When Teachers Tell Their Stories – Part 1

I remember the first story I told to children.  It happened at lunchtime.  That’s not surprising as lunchtime is perhaps our most intimate time of the day.  It is where teachers and children bond.  One day at lunch, we had talked about everything from Bruno the dog dying to debating if girls can marry girls and boys can marry boys.  A child asked me to tell a story about when I was a little girl. And I knew the best story to tell. I prefaced it with “It Happened Like This…” Children quickly learned the difference between “It Happened Like This”, a true story, and “Once Upon a Time”, a pretend story.  Let me back up, because this is important.

My first Director always made sure teachers sent newsletters to families.  And she stressed how important it was to include a paragraph to teach parents something.  Anything.  She was right.  As I wrote my dutiful newsletters, I became far more interested in that parent paragraph.  I just knew that there was much more to tell parents, the little things and the moments when learning clicked and children laughed.

And my newsletters told parents about lunchtime, storytelling, our class becoming a family, reading aloud, and chapter reading.  The most important stuff.  I wrote to parents all the time, and storytelling was often a key to their learning.  Here is a newsletter I wrote to families decades ago:

“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 and thinking.  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 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 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!

Stayed tuned for Part 2 and more Jennie storytelling.


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.
This entry was posted in Expressing words and feelings, Imagination, Inspiration, play performances, preschool, storytelling, Teaching young children, wonder and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to When Teachers Tell Their Stories – Part 1

  1. Ritu says:

    Wonderful, Jennie 🥰

  2. beetleypete says:

    Great stuff as always, Jennie. Looking forward to part 2. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

  3. ksbeth says:

    I love this approach and your philosophy, Jennie. I am much the same -)

  4. I’d forgotten how much I loved adults’ “It happened like this . . . ” stories when I was little. I was fascinated by the notion that adults had younger versions of themselves, even child versions!

  5. Norah says:

    I love this, Jennie, and totally agree. It drove my classroom practice: Our best plans can often be overturned by eager, questioning children.

  6. Darlene says:

    I can see how effective this can be. Even as an adult educator, I found the class loved it when I told real-life stories, usually from my life.

  7. Absolutely wonderful, Jennie.

  8. Ellen says:

    OH MY STARS!! When my siblings and I were preschoolers in rural Pennsylvania my Gram was our first “teacher” and she told us many stories from her adventurous life. She always began those stories with the words “It happened like this”. At the end of each one we would beg her for more and more stories of those long gone days that she brought to life for her adoring audience, over and over again. Back in those days school began with first grade, no kindergarten or preschool. How blessed are children today, especially if they are fortunate enough to find themselves in Jennie’s classroom! This memory the reason that your words…”Stories are the keepers of words and memories” resonated so deeply with me. As always, your stories are enlightening and enjoyable! Thank-YOU!

    • Jennie says:

      How wonderful that your Gram started her stories with “It happened like this”. Yes, OH MY STARS! And those are the stories that stick. My Nan was the storyteller, too. Ooooh, I’ll have to include one of her stories in this series of blog posts. In school, my 6th grade teacher told us stories. No other teacher did. I will champion being the keeper of words and memories through stories. Promise. Thank you, Ellen.

  9. Dan Antion says:

    I am looking forward to part-2, Jennie. This is wonderful.

  10. I truly love your enthusiasm. I can appreciate your sincere style and work. I have given out much love to learning students, voluntarily. These reapings from me happened only because this same love was given to me long ago. Good teaching is an rewarding, enriching investment. Cheers!!

    • Jennie says:

      That is so nice and much appreciated! Giving and receiving love is a wonderful thing, especially for teachers. Very rewarding. 🙂

  11. dgkaye says:

    Wonderful Jennie. How many kiddies will be thrilled to be in your class next! Looking forward to part 2 🙂

  12. How lovely. What a wonderful story from real life for kids.

  13. I have never received a newsletter from a teacher although we do receive a newsletter from the school with up coming events.

    • Jennie says:

      So, your boys’ teachers don’t correspond with stories or events in the classroom? Actually, I don’t think many teachers do, Robbie. It’s extra work. But, when something wonderful happens, it’s great to tell parents.

      • Hi Jennie, no, our teachers don’t do that. It is a lovely idea though. We do get a very comprehensive report about our child.

      • Jennie says:

        Good thing! Our public schools give a report card with letter grades, three times a year. The narrative is barely a sentence or two, generally if there is a problem.

  14. What’s up to every single one, it’s really a good for me to pay a visit this
    website, it includes priceless Information.

  15. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, this is true and brilliant!

  16. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is an extraordinary post from the extraordinary teacher, Jennie!

  17. srbottch says:

    Excellent, Jennie. Your methods are wonderful. Every early childhood school should have a ‘Jennie’.

  18. Teaching children and parent together. What a great idea, with the regularely newsletter. I ve never heared about in Germany. There parents only get letters from school of their kids when there are any difficulties. 😉 Michael

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Michael. Telling stories to children, and sharing newsletters with parents is important. I wish all parents got newsletters about what is happening in their child’s classroom, all the good things. 🙂

  19. D. Metzke says:

    Being a good storyteller has been one of my goals for some time, looks like you’ve got it down! 🙂

  20. quiall says:

    There are teachers I will never forget, even 50 years later. I bet your kids will remember you. Thanks for following my blog.

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