Age-appropriate story telling 

By Melinda Turner, Steiner parent and grandparent

On a lovely Autumn Wednesday morning recently Early Childhood mentor Ebba Bodame gave another inspiring talk in the library on an aspect of the Steiner philosophy of parenting. 

Just as an aside, when I came across Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy in my mid to late twenties while living in London, it was with great relief that I realised I did not have to give up my health science knowledge if I took on this spiritual path. All that I knew from my optometry training (including remedial reading studies and the importance of movement in brain development of the young child) dovetailed into Steiner’s broader knowledge of the human being. 

At Ebba’s talk two things jumped out for me as an ‘old’ Steiner parent and now grandparent! Firstly when we speak to our young child, (under three) don’t say too much. This can make the child anxious and begin that path of overthinking things (or drawing them up into their head too soon). Let them live in the will (in their bodies) thus freeing the mind for the unique way a child thinks; so different to an adult’s. 

And make it an imagination game. Instead of saying: Oh don’t start pulling the toys out, we just packed them away and we’re running late. But rather suggest: Oh the train (or dolly) just needs a rest now, they’ve been so busy playing with you. They’ll be waiting for another play when we come home. 

Also speak more slowly. Say a sentence then pause. Let the words sink in. This slower and more imaginative way has a calming effect and honours the child’s developmental stage. They are still grasping the meaning of words, although they are picking up clues of meaning (including our feelings) through other other senses. 

The second point was about story telling. A big part of Steiner child education is the importance of telling a story, rather than reading it. I confess I wasn’t good at this as a parent. I did get the importance of reading/telling a story rather than letting them watch images on a TV screen. Though we had a TV, I used it selectively. 

When we tell a story (or read one without pictures) this allows the child to create their own pictures internally. It then becomes an activity of their own will. And it also allows them to make the image as scary or benign as they want. Its like an innate safety mechanism, protecting the child from being overwhelmed by too strong emotions like fear when they are exposed to large and loud images on a screen or even in a book. 

So one way to tell a story to a young child is to practise reflecting on the day’s activities. Make a time at the end of each day (round dinner or bath or bed time) where you mention the things the child did, allowing them to add their own memories when they want  … remembering to speak slowly with pauses between images. eg. We had some trouble finding your gumboots this morning…. But wasn’t it good to go for our walk and find the water puddles…. I’m glad we took our beanies with us as well as our jackets. Brother wind was so chilly today! … And when we came home we had some yummy soup … It was a bit too hot at first, so we waited and watched the steam rise…. We blew on it to cool it down … and then it was just right … 

Ebba offered a story from her own childhood with a bit of magic added. About a toy dog she received for Christmas. She had hoped for a real one. So each night as she cuddled it in bed, it came to life. And they chatted and played together. Her story was accompanied by simple felt dolls and props (as they use in the preschool and kindergarten). 

I highly recommend coming to Ebba’s talks. There is plenty of time for Q&A and a cuppa. 

Melinda Turner 


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