“Can you tell me one more story??”
Every parent has heard this question well past bedtime…can you relate?
Stories captivate children like nothing else, and have been used longer than any other communication tool for passing along important lessons, information, or just simply to entertain. Historically, reading or writing may have never played any part in many cultures, but storytelling has always been central. And for good reason. A good story engages our brains like nothing else can. They’re an ancient art and spiritual practice– we’re simply built to tell and enjoy stories.
In Montessori curriculum, we use the art of storytelling to introduce ideas, teach new concepts, and to reinforce or extend lessons.
The Brain on Stories
The change in our brains when we listen to a story versus a lecture composed of facts and figures is dramatic.
When listening to a story versus a list of facts, a child uses more of their brain and is able to connect emotionally with the characters. They also build a stronger emotional bond with the storyteller. On top of that, listeners of a story deepen their capacity for empathy and grow their attention span.
Every one of these results is what Montessori education hopes to instill in children, and that’s why it’s so central to the curriculum.
Stories Across Planes of Development
It’s not enough to just tell any kind of stories, though, we have to adapt this practice to the needs of the child, through what Maria Montessori called the planes of development.
The best stories for this age group are ones that are true, or at least realistic. Children at this age are rapidly growing in language development, so we use language that’s both simple to understand and complex, in order to support their current development, and to expand their vocabulary.
We try to avoid fantasy stories at this stage and instead use stories about things that really happened, or at least really could happen. Having a strong sense of reality is important for the child in the first plane of development, so that’s our top priority!
Is the child’s mental horizon limited to what he sees? No. He has a type of mind that goes beyond the concrete. He has the great power of imagination. – Maria Montessori
Montessori education uses stories as a vehicle for teaching the most important, foundational lessons. The most popular stories are part of an annual ritual called the Great Lessons, which includes the stories: Coming of the Universe, Coming of Life, Coming of Humans, History of Writing, History of Numbers.
These stories were developed for elementary classrooms and are meant to introduce concepts to students at the start of every year. The entire elementary curriculum extends out of these stories.
The Great Lessons are designed to inspire wonder and awe through stories about the origins of all things. The stories are intentionally broad to capture the young child’s imagination. The teacher also uses scientific demonstrations and impressionistic charts while telling the stories to lay the groundwork for future learning.
Recently, at our Cultural Parent Information Night, our teachers explained the Great Lessons to elementary parents. As our discussion was wrapping up, one dad said, “This is all confirmation that my child is in the right place.” We couldn’t agree more!
Our elementary classrooms also use novel studies and book clubs as a method of storytelling. Ms. Aliceyn, our upper elementary teacher, is currently reading Blood on the Water with the fourth-graders who are starting to study Virginia History. During our Information Night, she shared how connecting to stories like this help the children to better understand the details of history, rather than just drilling and memorizing facts.
Children in the middle school years are expressive, dramatic, and love to entertain. At this point the listeners become the tellers and tell their true or realistic stories by creating plays, dramatic reenactments, or simply by speaking to the class.
This year, our middle school class came down and presented the First Great Lesson, The Coming of the Universe, to our lower elementary classroom. They did a fabulous job. It’s amazing how they remembered the stories from when they themselves were elementary students!” – Ms. Carmel
Being able to tell stories in this way builds confidence in this typically self-conscious age group, and provides them an opportunity to develop skills in public speaking, communicating with others, and in self-expression.
Resources for Parents
Love telling stories, but not sure how to translate the Montessori method to home?
One of our favorite resources is Michael Dorer’s book, The Deep Well of Time. He’s well known in the Montessori community for his captivating stories, and he’s written and adapted some amazing stories that we love to use at CMS. We were lucky enough to have him co-host a workshop at the Virginia Montessori Teacher Education Center this summer, and teachers from across the state came to learn from him (and listen to his enthralling stories).