Storytelling… and Ellis

Interestingly, my storytelling to children often happens in the bathroom.  While that might sound strange, it really isn’t.  It’s me, sitting on the bench with three or four children, squished in close.  It feels good.  We’re waiting for the child on the potty, who is far more interested in hearing what story Jennie will tell.

It wasn’t always this way.

My storytelling started almost accidently during lunchtime at school.  Lunchtime is chatty and fun.  We learn about each other, share what is happening.  We talk about important things, like if girls can marry girls, or what happens to dogs when they die.

This is why I love teaching.

And then, a child asked me something about my childhood.  The first thing that came to mind was a story of me as a child in school, and old Dr. Tyler the Peanut Man.  I told the story to a captive audience.  Storytelling became a highlight of lunchtime.  There were many things in my childhood and adulthood that became classic stories.  Many.

The storytelling grew branches.  There are true, It happened like this… stories, and pretend, Once upon a time… stories.  Fairy tales are popular, especially “The Little Red Hen” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

One day in the bathroom, the waiting line was long, so I made up a story on the fly, incorporating all the children who were there.  It went something like:

“One day, John was in his bedroom late at night.  He heard a sound outside, opened the window, and saw Elaine and Terry.  What were his friends doing there under his window at night?”

The story went from there, where all the children were included.  Now, children heard every word, because they were part of the story.  So, I made sure I used ‘big words’, like massive, interrogating, or decipher.  This was big, a captive audience and the perfect opportunity to expand their thinking and introduce them to new words.  Yes, chapter reading does this, but it’s a whole different ball of wax when the child is part of the story.

How do I know these bathroom stories make a difference?  Ellis.  She’s three-years-old.  Last week when everyone in the bathroom was asking for a Jennie Story, she interrupted and said she had a story.  Ellis wanted to tell a story.  This is what she said:

“Once upon a time there was a boy named jack-o-lantern.  He lived in the woods.  There was a scary bear in the woods.”

Jennie, just squeeze my finger if you get scared.

“The dinosaur was in the woods.  He came and bit someone.  A penguin came along and bit someone, too.  The boy played and was just laughing.  The light bugs were working in the forest, looking for the dinosaur and bear.”  ~The End~

I couldn’t grab a pen fast enough to write down the story Ellis told.  Not only was she fully vested in the Jennie Stories, especially those told in the bathroom, she was able to make up her own.  That is remarkable.  That is what happens when words and stories are part of school and part of children’s lives every day.

The more words a child hears, the better s/he will do in school.


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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68 Responses to Storytelling… and Ellis

  1. beetleypete says:

    As always, a delightful read. My 4 year-old grandson recently made up a story that bears were chasing the car, as we drove along. (We have no bears in Britain) Then he too included a dinosaur, at the end.
    “It’s alright now. The dinosaur ate the bear so he can’t chase us.”
    Two small children, an ocean apart, the same idea. Fascinating.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. quiall says:

    Have you ever thought about getting your children to write stories and then make it into a book? A keepsake for them.

  3. Ritu says:

    You are just amazing, Jennie! And telling stories is one of the best ways to get a child learning!

  4. I just came back from a conference for World Language teachers. (I teach German.) What you say about teaching Kindergartners is the same strategy for older students learning a new language. I love the comparisons. Yes, to storytelling. Yes to story writing.

    • Jennie says:

      That is most interesting, Cindy. And, it makes perfect sense. The comparison is spot on. I second your yes to storytelling and to story writing. Thank you!

  5. delphini510 says:

    Beautiful post again, Jennie. How wonderful it is for both you and the children to
    share all this magic and growth.
    I am also a believer in story telling both in our homes and schools.


    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Miriam. Sharing this magic and growth with children is the best part of teaching. I’m glad you are a believer in storytelling. Thirty five years has made me a believer, too. 🙂

  6. Mary kay says:

    Another home run, Jennie!

  7. Hi Jennie. Thanks for this Tuesday morning fun. Hmmm… maybe my NaNoWriMo story needs a dinosaur… 😉 Hugs on the wing.

  8. Dan Antion says:

    This is such a wonderful story, Jennie. You are a great role model for these kids to follow. Hopefully, they never forget the power of their imagination.

  9. Sue Vincent says:

    How wonderful! I love the stories children make up and share… they say so much about their lives as well as their imagination.

  10. The Hook says:

    It’s so reassuring to know I’m not the only one out there with a “fascinating” existence, Jennie.
    Keep up the good work; you’re a hero to these little ones.

    • Jennie says:

      Fascinating (or crazy) would definitely define me with the Mermatrons. Yes, they sucked / bribed / somehow talked me into being some sort of a wedding dancer singer. I picked the best songs (from the 60’s of course), costumes (like the white cat eye rhinestone ones), and… we went on stage. This was for their children’s wedding party. The first performance the audience asked for an encore. 😳 I think my passion for embracing the moment, and turning that into a great learning experience for children, probably describes me. I will always champion for children, Hook. Best to you!

  11. Darlene says:

    I love that visiting the bathroom is also a productive part of the day. Some great stories have come out of there!

  12. I love the part about squeezing your finger!

  13. Wonderful examples of how our actions can affect the children!

  14. Elizabeth says:

    Stories were such a natural part of my daughter’s life that when she was three she turned to me and said as an opening “back in the beginning when it was just God and the three bears…”

  15. That’s a fun story! A wonderful example of how telling stories move forward and onward.

  16. magarisa says:

    How rewarding it must be for you to hear children making up their own stories!

  17. Deepa says:

    Such a nice post Jennie. I make up stories and tell my son when I walk him home from school. I truly treasure those moments.

  18. Okay, okay…but I want to know if you had to squeeze Ellis’ finger?

  19. Oh the wonder of words! Storytelling is a captivating way to bring that wonder alive for children, Jennie–and you do it so well! 🙂

  20. Please tell Ellis that I liked her story very much.

  21. I totally agree to, Jennie! Its learning by doing, as its best. Michael

  22. Sarah says:

    Aww – this is so sweet!! I love how your bathroom stories inspired Ellis to tell her own story – bravo, Ellis!! 😍

  23. Tina Starks says:

    I never met a child who wasn’t captivated by great storytelling. Perhaps it has something to do with giving children some freedom the weave in their own visual imaginations as they listen. Thank you for sharing.

  24. What a lovely story, Jennie. Michael used to be like this and that is how we came to write the Sir Chocolate books.

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