By Marwa Abdelfattah, founder and CEO of CoAuthor
All we have is stories. When we are silent, when we are talking to someone, when we are preparing an answer to a person who is not even there, when we are explaining a phenomenon or even when we are on the toilet seat, we are always in narrative mode.
What Makes Us Special:
In fact, what sets us apart from other mammals is our cognitive ability to construct and tell stories. Storytelling is what made us the most successful species to date. It gave us the power to collaborate in very big numbers which helped construct nations and invent monetary systems. Our whole lives are guided by a collection of narratives that we believe in.
If stories are essential to our very survival, why do many of us look at children’s stories as leisure time or as some sort of white noise in the background? Why are we overlooking storytelling in our educational curriculums when all we have is stories?
We’d like to offer a tribute to Vivian Paley; a phenomenal teacher who understood the real value of children’s play and stories.
In a conference, Paley said the following on children’s stories:
“Every species of mammal practices being young running, crawling, jumping, climbing, bumping, pushing, pulling and pouncing, these are necessary survival skills. And to these, human children must add another survival skill: imaginative play. They must practice pretending to be someone else in another place making up character plot and dialogue for the stories they invent. They are in truth inventing abstract thinking. The act of stepping outside oneself and viewing a broader perspective of relationships: verbal, visual, social, physical. But they are also, it seems to me, inventing reading, writing, and arithmetic, all in an earlier primitive form, in preparation for. They are inventing and reinventing themselves as thinking people before the world tells them what to think. They do this as they literally play around with ideas. In effect, the child says “I’m someone with ideas. I’m someone who turns ideas into actions and actions into new ideas and furthermore. This is what I’m intended to do. I’m intended to have my own ideas. That’s why I play the way I do. To show the world what my ideas are and how necessary I’m to the community.”
Coauthoring Stories With Children:
Vivian Paley brilliantly built a personal deep bond with every child she taught through storytelling and story acting. Paley would approach a child, sit next to them with pen and paper and invite them: “tell me a story” She’d then write the child’s story in front of them, demonstrating her respect for their imagination. She’d go even further with the child’s permission, asking a group of children to act out the child’s story, instantly making the child an author and a producer. A creator with a high adoption rate in their environment.
Paley was looking in children’s stories for their understanding of kindness, power, and friendship among other things. She’d ask specific questions during the storytelling process to keep it going. She’d go to the storyteller the next day and mention a detail from the story they told a day before. She’d build bridges between the storyteller and their classmates saying something like this: “the bird in John’s story reminds me of you when you whisper in your friend’s ears.”
You Can Do it Too!
At CoAuthor we love and respect Vivian Paley. We see value in her work and we’ve carefully studied the research that indicates its importance in fostering literacy learning. We know how storytelling is necessary to children’s development and how it can build a powerful bond between caregivers and children. How it makes clear to children that the purpose of literacy is to communicate.
We created an entire software inspired by many of Paley’s techniques to make her incredible approach accessible to all children.
If you want to take a dive into the world of imaginative play with your child or student, pretend for one day with a child, or remind yourself how to play with the generous mind of a child, check out a free CoAuthor story template here.