Some wonderful mamas have asked about storytelling with the little ones- how many stories, what kinds of stories to bring in when, how often, so I thought I would quickly address this and then I have a writing deadline for something else to get to!
We look at building an oral basis of language first and primarily (this later extends into the grades because we first write what we know orally, and then we learn to read off of what we write. The lectures in “Practical Advice to Teachers” by Rudolf Steiner elucidate this very well).
For one to three year olds, I would suggest mainly nursery rhymes, singing, singing, singing, little rhymes or short verses,blessing before meals, verses regarding animals and plants you might see on your nature walks. For a three year old, some folks would start to add fairy tales, but I feel a little bit differently about those tales for the three-year-old. I often feel the “list” of fairy tales was designed for a mixed age Waldorf Kindergarten, and if your oldest is three, they are not going to have those older ages to really carry those tales. So, you have to know your child well. Sometimes introducing children to these fairy tales goes better in a song format, called a story circle, by many Waldorf Kindergarten teachers. I tend to say for three year olds at home with no older siblings, how about using Juniper Tree’s “Around the World With Finger Puppet Animals” by Suzanne Down? Also, simple stories you make up… Then, at four, you could move into Suzanne Down’s nature stories, other nature tales, and other fairy tales and more complex stories you make up.
The fairy tales, whilst the hallmark of the Early Years and first grade, don’t have to go away completely! We can always circle back around. There is a book called “The Pancake” made up of repetitive fairy tales and such that could be an effective reader for first or second grade. Mrs. Marsha Johnson has a free “Russian Fairy Tales” block on her Yahoo!Group that involves creating readers and such for second grade – this expands vocabulary quickly! It also takes something the children know through the oral tradition, we write it, then we make readers and read it! In Third Grade, that whole series collected by Andrew Lang (The Pink Fairy Tale Book, The Blue Fairy Book) could be readers or read-alouds. There are collections of fairy tales and folk tales from all over the world. This then later moves into mythology and finally into other great works of literature.
The other place I differ is that all the stories have to be memorized. This makes no sense for those of us who have small children, as the memory is part of the etheric body and that is being depleted when we have small children as we share our life forces with them as they are still connected to us. Donna Simmons always talks about using two beautiful watercolor paintings and making a beautiful, special book that the tales are written down in. I have seen that work. You can also try a bag of props to help you remember the story.
Yes, the stories in a Waldorf Kindergarten are usually brought for anywhere from two weeks to a whole month, the same story. If you see the story coming out in their play, or they can chime in on the story and the story’s repetitive phrases, then you know it is sinking into them and doing good work! Puppets, drama, music, props, all enliven the experience.
As far as books, we know the first seven years are truly for the development and protection of the lower four of the twelve senses. This is for interaction with people, and yes, reading to a child is interaction, but we would like to see even more in the way of singing and storytelling than books.
For example, for children from birth to three, they don’t necessarily need books at this point. A bedtime routine could be singing or storytelling and oral traditions. I think many of us with multiple children admit to reading far more books to our first child as a baby than our subsequent children; we didn’t always know or have at our disposal the wonderful songs, nursery rhymes, etc that we build up over time. There are some lovely books for babies, but is this an indispensible part of building literacy? I don’t think it is; I actually think oral recitation, singing and rhymes are. Children who lack fluency in reading, children who have dysarthria (speech expression), etc actually often need to go back to recitation of oral material in a rhythmic manner.
What babies need is human contact, being carried, being in a sling, being talked to and sung to and rhymes and learning to enjoy and play in silence as well, and to listen and hear the sounds of nature! If you are going to read something, how about beautiful poems or things out of the Bible or the Koran or whatever fits your religious traditions?
For ages three to five, ideally, the books are kept up on a shelf and brought done with reverent care when it is reading time. Perhaps you have a set reading time before quiet time and then again at bedtime. Rhyming, repeating books are wonderful for this age, such as the story of Chicken Licken or Henny Penny or The Gingerbread Man. The other kind of book is ones of simple stories of every day life where not much happens. Books such as Ezra Jack Keats’ “The Snowy Day” and other by him. You want the same books to be around for one whole season if possible, and then change them out with some new ones. And yes, that means you read the same books over and over and over, but that is really what small children need to develop vocabulary and a sense of sequencing in the story line.
For ages five to seven, we can now add some weightier stories and books. More complex fairy tales, more formal story times where we sit and light a candle and listen to this story. This is where you look at that list of fairy tales by age and read them and see which story speaks to YOU and then you tell that. If it doesn’t speak to you, pick a different one! Here is the list: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/20/the-importance-of-fairy-tales/
Chapter books most likely are something that should wait, I think, until at least age six and more ideally, probably grade one and being seven years old. Don’t rush this, there really is time. Here are some back posts with books for the under-7 crowd: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/20/more-books-for-children-under-7/
One thing that always baffles people about Waldorf is starting things a bit later. ( I actually don’t consider it later, I consider starting it at the normal, appropriate time) This is what EVERY country almost around the world does except us and England at this point. Yes, the children go to school early, around age 3 or 4, but no academics are taught until the first grade. There is no rush, and those children beat our children on every kind of standardized test and our educational system is particularly failing boys who often have trouble sitting still during those first seven years. There are NO studies that back up introducing “academics” at an early age, and in fact, children are play-based programs for the first six years excel ahead of children introduced to academics early! But I digress here, back to the main subject at hand….
Someone asked what I personally do with my under-7s. My oldest, as I have repeatedly written about on this blog, pretty much taught herself to read around age five and a half. I have some posts on here about doing Waldorf First Grade with an early reader. The thing no one tells you about early readers, is that there are few things for them to read that are worthy! The things they can read have themes that are way too mature, and the rest are series that are short and not beautiful – sorry, Captain Underpants does not count to me. :) So, her books were limited and that was a source of complaint, but I am glad we stuck to it. Before the nine-year change, you really want more of the archetypal, life is beautiful and good and safe and orderly kind of books. My second five-year-old is not yet reading, but likes to be read to and loves stories and can sing, sing, sing. She is picking out letters and letter sounds, and that is okay (and it would be okay if she were not). My third little guy is just a wee baby, so he is enjoying songs and hearing passages of the Bible hear and there..:)
As far as storytelling within the Waldorf homeschool, I did stick to the same story for usually a month, unless there was a special story I really wanted to bring around for a festival. I know many of the Waldorf schools stick to one story every two to four weeks, but bring in a separate story for baking and/or gardening or nature walk day. That may very well be way too much for a mother tending to multiple small children at home, so I think you must do what resonates with you.
Hope some of that helps; take what resonates with you.