The heart of the Waldorf curriculum is the treasury of stories that the children hear throughout the grades. Every aspect of the Waldorf curriculum centers around the well-told story and most Waldorf teachers work hard to cultivate their story-telling skills. Magic happens when a captivating story is being told to a group of students. Their jaws drop open and their eyes glaze over as they drink in the rich, nourishing substance that their teacher is lovingly bestowing upon them. There is an art to finding and preparing stories to bring to the childen. My next set of posts will address stories through the grades — how to prepare and make the most of them, but especially, where to find them. Today, we’ll start with first grade.
The staple of the first grade curriculum are the Grimms fairy tales. Find yourself an unabridged copy that has all of the complete stories. The fairy tales will make up your main content for first grade, including stories that bring with them one of the letters of the alphabet, but also stories just for the sake of a story. Read them yourself, write down the basic skeleton of the story, and tell it to the children from your heart. There is a school of thought that instructs teachers to not tamper with the language of the story and to memorize it word for word. Some say that every word within these magical tales is of cosmic significance. Though this may be true, and the Brothers Grimm have represented the true archetypes of human existence through these stories, only you know your children and I believe that a teacher should have the liberty to bring the stories in the way that will speak most to herself and her students. Have fun with the stories — when you tell Rumplestiltskin make up the wackiest craziest names you can come up with as the princess tries to guess the right name, better yet, have the children help you do it the next day in the recall. When telling the story of a character you would like your child to identify with describe her wearing an article of clothing very similar to one in your child’s closet. Live into the details, even if they are ones you’ve made up yourself, create images and evoke emotion all the way through.
Nature Ways in Story and Verse, by Dorothy Harrer
I discovered this little book last year and I have really enjoyed telling some of the stories that it contains. Second to the fairy tales in first grade come nature stories. It is nice when you can find a resource for stories about nature, like this one, as it contains stories and verses that come along with each story. Nature stories are wonderful, though, to make up yourself. At times I have found it difficult to make up stories to tell and what I have discovered is that this difficulty is an indication that I am not spending enough slow and easy time in nature myself. If you really want to write a nature story and are feeling a bit blocked, go for a walk or a hike — not the kind of get-your-heart-pounding kind of hike, but walk at a relaxed pace and allow yourself to notice things about the natural world. All of a sudden you’ll notice leaves that look like boats traveling down the stream, blades of grass that stand up straight at attention when covered with frost, or little helicopter leaves falling through the air on a crisp fall day. Any one of these images can bring a story that young children can absolutely delight in because they can relate to it so well. Then their own nature experiences will be all the more rich.
Between fairy tales and nature stories, your story content for the letters blocks of first grade should be covered. Don’t feel that you have to limit yourself to main lesson, though, to tell a story. Feel free to tell stories at other times of the day — when I was homeschooling I often found it best to tell the story at bedtime. That’s one of the luxuries that homeschooling allows. Find the way that the curriculum fits your life best.
One word of caution, though, be aware of how many stories your child is receiving. If you want the nature story or fairy tale that you tell to be the image that lives with the child overnight, then make sure you don’t clutter his imagination with too many other images. Read just one book to your child at bedtime so that those images have room to live and grow.
There are lots of other great resources out there. Please post your favorites in the comments.