I believe in the power of children’s stories, the stories they tell in play, in art, and in those quieter moments when the call to share thoughts is almost deafening. In a world that largely silences, the stories children tell shatter the surface of our thinking, provoking us to action, to the re-interpretation, re-understanding, and re-imagining of our world. The emerging voices of the kindergarteners that I spend time with tell me that this is so.
In the fall, the kindergarten teachers and I embarked on a journey. We sought story—spoken and acted out—and we sought the kind of experiences that forge community and grow voice. We found what we were looking for.
In these kindergarten classes where we collaborate with the children to construct a storytelling/storyacting curriculum, the tales told by all are brief, powerful, and rich in possibility for creative dramatics and discussion. They speak not only of the realities of living young in a struggling northeastern Ohio city, but also of rich fantasies, powerful hopes, and abiding love. Dinosaurs attack but cannot deter a surfer from her visit to the beach; a baseball connects with the bat, bounces off the sky, sails through the clouds, and hits the sun; two princes arrive on a magic carpet to save the two princesses they love while a monkey crows “Cock-a-doodle-doo; and Little Red Riding Hood rescues her grandma all on her own.
The kindergarten teachers are excited. They tell me that the stories offer a glimpse into the minds of their prolific authors. They tell me that these stories provide opportunities for learning to listen to others, to participate in each other’s history, and to respectfully challenge theories and assumptions.
The teachers wonder at the students who seem lost amid worksheets and drills but who excel on the storytelling/storyacting stage. The teachers tell of the extraordinary achievement of those students who came to school in August not knowing how to hold a pencil correctly who now write their own sentences, their own tales. The teachers must bear witness to these powerful stories of classroom success because these are the stories that standardized writing assessments fail to tell.
I believe in the power of imagination and of a child’s voice and in the need to tell stories in which Evil, in all its forms, is vanquished. I believe in stories that not only save Jack from the giant but have him meet a princess and stories that inhabit a world where firemen ride into a scene on skateboards. And I believe that our measures of success, the tests that speak to uniformity and conformity rather than authentic learning progress, tell a story about children and the adults who learn alongside them that is false and harmful to the mind and spirit. I believe in story’s ability to empower, embrace, and embolden. I believe in story’s ability to inform and illuminate. I believe in the voice of children. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.