Sunday, September 28, 2003

Storytelling Through the Ages

I promised a bit more from the old book I stumbled upon (Religious Education Through Story-Telling, Katherine Cather). The parts I quote below are from a discussion about what stories children and adolescents like at various ages. I was particularly struck by the author's contention that you need to tell the miracle stories of the Bible at that age when children will appreciate them. If you wait too long, she says, they will scoff.

Two to Six: The author says children from two to six like familiar things: Parents, animals, and people like them. Stories that contain jingles and repetition are very popular. Here's a quote:

"The mother or teacher who does not have enough literary ability to introduce into her work jingles that fit the material is heavily handicapped. Nevertheless she does not need to be discouraged. She can feed the love or rhythm that runs as high as that of rime, be repeating phrases or sentences to form stanzas, in the following manner:

"And so the little birdie flew away,
The birdie flew and flew and flew,
The little birdie flew away
Because God said cold days were near.

"In the sweet scented garden of Eden,
The beautiful garden of Eden,
The pleasant green garden of Eden,
Long ago there lived Adam and Eve."

Ages 6 or 7 to 10: "This is the period of childhood when, like the winged horse Pegusus, imagination is a thing no man can control. Tales that satisfy now must be tales that feed the sense of wonder. During these years, which broadly speaking, are from five or six to nine or ten, the craving is for narratives that abound in supernatural elements, those in which animals are endowed with human intelligence and attributes, and in which human beings perform feats that are impossible of achievement to mortals unaided, tales in which the happenings are such that only through the help of higher powers can they be brought about."

"Failure to give wonder tales of the Bible while the child craves them often is followed by an irreverent or purely naturalistic attitude later on. - Skepticism and an attitude of levity toward the Bible often result when the wonder stories of the Book of Israel are presented to older boys and girls, who, because of the psychological period in which they happen to be, are unsympathetic toward them."

"No matter how spiritual or beautiful a narrative may be, or what ideals it embodies, the child must make his first acquaintance with it in the period of his development when he craves material of that type, if it is to benefit him to the full limit of its possibilities."

Adolescence: "The epic period of the child's life covers a longer range of time than any other. From the age of ten to eleven on through adolescence hero worship runs high, but it undergoes definite transitions. The lad at ten, and also at fourteen delights in living in a realm of stirring adventure, but his hero at the earlier age is a different type of individual from the one who awakens his admiration during the later. The man who conquers through physical prowess alone is his first ideal, he who is rugged and elemental. But, as he nears adolescence, a more refined type supplants this crude one. Deeds of spiritual courage and fine idealism arouse admiration. The youth who a little earlier valued muscular strength and skill above everything else now responds to tales of those striving for the victory of right over wrong, even though the situations abound in little physical exertion."

Between 14 and 17: "History appeals to them now, not only as a chronicle of men of achievement, but as a drama of nations, each one of which is a participant struggling to solve its portion of the problem of the world. Interest in interclass and international affairs begins to run high. Spontaneous debates and discussions as to social policies are carried on with deep earnestness.

"A new sense of power possesses the boy or girl, a feeling of ability to overcome all obstacles, to cope with any danger. This feeling of resource sometimes far outbalances self-control, which also is rapidly growing now, but not rapidly enough to keep pace with the sense of ability to cope with any situation. Life is marked by an intensity of impulse, the impulse to do many different things - to do one, and then not to do it, but instead to do something that for the moment seems more glorious and exalted."

Later adolescence (17 or 18 and 24): "Youths of later teen age come slowly into a realization that there is a limit to their control over conditions, to their capacity for surmounting obstacles. Self-control is growing and strengthening. There is an increased social sense, and accompanying it, a growing respect for law. Not always is there conformity to law and the established order of things. Frequently independence, even defiance, is manifested in regard to prevailing opinion and belief.... Enthusiasm and aspiration are common traits. It is now that dream-houses are constructed and life plans are made. Careers are mapped out.

"The story-teller who works with youth in this period has a tremendous opportunity for the strengthening of Christian character. By using stories that show how to overcome the self-assertive tendency that sometimes leads to disaster, and by choosing tales that direct enhthusiasm and aspiration along wholesome channels, the narrator can be a splendidly constructive influence."

"During the later period of adolescence sex is fully awakened, and plays a vital part in the fixing of ideals and the formulating of life plans. It is therefore of great importance that young folk of this age have stories that teach the higher meaning of love, that portray clean, idealistic, but virile and bouyant manhood and womanhood."

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