“It Happened Like This…”

This is the classic line to begin a great story, and a true story.  I say this often in the classroom, as language and stories are strong building blocks.  The children are very familiar with this phrase, as I tell stories at lunchtime.  Most of my stories are true, things that happened to me as a child and an adult.  The first story I ever told to children was about Dr. Tyler, ‘the peanut man’, who grew peanuts and suddenly appeared in my classroom, to the astonishment of everyone, including the teacher.  He looked exactly like Santa Claus, and when he barged into the classroom with a big burlap bag of peanuts, he really looked like Santa Claus.  Our teacher told us to duck, and he proceeded to pelt the classroom with peanuts.  It was scary, exciting, and wonderful.  This happened when I was in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade.

When I first told that story to children many years ago, I realized that the power of language and literacy goes far beyond reading a book.  The children begged for more stories, and I told stories!  From a bat in my bedroom, to a raccoon in my kitchen, every lunchtime is filled with “It happened like this” stories.

Stories are more than language; they are pathways to learning.  When a teacher tells a story, especially a true story, children soak it up.  They can never get enough and always ask for more.  So, how do I address that?  My stories become riddled with questions, asked by me.  Once a story has become popular, I can stop and ask questions.  I do this all the time, and I know it works.  I ask, “How do peanuts grow?”, and “How did the bat get into my bedroom?”  Those questions promote long conversations.  That’s wonderful!

It Happened Like This“… It started at 10:00 AM.  A child was fascinated with our red and sparkly dress-up shoes, prompting dialogue about “The Wizard of Oz” with classmates and teachers.  Clearly, some children wanted to do a play or performance about “The Wizard of Oz”.  Since we were close to clean up and lunchtime, we decided to revisit the idea after rest time.

After rest and snack, we talked about what we wanted to do.  We chose parts, and gathered costumes from our dress-ups.  The children then decided what we should do, and wrote their own play.  They performed it for the the Big Room children.  This is what they wrote:

  The Aqua Room Wizard of Oz

“Once upon a time there was a girl named Dorothy and a dog named Toto who lived in a house in Kansas.  Two mean witches played together.  They had magic wands and turned people into things.  There was a good witch, too.  She could turn the bad witches into magic.  There was a tin man.  He had to save Dorothy.  He had to get on a horse and get to the house to save her.  Dorothy had to get on the back of the horse and giddy-up home.  Dorothy married the tin man.  She had a baby.  They will name the baby when she turns one year old.  The tin man said, “Dorothy, stay there.  I will take care of the witches.”.  And he said to the witches, “Bibbity bobbity boo!”

When children have been exposed to stories and storytelling, and have been allowed the opportunity to take an idea and run with it, to express themselves without constraints, and to have the support of of a teacher, parent or adult, critical thinking occurs and self esteem develops.  Wow!

This is a great example of my philosophy.  Our best plans can often be overturned by eager, questioning children.  I seize those moments!


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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