Using Stories with Toddlers in a Parent-Child Setting
In most Parent-Child programs that come out of a Waldorf School or Waldorf-Inspired Programs, story time and circle time become something everyone looks forward to. With all the oral traditions that we have in our Waldorf Schools, it is good to give examples to parents looking into this form of education for their child. I found it conflicting however, in the beginning, as I am not a strong supporter of “entertaining” children while they could be playing.
So balancing out the need to introduce oral traditions to families while also teaching the concept of “uninterrupted play” became my mission. I accomplished this by creating a schedule for my classes that emphasizes play for the first full hour. During the play time we do not interrupt the children to do a circle or tell a story or sing a song; rather, I help the parents focus on allowing the children to play and help them overcome their need to entertain their children. After that hour of play, then we clean up and gather around the table for some songs and finger games before we say a blessing and eat our snack. I focus on seasonal and also popular nursery rhymes made into finger- or hand-movement games (I make up the movements). I always start with the same verse and then change the finger games every few weeks or seasonally–or if it’s raining, then we do the “drip drop” finger game from Wilma Ellersiek.
At the end of the class, after our farm walk, we gather to say good-bye. Just before this, I insert a short storytime for the class, outside on the farm. I take my story sack with me on our walk. First we sit in a circle, and I give each child and each parent a squirt of Moor Lavender oil. Then I do my finger symbol ritual (ringing of the cymbals gathers their attention), and then launch into my little “Story Song.” The children in the Parent-Child classes are too young to watch a performance; they want to interact with everything and explore it, so I had come up with a way for them to learn to listen, but still honor their need to touch and explore. For these young ages it’s great to find a popular book, song or rhyme and make characters for it and play a little interactive game with the class as you sing. Some examples might be: when we sing “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” I pull out an animal from my sack and pass it to a child to hold. Or if I sing “Five Little Pumpkins,” then I set the pumpkins on my lap and knock them down when they “roll out of sight.” The children pick them up and give them back to me to “do it again!” With “Five Little Ducks Went Out One Day,” I have five little ducks hanging on a stick, and when they “go out” one child takes one off the stick and so on, until I have to gather them all up again for the ending when they all come back. So my stories are really songs with characters made out of needle felting, wood or felt, which the children get to hold or pass around while we sing. Only at the end of the year in the oldest classes (with the children who are ripe for preschool) do I sprinkle in some “stories” of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” or “The Napping House,” which is another favorite. By this time they are ready for such a “performance” and can watch without needing to touch. At the end of the “Story Song” I sing the good-bye song and hold out my bag for the children to return the puppets back to where they came from.
Simone Demarzi had a program for infants in her home for many years; she now leads the Parent-Child classes at Sacramento Waldorf School.