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Stories With The Children

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



THE child at times needs from the adult assistance in storing his mind with play material, in order that at other times he may have a stock of ideas from which to draw. His imagination needs food and stimulus other than that supplied by the ordinary happenings of his daily life. This is proven in the kindergarten by the difference in the power to play existing between children who come from homes where this stimulus is supplied, and those who come from homes where it is lacking. The more fortunate little ones are seldom at a loss for play material, while the others often have actually to be taught to play those games in which thought and imagination play a part.

Children of this first class, as we all know, love to dramatize the life about them, are fond of games which are largely, if not wholly, of a physical nature, and will indulge both of these tendencies freely, but while in spite of this they continue to demand "something to do," we who have charge of them will have to continue our search for opportunities and employments for their active minds and bodies if we are not to give stones for bread and serpents for fish.

In the homes of the poor, for obvious reasons, the children seldom have stories told to them, rarely if ever hear story books read, and never have music adapted to their minds and hearts provided for them. Consequently the beautiful imagery of song and story is lost to them. Their imaginations are starved and their souls often remain unawakened long past the time for such unfolding, while many powers never develop at all which exist potentially in them.. It is true that poets and artists sometimes come from very humble walks of life, but in most cases Genius or Nature provided the necessary stimulus. Happily the schools of today are doing for the less fortunate what is done for the more fortunate at home.

It is with the children of the ordinary well-to-do class that we have now to deal, however, and we know that these children love stories told and read, and that their souls open to music. These things are such potent factors in, and such a vital part of kindergarten life, that they surely belong in the child's home life as well. Kindergartners never have time enough with their children to give them half the songs and stories which they really want to give, and they would be glad to pass over to the home their uncompleted work and store of material to help fill those hours which echo with the cry, "What can I do now?" In the kindergarten the stories are not told and then

missed as something finished and gotten through with. They are carefully selected in the first place, and there is a pedagogical reason for each selection with which just now we have nothing to do. One prime object is to feed the growing imagination and stock it with play material, as well as, in technical phrase, to help the child to self-expression. The stories told are not only retold by the children later on, but they are also "worked out;" that is, the children picture the story, or such part of it as appeals to them, on the blackboard or with paper and pencil. They also play it with their blocks and sticks; they model objects suggested by it with clay; they cut these objects from paper, sew them or paint them, as the exigency of the occasion demands.

Children love the definite, and gladly take and work out definite suggestions. When clay, paint, paper, or other material is put into a child's hands and he is told to play with it, an active imagination will sometimes supply a sufficiency of ideas to be expressed, but ususally he soon reaches his limitations, if not on the first occasion then very soon after, and will be apt to say, "I don't know what to make."

"Oh, make a horse!" mother or nurse will suggest.

"I don't want to make a horse," says the child, in whose mind only images of indefinite and general horses are called up by the word. But, if after hearing Longfellow's beautiful story of "The Bell of Atri," that particular horse is suggested, it becomes another matter, and one object often suggests another, until the whole story is worked out by busy fingers stimulated by a live imagination.

The mother then wants from the kindergartner a list of stories to be told and of books to be read which shall fill her child's mind with beautiful images which can be expressed by the little hands so anxious to do. She should adopt in the nursery the kindergarten method of working out or making these stories with whatever material is at hand. These home stories should not only fill the time in which they are read or told, but many happy after hours; often only a suggestion will be necessary to set the children to work, and sympathy and appreciation only will keep them at it.

With some children the mother may find it necessary to participate actively in the play to show the children how it may be done, and to get them started ; but this she will not accomplish by playing for them, but by playing with them, and encouraging their efforts by judicious praise and admiration.

Stories are dramatized in the kindergarten with great success, and children who can be led to do this at home will have an inexhaustible store of material for play hours. I know of one group of ten-year-old children who played "The Prince and the Pauper" a whole winter, and of another who played "Robinson Crusoe" day in and day out. One little home kindergarten went to Greenland one snowy day and lived there for three weeks.

If the mother's own imagination will seize upon those particular stories which are best adapted to dramatic action, if she will aid the children a little in their representations, occasionally take part, and always sympathize, she will soon develop a dramatic talent, which, to say the least, will make stormy days interesting in her household.

As a rule it is hardly wise for the mother and kindergartner to be using the same material in the same way. Fortunately this is rarely done, as only a trained kindergartner has the power of using the material without wearying the child or reaching his limitations too soon. Mothers are often made to feel that the knowledge they lack and should possess is the knowledge which kindergartners use in giving gift and occupation lessons. Not that this knowledge would not be of great advantage to any mother, but the point is that there is much that she can do without it. Such a profound knowledge of the possibilities of the gifts and occupations as would enable her to continue, enlarge and supplement the kindergartner's work would be of the greatest use, but to be able to give the child ,the same work with blocks or sticks which he has had or will have in the kindergarten is of no particular advantage, except when the child cannot go to the kindergarten.

In the matter of stories, however, she need have no fears of trenching _on kindergarten ground. When a child loves a story he will hear it many times, and one often-told and well-loved tale is frequently better than many.

One direct help which the kindergartner craves of the mother is her encouragement to the child to retell at home the stories he has heard in the kindergarten. If in addition to this he will at home play or work out these stories the kindergartner's work will be carried on.

Some stories are better told than read, others make good reading, and it is important that a child should learn early to listen to reading.



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