If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.
Teaching is a career that requires the ability to change. Teachers have to be flexible with changing schedules, new students, students with different needs, parents with a variety of experiences and parenting styles, new Education Codes, State laws and the need to keep up with current educational trends. Teachers learn to adapt and help their students gain the skills needed to be flexible and adapt to the changes they encounter along their life journey, including their education path.
Our students will encounter different teachers along the way, with different teaching styles and expectations. Our students will encounter different peers with a variety of backgrounds, learning styles and interests. The greatest lesson we can teach our students is to have the ability to meet change head on and continue with resilience, learning to write their own story.
In honor of spring, moving forward and bringing something fresh and new into the classroom, I started a book project with my young five- and six-year-old students.
The first book we created using a collage method, creating animals made from geometric shapes that the children cut themselves. Linking math and language arts, the children wrote a sentence about each animal and we laminated and bound their books. They were so proud of the animals that they had created and by the last few pages, wanted to write more than just a sentence about each animal. They wanted to write short stories.
As the children became more interested in stories, we began reading fairy tales during story time, focusing on the common story elements of fairy tales, characters, setting, and plot development. I asked comprehension questions using story wands (Lakeshore Educational Products) that ask the questions:
What is the story about?
Who is your favorite character?
Where is the setting?
What was your favorite part?
What will happen in the story?
What will happen next?
How did the story end?
Who was in the story?
The children began listening more closely to the stories I read so they would be ready to answer questions. We began discussing typical fairy tale characters using words like protagonist and antagonist, hero and villain, then moved on to talk about the sequence of the story and how the story ended. Next came the exciting part, the children began to illustrate and write their own fairy tale stories, page by page.
Now we have a classroom full of student authors. As the pages are completed, my wonderful classroom aide, Samantha, glues their pages into small, hardback, blank books. The children are so enthusiastic and are really enjoying our small group time when I read their books aloud, but stop suddenly after the last page written, when I turn to the blank page. I say, “Oh no, we don’t know what happens next!” Then as they grin, “but ____does!” (Inserting the child/author’s name).
It is such a pleasure to watch the young authors emerging, expanding their vocabulary as they try to outdo themselves with descriptive words and interesting story events. They begin by illustrating each page with the next sequence of the story. The pages are small and the writing lines close together as I am encouraging careful work and detailed pictures. Since they are completing the page before it is glued into the final book, they are working carefully, but with the knowledge that if a mistake is made, they can start over. Publication is the final step.
In our lives, we are all in the midst of writing our own stories. We begin by observing the stories of those in our lives. We look for common story elements and decide what kind of story we want to write, carefully considering the characters we allow into our stories, figuring out, as the protagonist, what antagonists must we face?
Sometimes characters enter our stories and we learn from them; sometimes we learn in spite of the characters in our stories. We are aware of the setting of our story and when we grow older, transforming from child to adult, we have the ability to change our setting, to go off on our own vision quest, follow our own path. We learn to be aware of our surroundings, to choose spaces that serve our needs. Sometimes we don’t realize this until we look back and reread our story, noticing the lessons imparted subtly, sometimes without our knowledge.
Our story starts at the beginning, but through plot twists, our story can change direction, surprising us. We want to be the authors of our own stories, but there are times when we feel convinced that there is someone else guiding our writing. Other times, we must struggle to regain control of our story’s direction, reminding ourselves of the ending we want to write. As we write our stories, we can look back at the fairy tales we read as children. All of them contain lessons, the most important perhaps are to empower yourself with knowledge, believe that you are the protagonist in your own story, chose your characters wisely and as author Mo Willems said: “If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave.”