Storytelling and memory

This week is National Storytelling Week.  I was going to write about my experiences of story telling with young children.  However, something else that I have been talking about this week seems to relate very well to story telling.

I have been having a sort out of the endless ‘stuff’ we accumulate in our house , part of that has been to thin out all the things we have stored that we never use  and to collate all of our photographs in one place.  During this process my husband found a box full of old letters, certificates and notebooks which contain so many memories that would otherwise be forgotten.  We looked at photos of years gone by and the way that we remember things.  I also had a conversation relating to memory with a neighbour who recently had a large family gathering.  She talked about how when they all got together and talked about past shared events they each remembered it differently.

How much of our lives get lost because we don’t document it?  When we need to find evidence of how we felt often we can only say , I don’t remember it like that but maybe that is how it was.  Sometimes I wish I had documented my life so that I could look back and say with confidence , that is what happened , this is how it happened and this is how I felt.

At times I have kept diaries , mostly during my teenage years and I was so embarrassed by my thoughts years later that I threw them away but a part of me wishes I hadn’t.  I have kept diaries of my pregnancies and early days of the children, because the children won’t remember those times and I hope that one day I will be here to answer their questions about it , but maybe like my own mother I will be gone by the time those questions arise.  I kept a journal during my honeymoon, I don’t often read it but sometimes it’s comforting to look back on the best times in your life.

My point is that when we think of story telling we automatically think of fiction, but our lives are a story – often the most interesting stories come from real events.  What may seem irrelevant or waffly thoughts right now will someday mean something to our children and grandchildren.  My most treasured possession is a letter that my mother wrote when she was in hospital after having me.  My dad found it after she had died and it is my only account of how she felt to be a mother for the first time .  Stories don’t have to be about dragons and adventures , let’s not forget that our own stories matter too.  For National Storytelling week I will not tell a story but will try to begin to tell my story so that I don’t forget and will not be forgotten.

Parenting – the most difficult job in the world?


I am  a bit of a ‘netmums’ addict.   Today they launched their REAL Parenting campaign, recognising that we should all stop trying to be a ‘perfect’ parent and to relax and do the best we can in our own situation.

As all parents know , raising children is full of ups and downs.  There is nothing more wonderful than watching your child grow and acquire new skills, they make you proud in so many ways.  With all the joy and love that children give they also take from you a great deal.  They take your independence, sleep, money,time, energy, appearance to name but a few.  So why not be realistic and honest for a change – parenthood can be great but its also damned hard work and if we strive to be perfect parents won’t we always leave a little of ourselves behind?

My attitudes to parenting have changed a lot in the past 7 years.  When my eldest daughter was born I had high expectations of the type of parent I would be. We used real nappies, had home made  baby food and no sweets much before the age of 2, she was exclusively breast fed for 8 months and followed a strict routine.  As an early years teacher I was keen to involve her in lots of creative messy activities , it was rare that you would leave our dining table without bits of glitter stuck to your clothes and she only watched television if I sat with her and we talked about it together.

  My 2nd child followed a slightly less strict routine, was weaned on finger food because she wasn’t interested in my healthy mush and developed a penchant for ice-cream.  She has therefore had sweet things from little after 6 months of age.  She watches television with her sister and ‘Charlie and Lola’ is the perfect vehicle for keeping her occupied when you want to get on with things. She is in disposable nappies by the age of 2 and rarely paints, glues or plays with dough and clay.

My 3rd wears a mix of disposable and real nappies, has been introduced to one formula feed a day by 3 months old, and has fallen into a pattern of co-sleeping.

With the first 2 children I didn’t return to work until they were almost 2 year old and was happy to stay at home. This time I’m really looking forward to going back into the adult world again and building a  life for myself.  Does this make me a worse mother?  I doubt it , surely a happy and fulfilled person will be best equipped to raise happy and fulfilled children. 

My attitudes to parenting have changed , I feel a more relaxed parent (as much as one can be when juggling 3 small children) and have come to the conclusion that if you pressurize yourself too much about how you should behave as a parent , then somehow you lose a part of you. When all concept of who you were before has gone everything suffers, relationships break down, self esteem crumbles and you find yourself talking about the price of nappies and which level of spelling your child is on.

Give yourself a break, we are good parents, our kids will be fine if we instil in them basic values , love them and listen to them.  Don’t give up everything for them , look after yourself or what will be left of you when they are gone?

Room by Emma Donoghue

I have been looking forward to reading this book for some time and had kept it aside to read in one sitting.  I was not disappointed.

The story is told from the perspective of a 5 year old boy who has been locked in a room with his mother from birth and is unaware that there is an outside world.  Sounds depressing ?  Oddly it isn’t. The child’s voice makes the whole experience both fascinating and endearing.  Inanimate objects are his friends,  hence he refers to ‘rug’,’wardrobe’ and ‘bed’ and anything that he sees on the television is seen to live only in the t.v.  As the story unfolds his mother explains to him about the outside world and we live through his bewilderment and  attachment to both his mother and the place he knows as home.

The Middle section of the book is  gripping  and fast paced , real edge of your seat stuff.

The final 2 sections describe beautifully the child’s uncertainty in a big new world and his observations of the futility  of modern consumerism .   It made me consider what is really important to children..  They don’t need ‘things’ or to be taken to lots of places what ultimately matters is security , love , and routine.

It is a wonderful thought provoking read and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

‘Can I sing on the microphone?’ Recording children’s voices.

Since investing in a Samson C01U Studio Condenser  USB microphone, this has been a regular request from my 2 year old.  It was originally intended as a means of recording music and voice for rehearsal purposes, for listing on audioboo or creating cd resources.  However, once my 2 year old had tried it out , she was addicted.  She sings into the microphone and then sits down to listen to it back.  This got me thinking about how it would be an extremelly useful resource for schools and nurseries for both music and literacy.  Older children could be encouraged to record and edit their performances (we use audacity for this) and would be especially useful in the teaching of dynamics.

I recently attended  a talk about Vivian Paley’s ideas for creating story circles.  In these young children tell their stories to a teacher  and then the group come together to act them out with the author taking the main part in the story.  There was some discussion as to how time consuming it was to record the stories in written form .  If the stories were recorded into a computer and converted to mp3 format this would enable the stories to be recorded quickly and easily and if my 2 year old is typical , I would also imagine that most children would be eager to have a turn.  It would also help to build reluctant writers storytelling skills without the anxiety of having to write it down.  Since children’s ability to tell a story verbally is a pre-requisite to story writing then this would be a wonderful tool for children in their first years of school.

Dear Mother Goose

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My 2-year-old has discovered a new favourite book – ‘Dear Mother Goose’ by Michael Rosen and Nick Sharratt.

This has a new and interesting way of introducing traditional nursery rhymes.  A variety of nursery rhyme characters write to mother goose to see if she can help with problems that happen to them every day.  Little Miss Muffet for example asks how she can stop a spider appearing when she eats her curds and whey.  Each letter has a flap with the appropriate nursery rhyme on the reverse and a picture flap page opposite  illustrated with the problem and solution.

Within a few weeks my 2-year-old has learned all the nursery rhymes and has even taken to singing and recording them into a microphone (but that’s another story).

The book is a decent size so would be good for group reading in a nursery or pre-school.

Sir Ken Robinson animation


I first came across Sir Ken Robinson when a colleague used his TED talk to illustrate the importance of creativity and critical thinking in the Early Years Foundation Stage.  This animation brilliantly outlines his arguments for a new type of schooling that moves away from academic achievement and looks towards those skills that will be most useful in the 21st century.

Educational Toys and Books

I have fond memories of my young childhood, in particular of spending time playing and reading with my mum.    One of our favourite shared activities was spending hours with a set of ‘three four five basic learning books’.  These were song and rhyme books with accompanying records (we called them paper records because they were thin and floppy).  We used to play the records, read the books and sing along, play the games or learn the actions together.

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The books were designed to encourage learning through play at home and each book has a forward that outlines how to use the songs and rhymes and the benefits that doing so will bring.  The forwards discuss the importance of rhyme and song are in preparing children to learn to read .The text is uncluttered ,each book containing around 10 songs, 1 on each page and the illustrations are simple but eye-catching. The impression  created by the author Iris Grender, a mother and nursery teacher, is that the main focus of the books is to promote the foundations of literacy through play and not to make bold claims about promoting intelligence.

This is a far cry from so called educational toys today, most of which are electronic , expensive and limited in what they do.  The key difference however is that toys, books and cd’s today do not encourage interaction between parent and child but are perceived as a magic formula to make a child intelligent.  In my experience children quickly tire of such things once they have mastered what they can do and move on to the next thing.

My children (aged 6 and 2) now have the above set of books and love them.  I can still remember the tunes to the songs even without the records (as we no longer have anything to play them on).  As always it is the inexpensive simple things that stand the test of time.