Eugene Waldorf School

Storytelling and Puppet Shows

Storytelling in Waldorf Early Childhood Classrooms

In Waldorf Schools, children swim in a sea of stories everyday; fairy tales, legends, myths, or biographical stories, depending on the age and developmental level of the children.  Waldorf teachers deliver lessons to the children through clear and beautiful speech, based on a solid and loving relationships developed over time.  All the subjects in Waldorf Schools, including math, reading, history and science, are taught through a living interaction between human beings, in the preschool, kindergarten and grade school.

In the Early Childhood realm, the teachers engage themselves purposefully in an activity, like baking, sewing, or sweeping. Young children learn through imitation. They want to participate with and imitate the adults around them. In a Waldorf early childhood classes the children are allowed to play freely under the warm guidance of the teacher who is engaged in an activity. This activity may resonate with the children who often then incorporate the activity in their play. During the preschool and kindergarten morning, activities are constantly interwoven and enriched with stories.

Benefits of Storytelling and Repetition

Storytelling is vital in the life of a young child. In a Waldorf classroom, often stories are told rather than read from a book. While telling a story that the teacher has memorized, a relationship is established between the child and the adult, a relationship of the heart. “Learning by heart” is different than “learning by rote”. Teachers make the story theirs, and picture and imagine each part. Then, when they pass the story to the young child, a connection is made where the child can live into those pictures. Only then, can the child receive the story in reverence. A connection between the heart of the teacher and the heart of the child is created, and the child’s soul and spirit are nourished.

When hearing a story, children can create their own imaginary pictures, just as the teacher has done. These pictures are not materialized or imposed upon the children. The children are free to create what is necessary for them, in their own life and development, and dream in a healthy way into the stories.

The teacher works to be conscious of using good language syntax, and the content of the story is rich. In the Eugene Waldorf kindergartens teachers choose specific fairy tales from the Brother Grimm, appropriate to the age of the children. The vocabulary selected in these stories draws on words rarely used in everyday language. The phrases themselves are poetically written and rich in pictures. The teacher uses also simpler stories drawn from the realm of nature and the seasons. Often the teachers write their own stories for special occasion or from inspiration.

In a Waldorf class, the same story is repeated many times.  The younger the child, the longer the period of time during which the same story will be repeated. Children love to hear stories again and again. It can give them security and allow them to enter more deeply and imaginatively into the content and language of the story. It allows them to relax for they feel held by a continuum which is extremely nourishing to them. Repetition gives order to children’s worlds, which they need in order to grow in the healthiest fashion.

Many Kinds of Puppet Shows

In a Waldorf Kindergarten, the children listen to and experience the same story for several weeks.  First the teacher tells the story to children for a few days. Then the teacher creates a puppet show out of the same story with simple marionettes. The puppet show will be presented for a few days. Finally, the teacher will involve the children in a play of the story. Often all the children participate in the play. There are very few props, but the children enjoy wearing capes, a crown or a hat to distinguish the characters they represent. The teacher tells the story and the children move along following the story line. By that time, they know the story very well and can recite parts of it.  The children love to act out the story and prior to the play, some will ask the teacher:  “May I be the queen? May I be the bad son?”  The plays are done for a few days, so children can experience different roles.  Then the teacher moves on, introduces a new story, and the rhythm repeats itself.

The puppets used for the puppet shows are handmade by the teachers out of natural material, cotton, wool, silk. They are simply made, often with no facial features, and the differences between them lie principally in the color of the cloth chosen for the outfit. For example, a prince wears a yellow garment and a red cape while a king wears red and purple. A baker will wear white, a woodman brown and dark green and so on. A simple puppet for a three year old child might be a standing puppet, meaning that it can stand on its own without the help of the storyteller. These puppets move about in scenes but do not have much flexibility to gesture on their own.

Marionettes made out of silk can do more. They have arms that the storyteller can move. The marionette can bow, kneel, carry objects, and gesture. These marionettes are more appropriate for children six and older. Six year old children will relish the challenge of manipulating the marionettes themselves. They create their own characters and use them in puppet shows of their own creation to share with classmates. At times, the teacher may call on some children to help with presenting a puppet show. Most puppet shows are done on a table where the scenery is built out of simple material and silk of appropriate colors with minimal added details.  The soothing gentle colors of the fabric help the child to dream into the story.

In general, the teacher tells the story with a melodious voice without dramatization.  This helps avoid personal interference within the story which will prevent the children from creating their own inner worlds.  Some puppet shows are done on the floor and all the children can participate. Some are done on teachers’ laps, and some from a “story apron”. Within these guidelines the teachers are free to create puppet shows that are suitable to the age of the children, their specific needs, or a specific situation in the classroom or a child’s life. Creating a puppet show is a work of art and heart.  The possibilities are infinite.

Storytelling with Movement

Another form of storytelling is presented in the “circle” or “movement activity”.  The teacher creates a simple story out of songs, verses and poems. The theme often reflects the seasons. Teachers speak the story while moving along the “circle” and making gestures related to the meaning of the actions in the story. The children naturally and enthusiastically imitate their teachers.  This activity helps the children to move in a social context, to follow the lead of the teacher and to interact with their peers. It also allows the children to use their sense of balance, movement, hearing, speech, and touch while listening to poetry and music. This activity challenges the children in many ways, but because this is presented in an artistic way and with much joy, the children are eager to participate.  The same circle story will be repeated for a number of days with slight variances.

Storytelling is an important part of the developmental foundation built in the formative years between birth and seven years. Children in Waldorf classrooms have a healthy, strong relationship to each other, their teachers, and to learning throughout their lives.

By Marie Christine Lhomond, Early Childhood teacher at Eugene Waldorf School, and Marina Taylor, teacher and PR and Enrollment Coordinator at Eugene Waldorf School.

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