because Cheryl has chosen older, classical stories their plots are often complex and one needs to pay attention to follow the story. All these old stories contain distinct beginnings, middles and endings, thus teaching the child how literature is constructed and helping them access the ability to see the constructive pattern of literature. This will help them when they begin to learn to write. They will have a good mind map of the landscape of story and narration.
Also, when children listen to words they hear them more like adults hear music. They hear sound patterns, phonetic nuance, they pick up interesting sounds and word combinations. Listening to a good storyteller or reader is teaching them many skills that they will then be able to transfer to learning to read themselves. Also- here is something interesting- did you know that listening to literature and story uses the same parts of the brain as reading does? That’s the ultimate proof of how storytelling affects literacy- it IS, literacy!
There are other interesting facts between the brain and stories. For instance, studies show that when you listen to stories your brain patterns as the listener often are exactly the same as the person telling the story. It has also been noted that an emotional connection to a story stimulates the frontal and parietal cortices, and that the sensory cortex is quite literally stimulated by sensory content in a story thus triggering the brain to release various chemicals into the body. And most interestingly- the neurons activated in action often match the part of a story describing action! No doubt about it- there is LOT going on when you sit down to listen to a well told tale!
The Hand/Mind Connection:
“What the hand does, the mind remembers”. Maria Montessori
After listening to an intricate and exciting story Cheryl has the children draw something from it or draw something that they can anticipate will be in the next stories she will tell. This is nothing short of brilliant. Following listening with hand work connects what the children have heard to their own creativity and makes the story their own. They enter into it in a very concrete way. As Dr. Montessori points out, doing this hand work activates memory. Drawing also makes a connection in the child’s mind between story, writing, and art. It is yet another way to prepare young children for what is to come as they learn to read and write. For older children it is an excellent way for them to step into re-writing and re-telling the story, and may act as an inspiration for them to create stories of their own.
Dr. Montessori researched and experimented with the hand/mind connection throughout her whole life and career as an educator and a physician. She was a pioneering force in brain research and learning, she believed, and science has since shown, that the hand and the brain develop in harmony. One of the reasons Montessori education is so successful is this connection, Montessori materials are very hands-on. She said- “The hand reports to the brain and the brain guides the hand in an ongoing cycle.” So, after being told a good story that engaged your mind picking up drawing utensils and creating characters and things out of the story absolutely cements the learning. Added to that is the extra bonus of Matt singing one of his songs while the children draw and color. As can be seen on an MRI, music lights up lots of different areas of the brain (Johns Hopkins University studies). This combination of story, art and music is exercising the brain fully!
Emotional and Psychological Intelligence:
Why is it that these old stories, myths and fables have such lasting appeal? Generation after generation passes them on. There are many reasons for this, one is that the old stories contain many archetypes and archetypal situations- they present characters and plots that just seem to be built into humanity’s collective psyche, which is what an ‘archetype’ is. It is simply built into humans to understand these themes. Some of the archetypal themes that show up in Cheryl’s stories are:
Tales of Over Coming- monsters, bullies, etc.
Stories of Voyages and Returns
Transformation Stories - Stories that depict a transformation of some kind
Tales of Choices and Consequences
Hero’s Journey - Lesser and greater stories of the Hero’s Journey
Comedies and Tragedies
If you think about it, much of what we encounter in modern literature, movies and television still have these very same themes, as I have noted, we just seem to be hard-wired to respond to these themes. Even as very young children we have these challenges and delights showing up in our lives. This is why I have seen even very young children give Cheryl’s stories rapt attention, they speak to us on a very deep level. And this is precisely what makes them so valuable, they are helping children (and adults as well) make sense of what they typically encounter in life. If there was no other reason to hear them this would be enough- but there is so much more.
We hear much about the benefits of mindfulness these days, but what is it and how does one present it to others, especially children? True, teaching children to breathe, slow down and pay attention is a very good thing, and there are many excellent sources for doing this. However, as a practitioner of mindfulness myself, and having taught it to classroom teachers for nearly 20 years I would like to suggest that participating in the activities of Story Village are an excellent way to teach mindfulness to children.
Here is why I think this:
- Listening to an engaging story brings about an automatic state of mindful awareness. It is one thing to tell a child “pay attention” but if they have not had the experience of what that feels like it of little use. Cheryl’s stories usually bring about a state of rapt attention- that then gives them body knowledge of what attention feels like. After having had that experience it will be much easier to introduce children to other forms of paying attention.
- Making the hand/ mind connection through drawing and coloring after the stories furthers the attentive experience and also teaches concentration which is a little different than simple attention. You have now activated the part of the mind that requires skill and concentration, that needs to plan where on the page to draw, how to manage the writing utensils, what colors to choose etc.
- Having engaged both attention, through listening, and concentration through drawing, the accompanying music caps the whole experience and engages the memory.
These things are all giving a child (or even an adult) a body and mind experience of mindfulness that they will carry into other parts of their lives.
In conclusion, it is obvious to me that participation in Cheryl’s Story Village is giving children valuable life lessons. It is giving them the experiences of mindfulness and attention, it is presenting them with ways to view and deal with the varied experiences life will brings through the dilemmas and joys the stories present and it cements the learning with art and song. As an educator and a parent I cannot think of anything I would rather have a child do.
Michele Blumberg, M.Ed