Taking dictation: crafting stories with young kids

The following post is by contributor Amy Anderson of Let’s Explore and originally appeared in November of 2011.

There is really nothing like the imagination of a young child. Long before they can write their own stories, children are ready and eager to tell their own stories. It is wonderfully empowering for a child to see her words written down as a “real” story. So, what are you waiting for? Grab some paper and get started!

If your child needs a little inspiration to get the creative juices flowing, here are some fun things to try:

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Storytelling Day: The True Story of the Biting Bedbugs

Good night,

Sleep tight,

Don’t let the bedbugs bite!

Not so long ago, and not so far away, there stood a happy house filled with happy people. The happy family spent their mornings together, busying themselves with orange juice and crossword puzzles and playing tag in the front yard and making their beds. They spent their days apart, busying themselves with kindergarten and second grade and going to work. And they always spent their evenings together, busying themselves with setting the table and finishing homework and playing a little basketball in the sunset. The details of the days sometimes changed, but every day in the happy house ended right back where it began, with the happy people climbing in their nicely made beds, and going to sleep to chase some happy dreams.

That’s not so different from your house, right?

You know that we share our lives with all kinds of tiny creatures we can’t see, and so did the happy family. Deep inside the mattress of one of those nicely made beds lived a little bedbug family. Bedbug families are not so different from people families. (They’re not so different: except they usually have more kids, and they prefer to stay in the dark.)

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March’s Storytelling Day: The True Story of Fuzzy Wuzzy

Our storyteller, Robin, is back with a wonderful story for you to share with your kids …

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear.
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy,
Was he?

Fuzzy Wuzzy was the oldest bear in a big bear family. He didn’t know for certain, but he thought he was the grandpa bear. He speculated that he might even be the great-grandpa bear. He contemplated that he might even be the great-great-grandpa bear, but there was no real way to know. It’s hard to count that high with paws. What he knew for certain is that he loved all of the younger bears in his family very much — and that they loved him just as much, and that that was all that mattered.

Bears know that family is one of the most important things a character can have.

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Storytelling Day: The True Story of Rock A Bye Baby

birdsinnest Photo by Lin Pernille  Photography

We will be back on track with What We’re Reading Wednesday next week, but for today I wanted to share this charming story from the Simple Kids storyteller – Robin.  I’ve read her telling of Rock A Bye Baby several times now, and I still get a little choked up at the end.  As always, thank you, Robin, for inspiring us to weave our own tales for the little ones in our lives:

Rock a bye baby on the treetop
When the wind blows the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all!

This one of of the first nursery rhymes I adapted for my girls. I remember these lyrics upsetting me as a child, and when my own child learned the words and felt bothered by them, I crafted a positive vision for her from the ominous phrases. Now both girls enjoy the song’s calming tune without feeling disturbed by its imagery. As the winter swirls around us where we live and the winds start blowing, this song always comes back to mind, bringing with it (in our version) uplifting images of the promise of spring.

The little girl asked her mama, “Mama, how do birds learn to fly?”

And the mama answered the little girl, “Well, they learn to fly just like you learned to walk. They start slowly and stumble. They go short ways and return. One day, they realize they can go great distances. For you, that was walking. For birds, that’s called flying.”

“But how?” asked the girl. “Kids don’t have to be in the air to walk. What if the birds fall down?”

The mama smiled, hugged her girl close, and began humming a comforting tune. “Do you know the song we sing at bedtime? It’s a song about learning to fly.”

The mama pulled her daughter on to her lap to explain how baby birds learn to fly, and this is what she told her:

When a mommy bird and daddy bird build their nest, they build it high in the top of a tree. They build it high so that their eggs will be safe, and so that their baby birds will be born right into the sky. The sky, you know, is a bird’s real home. A nest is just his bed but the sky is where he soars.

When baby birds are little, they don’t leave their nest. Their mommy and daddy come and go, bringing them food and tastes of the bigger world. They watch their parents soar. They wait. They grow, and they watch, and they wait.

When the babies are strong enough to leave the nest, their bodies know what to do. They know how to fly just like you know how to walk. Your body knew inside you what to do — you just needed to take those first steps. We watched you hold onto tables, lean forwards, teeter. We were there to catch you and we sat right there to help you let go, to try on your own. We sat on the floor; we held out our hands.

Mama birds can’t sit on the floor; they can’t hold out their hands. So they talk to the winds and they work with the trees. The winds blow harder, lifting the baby birds just slightly out of their nests, just enough so they can feel the air move around them. The trees shake, so the baby birds can feel their balance and the strength of their wings. And one day, when the mommy bird and daddy bird know that the babies are ready, they whisper to their tree. They say in hushed chirps and cheeps: “Now! It’s time!”

And all the trees holding nests with baby birds feel the signal chirping at them from the sky. They speak to each other, sending tremors from root to root to root, far underground where you and I will never feel it, in the secret language of nature: of dirt and water and life. They know when baby birds must learn to fly.

All at once, on the very same minute of the very same morning of the most sunshiny day of spring, the mommy and daddy birds give their chirping signal and the trees talk through their barks and all at once:

DROP!

Every tree that is honored with a bird nest in its crown does the same secret tree dance. The branches twist and shout and giggle and shake and down drop the bird nests, tipping those babies out. The babies find themselves in the air, with nothing beneath them, feeling for the first time what it’s like to be hugged by the sky. And then the shaking stops, and two branches lower, the trees catch those nests, and those nests catch those baby birds.

But the baby birds will never again be quite the same, because now they’ve taken their very first flights. And they like what they’ve felt, so every day they fly further and further until the day when they soar just like their mommies and daddies.

“Have you seen the trees dancing, Mama?” asked the girl as she looked up with wonder.

“I think I might have,” said the mama with a twinkle in her eye. “It happens so fast but if you hear all the mommy and daddy birds chirping at the same time on a sunshiny spring day, look up and watch the tree tops. You might see the baby birds take their first flights.”

“I hope I see it, Mama!” said the girl. “I love the spring.”

And the mama, thinking of sunshiny warm days and babies who grow up, smiled, kissed the girl on the top of her head, and answered simply, “Me, too.”

Robin blogs about satisfying the curiosities of her inquisitive family at Not-Ever-Still Life with Girls.

Storytelling Day: The True Story of Diddle Diddle Dumpling

diddlediddlepicture
Photo by mare.bowe

Our resident storyteller Robin returns today to continue the saga of Little John Diddle.  I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but today is cloudy, misty, and cool.  It’s a perfect day to curl up with a mug of hot cocoa and let the storytelling commence!  I hope you’ll be as inspired as I am by Robin’s engaging re-telling of timeless stories . . .

Diddle Diddle Dumpling
My son, John
Went to bed with his stockings on
One shoe off and the other shoe on
Diddle Diddle Dumpling
My son, John

Little John Diddle loved his family and their farm, but he didn’t love being the littlest one around. He especially adored his big sisters, and especially didn’t adore being constantly told by them that he was too little to help with milking the cows or feeding the chickens. Little John Diddle spent a lot of time thinking about one thing: he wanted to be bigger.

John tried to grow faster. When he tagged along behind his sister Cara as she milked the cows, he turned a milk pail upside-down and practiced jumping onto it. John hoped he could make his legs stronger so they would grow and Cara enjoyed his company, but the cows didn’t like the clanging noises. He wasn’t good for milk, Cara finally told him. “Why don’t you go play?” she asked him. Everybody was always telling him to go play. Everybody just thought of him as a little kid.

When his sister Sara was gathering eggs from the hen house, John begged her to let him get the hardest eggs. Nobody liked to collect the eggs from the very back of the coops. Anyone who didn’t reach in quickly and retrieve the egg on the first try was sure to get pecked by the hens who did not appreciate having their homes disturbed. Sara didn’t like getting pecked anymore than anybody else, and John was sure that he could make his arms longer, if only he just practiced stretching them enough.  “Please let me?” he begged. Sara couldn’t resist John’s charm and sweet little boy smile for long. “Okay, Diddle Diddle. Be careful- and fast.”

John opened the first coop and stretched as far as he could. An egg! John was pretty sure he felt his arm growing. He opened the second coop and stretched. Another egg- and- OUCH!! “She bit me, Sara!” He pulled his arm back to show his sister the scratch and realized that he had crushed the egg. He knew his sister wouldn’t be happy. “Oh, John,” said Sara. “Let’s clean you up.” She brought him to the spigot. “Thank you for wanting to help, Diddle Diddle, but I think you’re still too little. Why don’t you go play?”

Feeling sad, John walked up the hill to the house. He ran into the kitchen and found his mother. He asked her a question. “Mommy, can I have two vitamins at bedtime tonight?” His mommy turned to face him. “Sweetie, you know you get one vitamin a day. Why would you want two?”

Little John was feeling very frustrated. “But Mommy!” he whined. “What can I do to grow faster? I want to be bigger! I don’t want to be too little anymore.” His mother pulled him toward her in a big hug, and then stepped back. She looked carefully at him. “Oh dumpling,” she said. “You look just the right size to me.”

“But I want to be bigger,” he wailed. “I am going to figure out how to grow faster!”

His mommy didn’t answer him right away. Finally, she said, “I remember how it feels to want to be bigger, and I would never want to stop you from trying to do something you really want. But please remember, dumpling, that I love you just the way you are. Please don’t grow too fast.”

“Okay, Mommy,” he said, and walked out, thinking about her words. John headed down to the quiet spot at the bottom of the hill where the creek gurgled and he practiced his music. John sat down on one of the flat rocks so he could think. How could he grow enough so that nobody would baby him anymore, but not so much that his mommy would be sad at him for growing too fast?

John was still thinking when his sister Dara came wandering down the hill. “Diddle Diddle, what are you doing down here? Mommy said you seemed sad. I finished my chores. Do you want to play hide-and-seek?”

John knew that if Dara was worried about him she wasn’t going to leave him by himself to stay sad. He agreed to play. If he could find a really good hiding spot, he’d have more thinking time to figure out how to grow (but not too fast). “Okay, Dara, let’s play,” he said. He thought he’d try to climb up in the hay loft. Nobody would look for him up there.

“Yay!” said Dara. “I’m counting to 100. Are you ready? One…two…three…” John set off up the hill toward the barn. It was a very big jump for him to reach the bottom lip of the open loft door above his head, but since he’d been stretching his arms and legs all morning he thought he might just reach. It took three tries. John grasped the ledge and was able to pull himself up and into the loft. He’d done it!

The loft was warm and quiet. John sat down on a pile of hay to think. He had a great idea. He’d only stretch one part of his body at a time. That way, he couldn’t grow too fast, and his mommy wouldn’t be upset. He took off his right sneaker, and began practicing jumping using only his left leg. The next day, he figured, he’d switch sides. He jumped and jumped and waited for Dara to find him. Satisfied that his left leg was a little longer from all that good exercise, John lay back on the hay and watched the dust float through a sunbeam. This really was a good hiding place, he thought.

John woke up to the sound of yelling. It was dark in the loft and he could hear all of his family calling for him. “Diddle Diddle? Where are you?” “Dumpling?” As he sat up, his father shone a flashlight into the loft and was surprised to find him there. “John! What are you doing? And where’s your sneaker?”

John smiled. He realized that Dara never found him because she never thought he was big enough to climb into the hay loft by himself. As he explained to his relieved family what he had been doing up there, they hugged him and kissed him and promised never to think of him as too little ever again.

Dear reader: my own girls have a habit of taking just one shoe off, and as such this is a favorite nursery rhyme of theirs. Tell me- what rhymes enthrall your little ones but leave you narratively unsatisfied? What tales shall we twirl next?