Cultivating Your Inner Storyteller at the In Bloom Conference
by Zoë Van Nostrand with Melissa Blake
Primitive Pursuits instructors Melissa Blake and Britton Dougherty recently traveled to New Hampshire to present at the “In Bloom in Keene: Promising Practices in Nature-Based Early Childhood Education” at Antioch University. In Bloom conferences happen across the country and showcase nationally known educators, and local practitioners of nature-based education. They shared their skills with a group of 20 educators, teaching them how to use storytelling as an inspirational and effective teaching tool.
Stories have the power to convey and inspire strong emotions, sensory information, and curiosity, and they give us a great chance to practice mind’s eye imagining (an important reading skill). All of these elements help make what’s learned in a story more memorable. Students can enjoy a narrative simply as entertainment, but the process of mentally following a plot encourages imagination, problem solving, and personal connection to the principles illustrated by the tale. Both Britton and Melissa use storytelling as a regular tool at Ithaca Forest Preschool, as it is an effective way to engage and teach young children about natural history, outdoor hazards, and to impart positive social and emotional skills.
Storytelling as an educator requires prep time, a clear teaching intention, imagination, and improvisation. Britton and Melissa guided the participants through a series of activities to help teach them how to craft an effective and engaging story. Britton interviewed participants about stories they remembered from their childhood, and pushed them to identify what elements of that story made it impactful. The process of identifying what makes you connect more to a story helps synthesize the process of how to craft your own stories with elements others will enjoy. Britton also encouraged participants to “think about the larger picture of what narratives we all want the children in our care to take with them into the world.”
Both Melissa and Britton emphasize the importance of not only knowing your audience, but having a clear idea of some things you want them to learn from the story. Each individual may take away something slightly different from your story, and what they take away might change as they hear the story multiple times or at different times in their life. Some components for crafting an awesome story could include:
- Scientifically accurate information about nature
- Interesting characters who are individuals, not based off pop-culture or stereotypes
- Age appropriate and culturally appropriate language and concepts for your audience
In the final activity several workshop participants courageously got up in front of the group and told 5 minute teaching stories, improvised from rough outlines they had come up with in small groups. Britton and Melissa knew they had been successful when they heard these great stories. Each story had engaging characters, plotlines that made sense, and valuable lessons to impart. Multiple participants came up after the workshop to express their appreciation to Melissa and Britton for helping guide them in learning to craft stories of their own.