This has been updated and adapted from a document that has been on our website for 25 years. We have provided this document to every member since day one. However, I feel it is important enough to be highlighted to make sure nobody misses out on this because it is a cornerstone of your Waldorf experience.
A member asked a really good question about the following story today. She asked:
“I printed out the Fairyland of Science book yesterday (this is a supplement but not an official part of the daily planners) and was browsing through. I know the Belladonna Berries story would probably scare my sensitive five year-old and I thought maybe it is supposed to scare him since we don’t want our kids thinking they can eat anything- so a healthy fear may be necessary. But at the same time I don’t want him to be scared by the story”
This brings to light an important point I need to make with all the stories and verses in my curriculum as well as in other curriculum – the stories must be told and adapted to your student.
This is so important for so many reasons. I will outline some of these below.
However, before I do this please take note that we do provide a large collection of EXTRA stories for all the grades so if you feel a story needs too much adapting you can simply switch it out for a different one. Please let us know if you cannot find those extra stories. We have always been aware that there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ so we have always provided choices for our members.
For all members there will be extra stories either on your Extra Lessons Page or on the member blog.
For Lifetime Members and members with the Teacher Support Package you can find extra stories and verses in the same places. However, you also have access to all of Colin Price’s extra verses and Alan Whitehead’s extra verses and stories as well.
Why Telling Stories is Important
- To start with you need to choose (or even create your own) stories that are suitable to the style of your family and if they are not suitable you need to adapt them. I can think of many examples where this may be needed and many examples where the style of one family may not fit the style of another. For example, I once had a child in my class who was deathly scared of spiders. I had to change every spider story to ‘silkworm’ for him. I also tend to change the stories to reflect the students I am teaching. So, if I have a class where the student’s parents are from India I will tell a story from India and maybe even change some names in other stories.
- You have permission NOT to read the Grimm’s Fairytales. That’s one reason we provide so many abundant alternatives. You can read more here about why Waldorf does not require Grimm’s tales. Some could be very traumatic for some children. I could not read them to my first child without changing the ending. I would change every “death” to a “sickness” and every trauma to a lesser trauma. However, my third child LOVED the Grimm’s tales with enthusiasm. Her favorite one was about a Juniper Tree and how the child was chopped up and put under the tree and….well, you get the idea. I was pretty horrified reading it to her but she had discovered it one day on her own and read most of it to herself and insisted she loved it and had me read it over and over. She has grown to be a wonderful, caring, sweet and compassionate child who does not like violence at all so I would have to say, along with choosing what is suitable to your family, it is also possible that what is suitable for one child may not be suitable for another
- It is you, as the parent, that needs to choose. One reason I have provided so many choices (there are always more stories than you need each month) is so you can choose the stories most suitable to you. We honor and respect your choices as a family and would never make those choices for you. We simply provide suggestions, examples, and a format for you to follow to help you on your path.
- One reason the parent/teacher tells the story is so s/he can adapt it to his/her class. If you are telling a fairy-tale from Germany and all the kids have names like “Hansel” and “Gretel” but you live in a culture where everyone is named “Serjito” and “Maria” you might consider changing the names as well as the places in the story (unless the reason you are telling the story is to expose them to German culture). You might even change some of the candies on the witches house (you all know the story, right?) to candies that are common in your country. The witch might even live in the desert instead of the woods…and perhaps she isn’t even a witch at all!
How to Easily Adapt Stories
But isn’t adapting stories a lot of work?
Why buy a curriculum if you are going to need to adapt the stories?
From experience I can say that after doing this a few times it becomes second nature. It only took me three months to learn to adapt stories ‘on the fly’. And it doesn’t matter which curriculum you purchase or where you source your stories from – you will always need to adapt them anyway because that is what Waldorf education is about – telling the children their own stories.
No storyteller, author, or curriculum provider can write your child’s story because they do not have your child.
So here are some tips to make the process easier…
- As you read through a story to tell it to your class feel free to cross out words, substitute names and change the places altogether. Create stories that fit the culture, location, language and mood of your own home. At first you will do this with a pencil or pen. Very quickly you will learn to do it in your head.
- If you never talk about death in your home then Grimm’s tales, The German Struvvelpeter verses or the tale below are going to scare your child. Don’t tell them at all. There are so many stories to choose from. There is no need to choose one that isn’t comfortable for you.
- When you are choosing and telling a story remember to look at why you are telling it and feel free to change it to the language your child will best understand. It is the message and not the ‘authentic’ story ‘as it is written’ that is important and each family, as well as each child, has their own needs.
But it’s a lot of Work to Tell a Story!
Yes, if you try to tell the story word for word you are creating an impossible task for yourself. Trying to tell a story word for word is like making yourself prepare a formal speech every week for your class. It is stressful and completely unnecessary.
Telling a story does not mean memorizing it word for word.
A story really only has five elements you need to consider: The main characters, the plot, the setting, the conflict and the resolution.
- The Plot: First read the story to get a feel for what the mood and message are. First, you need to decide if this mood and message suits your family/class. If the answer is yes then you go to step two. If the answer is no then you find a different story or skip that one. So now you know the plot.
- Setting and Main Characters: After you get the ‘mood and message’ of the story you will read it through again for details. Keep in mind that these are children’s stories and step one and step two shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes each. Also keep in mind that you will soon be able to do these steps in ‘one fell swoop’ or even ‘on the fly’. I’m just giving you guidelines to get you started. During this reading you want to take note: Where is the story? What do the characters look like? What is the weather like? What details are important to the story? Is it important that the tree is a pine tree? Is it important that the main character is wearing a ring? What can you change for your class and what has to stay the same?
- Plot, Conflict, and Resolution: Every story can actually be told in about three sentences. After reading the story ask yourself, how could I tell this story in three sentences? THIS is actually the only part of the story you have to remember.
- Memory Cues: Set up props (or images on a chalk board if you want to take more time) in order to help remind you of the progression and main points of the story. You may use small wooden toys, beeswax figures, or other small props. I will usually set up five props or images (more if there are a lot of characters) – two for the main characters, and three more for the opening of the story, conflict, and resolution points of the story. Or, if a story has a progression to remember I will set up memory cues in progression. This usually takes me about five minutes.
- Practice: Practice will pare this 15-minute process down to a 1-5 minute process. Over time I created a system where I had story baskets and I kept all my similar props (farm, arctic, desert, forest, etc…) in one basket. If I told a story more than once it was a breeze to tell it again and again.
Comment below in the comment section about your favorite storytelling tips!